As I said in another entry, my want to learn about fashion was related to my goal to reinvent my personal brand. This goal has included a complete rebuild of my wardrobe. While this wasn’t a cheap thing to do, it was way overdue. At 25, it is sadly time to retire the t-shirt from a college basketball game sponsored by Mellow Mushroom. My t-shirts from high school youth group probably need to go too.
Along this journey, I’ve been looking for my own style and started to really like J. Crew’s shirts. I found a number of them at a second hand store in Squirrel Hill called Avalon Exchange (they are on Forbes Avenue between Murray and Shady if you are interested). With this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to find someone who could help me put together my own “style guide” so to speak. I went up online and found that J Crew offers a personal stylist service and decided I’d check it out. I knew there would be no pressure to buy anything and thought it would be interesting to write about.
Without doing much research, I called the J Crew store in Shadyside only to realize that the store is a women’s only store. After talking to the personal stylist for a minute, I decided that the academic value of visiting a women’s store provides an already well-segmented market. I agreed to meet the stylist on a Sunday afternoon just top get a better idea of what personal stylists do.
Going into the meeting, my knowledge of personal stylists consisted of Rachel from Friends working at Bloomingdales. I showed up to my appointment a little bit early since it was snowing out and decided to sit in my car for a minute to really survey the location of the store.
The J Crew store in Shadyside is located on Walnut Street along with a variety of other high-end retailers. The Apple Store is basically across the street from J Crew and a block away is a jeweler that sells Rolex watches among other things.
This J Crew location had a bright lighting design. The floor layout was clearly designed with female customers in mind. I can’t imagine a men’s store being set up the way this store was. It had warmth to it with clothes, shoes, and accessories arranged attractively.
I sat down on a couch by the shoes to talk to the personal stylist and get an idea of what a stylist really does. Some things I learned seem to be standard across the industry. For one thing, personal stylists at brick and mortar stores tend to get most of their customers by word of mouth and recommendations.
Personal stylists also deal with several different kinds of customers. Some come by when they need something for a special event like an interview. There are some customers who come in once per season looking to add a few outfits or items to their rotation. There are still other customers who want to know as soon as new items they might like come in.
I talked to this stylist about the future of retail, since I have an interest in some of the technology of tomorrow. I asked if she had any fears related to the smart dressing room of the future. Her answer was simple, some people will have trouble in that world, but others will sell a lot more because of those tools.
Technology in retail has the potential to really change the landscape as it already has, but my experience talking to a stylist at J Crew made me realize that at this level, the personal touch that a stylists gives is not replaceable by a computer. The question for the future is if people will value that the same way that I do. Is the service at a store worth the extra money?