Hug Your Customers

STILL The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results


By Jack Mitchell

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Revised and updated for the first time since original publication!

Here is the 200,000-copy staple, praised by Warren Buffett as “a gem … I wish everyone at Berkshire would follow [Jack Mitchell’s] advice–we would own the world.”

If you want to put your arms around your business and bottom line, you’ll want all the updated information and practices found in the landmark business bestseller, Hug Your Customers. The only way to stay in business is to have customers; the only way to increase your profit is to attract more customer visits by providing exceptional customer service. It’s that simple says Jack Mitchell. Hug Your Customers shares the hands-on practical philosophy that has allowed Mitchell and his Family of Stores to thrive and excel in today’s challenging retail marketplace. Filled with accessible advice, personal case studies and tips any businessperson can use, Hug Your Customers is an energizing blueprint for customer and employee retention, increased per capita spending, and groundbreaking success.


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Table of Contents


Copyright Page

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Preface to the 2015 Edition

In the decade that has passed since the publication of this book about our family clothing and jewelry business and our philosophy of how to deliver extraordinary customer service, a lot has changed across the business landscape.

The most significant changes have been the quickened pace of technology and the growth of Internet sales for all industries—airlines, financial services, hotels, supermarkets, garden tools, you name it. From A to Z, Apple to Zappos, businesses are all searching for creative new ways to employ technology to sell products. Clearly, this has challenged every type of company, especially those like us who sell in "real" stores made out of bricks and mortar.

We're different, too. A decade ago, we consisted of two Connecticut stores. Now we have five stores, including one on Long Island, New York, and two new stores situated on the West Coast. Yes, we're bicoastal, and loving it! We're selling more suits and ties and dresses and shoes than we ever did before. Plus, we have exploded our jewelry business. We not only survived the brutal recession of 2008, but used it as a springboard to dramatically grow our business.

One thing that has not changed one bit is our core philosophy of building relationships and delivering personalized customer service. Indeed, we have enhanced our service and worked hard to raise the bar to make our customers even happier. I am convinced more than ever that the basic homespun beliefs and values that we have abided by ever since Mom and Dad started the business in 1958 are just as meaningful and relevant today, and I daresay will be just as relevant in 2058.

Nothing has astounded and touched me more than the reception this book has received. Virtually every week I still get e-mails or phone calls from people who say they've got a company selling fly swatters or power tools and they've adopted some of our ideas that have made a difference. These responses have come from all over this great country, but also from India, South Africa, Ecuador, and yes, Siberia.

And yet nothing continues to aggravate me more—and I see this every day—than businesses small and large that deliver very little, if any, customer service. In this fast-moving age of Internet shopping and depersonalized exchanges, I'm convinced that people more than ever yearn for at least a smile and a thank-you from an actual human being.

So I've decided to freshen this book. Most of it is unaltered, because as I've said, we still follow the same time-honored precepts. What I've done is fix some references here and there to be current. I've brought our own history up to date. I love to tell stories, so I've inserted a few additional ones from our stores—real stories about real customer service.

I always say that a business has to keep changing or it dies, and we've tweaked our model to try to make it better. I've incorporated material about the new things we do in the technology area to stay a modern, future-looking company. Near the end, I've added a part, "It's Easier to Hug When Times Are Good," that tells about the plan we devised that allowed us to navigate the horrible recession. We feel it's a good blueprint to enable a business to endure any type of economic turmoil.

I am simply delighted to have the opportunity to update Hug Your Customers. I hope you enjoy it, and I sure hope it inspires you to try out a few hugs.


Hugging 101

The Principles of Passionate Customer Service

Chapter 1

Creating a Hugging Culture

It always seems like emergencies come up when you're not ready for them, and that's exactly what happened during the escapade of the navy blue cashmere topcoat. It was a cold winter day in early February. My brother was off on a business trip. I was out of the store at an advertising meeting. A call came in to Mitchells and the challenge was immediately forwarded to me. A manager at a nearby corporation who was a client of ours had phoned from his office and desperately needed a navy blue cashmere topcoat. He was going to an important acquisition meeting in New York, and when he checked his closet, it turned out that his sons had swiped all his coats when they went off to college. The man's energy level was so high he generally didn't wear coats. But the forecast was for cold temperatures and heavy snow, and his meetings would require him to do a fair bit of walking in New York, so it was imperative that he have a coat in navy blue.

I called the store, only to learn that we had sold out of navy cashmere coats in size 42, the man's size. But we did have a light gray one. I alerted Domenic Condoleo, our master tailor, and told him to gather up the gray topcoat as well as some suits, sport coats, and a few accessories for the client's consideration. I'm a salesman through and through, and if I was going over there to sell him a topcoat, you can bet I was going to take along some other items, too.

I promptly got in touch with our two topcoat resources, one in Philadelphia and the Hickey Freeman facility in Rochester, New York. They both had navy cashmere topcoats in stock and promised to overnight them to the store. Then I called the client's secretary and told her Domenic and I were on our way over. When we got there, we schlepped the garment bags to the third floor. The manager jumped up from his desk and said, "Where's my blue topcoat?" I calmly opened the garment bags and slipped the gray topcoat on him. Naturally, he immediately said, "Jack, this is gray." He was annoyed. Either he thought I hadn't listened or I was colorblind, and said so in very expletive-deleted terms.

"I know," I said. "Like you at your company, we like to turn all of our product at least three times, and we've sold all the blue ones. We're getting two in tomorrow."

"Can't wait, can't wait!" he screamed. "I'm going to see if we can get the company's helicopter ready to pick up the coats. Where are they coming from?"

"Just calm down," I said. "You can wait until tomorrow. I'll meet you in New York City." His office TV was on with the stock market news, and he noticed that the company's stock was going up, and his disposition improved. I seized the moment to move on to the suits, sport coats, and shirts we had brought along. Just as I suspected, he selected a few things, but he hadn't forgotten about the topcoat. Some people were waiting to see him, so his secretary brought in our coats so we could leave, and here's where the hug came. I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but it struck me that my topcoat was a navy blue cashmere from Hickey Freeman, size 42. I said to the man, "Put this on."

It fit perfectly. He jumped up and down in glee. I said to him, "Tell you what, we'll lease my coat to you for a day or two."

He loved the idea. "Wow, Mitchells is in the leasing business, just like we are," he said.

Two days later, we delivered the man's new coat. This may strike you as a lot of effort to please a customer—literally giving him the coat off my back. But the reality is, we do it all the time, even for someone shopping with us for the first time.

That's what "Hugging 101" is all about.

Over the last fifty-seven years, my family has been dedicated to providing the highest level of customer service possible. We use the term hugging to describe our unique selling culture, and in this first part I will take you on a personal tour of our world of Mitchell hugging. I think of hugging as getting everyone on your team to sell with passion so you develop long-term loyal relationships with your customers. Those are the keys: company-wide passion and long-term relationships. This company-wide relationship-building centered around the customer is what marketing gurus call relationship marketing. Passion, in particular, is something I believe in wholeheartedly. I guess you could say I'm passionate about passion.

Hugging involves touching and listening to and caring about the customer, getting so close to the customer that the customer becomes more important than anything else. Over time in a hugging culture, a unique personal and professional relationship develops between the business and customer—a loyalty built on trust and, in our case, sales that fill closets with clothes customers love to wear and are right for them.

Once relationships are established with customers, they become friends. I'm not suggesting that every customer becomes a true best friend who would confide his deepest secrets or we'd invite to come along on our vacations. That would be a little strange (though some customers do, in fact, become that close). We mean friend in the sense of someone who comes to trust you and enjoys your company. The distinction is we get to know them better than a traditional customer, and they get to know us better. All by hugging.

For a hugging culture to work, everyone in the organization, from top to bottom, must embrace it. That means everyone from me to the buyers to the tailors to the credit managers to the shipping clerks. In a hugging culture, everyone hugs and everyone sells, not just the sales associates. I can't emphasize that enough.

It takes hard work to achieve a hugging culture—it doesn't happen overnight—but I'm convinced it's well worth the effort. After all, hugging is universally appealing. Everyone loves to be hugged. There's nothing controversial about it. It simply works.

Of course, it also works financially. It certainly does for us. Every month, our controller meets with us regarding the cash flow, inventory turn, and other financial paradigms that show that it works.

And one of the best things about hugging is how versatile it is. It's a business philosophy that succeeds just as well for someone selling margarine or laptops. Any company in any industry can learn to hug.

Try it. Try it before the day is over. Smile and hug. See if your customers—or daughter, or assistant—don't smile and hug you back.

Chapter 2

The New Business Landscape

Why is a hugging culture so important? It's because we believe retailing, and business in general, has undergone a fundamental shift in thinking and behavior in the last few decades, a shift that cries out for hugging. In particular, I've noticed three critical changes in the business landscape that are embraced by successful companies.


The first big change was moving from a reactive to a proactive approach. Years ago, our sales associates often stood around and waited for people to come into the store. You waited and you reacted: "May I help you?" And we did. But that doesn't work any longer. Now you need to be proactive. You can't stand idly twiddling your thumbs until someone walks in the door. You have to take actions that will bring customers through that door. In other words, you need to initiate the sale, not simply complete it.


Years ago, everything was transaction-based. The interaction with the customer began and ended with the transaction. Say the customer bought three suits, six white shirts, and a couple of ties, one striped and one solid. You had no complaints. That was a nice sale, and you earned a nice commission. End of discussion. You had no idea what the person was going to do with those suits and shirts, and it wasn't that you didn't care; you just didn't have the mind-set to ask the customer.

Today it's not enough to just make a sale. We have to ask the customer what he is using those three new suits for, and then we can decode that into what suit, fabric, color, and model are right for him. Often we know a lot more than he does about what he should wear in the business or social setting to look and feel great. If he travels a lot, you set him up with a harder fabric. In the old days, you might have sold him a thousand-dollar suit and he packed it in a carry-on bag, and the first time he put it on, it was all wrinkled. Today you have to listen in order to understand the customer's needs, and that means developing a personal relationship with him.

Anyone can sell a dark blue suit. Anyone can sell a wheelbarrow. But that's not a relationship.

So selling has shifted from transactions to relationships. It's moved from a "May I help you?" transaction to "Is the new outfit for business or a special occasion?" You're researching need. The critical difference in making this shift is how you think about customers. I believe in staying as close as possible to the customer.


There's a third change that has taken place. It used to be that businesses had what I call a "magic" list, an assortment of little extra services they provided all customers as an incentive to shop with them: free parking, free alterations, free coffee, and a liberal return policy. The magic list defined service. Any business could draw up its own list. We had this list, and we still have it. These things do matter. But magic lists are no longer enough. Through the relationships you develop, you must listen to your customers on an individual basis so that you know her or him, and give them additional services that are important to them.

I call these customer-led services. Some customers, for instance, because of schedule or a phobia about crowds, might want to shop during off-hours. So you open the store at night for them. Or you fit them in a private dressing room. Let me give you another example that may sound silly, but it works. Every Saturday in the summer outside Mitchells we give away hot dogs. After a while, we added kosher dogs for our Jewish clientele. A loyal customer whose first name is Carole had high cholesterol, so we got some turkey dogs for her. She showed up every Saturday to get one, and so we started calling it the Carole Dog. The Carole Dog is a customer-led service. It's a matter of being willing to deviate from the magic list and doing "One for Good Measure."

In the hotel industry, a standard list of services gets you three or four or five stars. But have you ever stayed at a four-star hotel that you liked more than some five stars? Sure, and the reason you liked it more was because you were hugged. Perhaps the waitress remembered your favorite type of tea or coffee at breakfast without your asking. The magic list doesn't matter. What matters is passionate service and hugs.


Add these changes together, and what you get are satisfied customers who are transformed into extremely satisfied customers. You move from meeting expectations to exceeding expectations. Carole might have expected to get a hot dog, but she never expected a Carole Dog. And the day I gave her that first Carole Dog, she gave me a hug back—actually, it was a big passionate kiss on the cheek. It felt great.

The reality is that satisfied customers simply aren't enough to make a prosperous business. They aren't really loyal and will readily defect at the slightest prompt. Only extremely satisfied customers are genuinely loyal.

Reactive Proactive
Transactions Relationships
"Magic" List Customer-Led Services
Satisfied Customers Very Satisfied Customers
Very Satisfied Customers Extremely Satisfied Customers
Meet Expectations Exceed Expectations

Chapter 3

The Customer-Centric Organization

The way we've adapted to these powerful changes in the business world at Mitchells is by creating a customer-centric organization rather than a product- or price-centric organization. We feel customer-centric organizations are the best huggers. By customer-centric, I mean the customer is the center of the universe. Everything revolves around the customer. Everyone says the customer is important, but in most businesses, actions speak otherwise. The power of a customer-centric philosophy comes from dedicating the entire organization and its focus to the customer. You cannot become customer-centric until all parts of the organization passionately embrace the customer.

It's obvious to me that many leading businesses, whether they sell clothes or cornbread, are all about product. If they're in the clothing business like us, they're interested in whether it's a so-called Super 100 wool fabric or a Super 180. Is it handmade or machine-made? Is it light gray or olive? Two- or three-button? Short or long shirt?

At Mitchells, clothes are not our priority. It's not the first thing we think of, nor the last. Don't get me wrong. We like fabulous product, and we search the world to get it, but we're all about customers.

Now that may sound amazing. A clothing store that isn't about clothes? But it's true. And if we were a restaurant, we wouldn't be about food. If we were an electronics store, we wouldn't be about Blu-ray players. Businesses have lost sight of the idea that customers, not product, are the most important priority. Most companies think that all you have to do is have plenty of great product and the right value and customers will descend like locusts on their stores. Many stores have those things, and of course, we do, too. You can buy a great blue blazer or black skirt anywhere. You can buy a great flat-screen TV at any electronics store. You can get a great sofa at a lot of furniture stores. It's how you treat customers that determines your long-term success. To prosper today, you have to think customer before concepts like return on investment and margins. Far too many business managers have no idea who their customers are, or what their customers want, or what their perceptions are, and haven't a clue as to how to find out.

If you become customer-centric, it means you personalize the relationship between the seller and the buyer. It means your entire company listens and learns from your customers. It means you give customers what they want rather than what you want to sell them. It means you know customers' preferences better than they do, and can predict what they want.

I'm always saying to our associates, know more about your customers than your merchandise. In my business, we have what's called an SKU, a stock-keeping unit. It uniquely defines an item. It could designate the style, size, and color of a suit or dress. At Mitchells/Richards, we like to say we SKU our customers (when I tell people this, I make sure I spell it out, "S-K-U," so they don't think I mean "screw our customers"). We're trying to measure and understand our customers in every possible way. We have over 400,000 customers in our database, and by listening and learning over the years, we get to know a great deal about every one of them.

To create hugging relationships, it's essential to have people with long tenure, and we pride ourselves on that. Sometimes it takes more time than you would like for an associate to really get it, but when they do, it becomes natural, and that's why tenured associates are so productive. We've been told our tenure is much better than most of the other great stores. Our store managers, Tom Maleri and Jeff Kozak, average over thirty years. In our Connecticut stores, the head tailors average fifty years of service. You build great relationships if you work at it for many years. When I have conversations with peers, they constantly mention how high their turnover is. From time to time, they do cite very long term associates, but it's usually in the context of people who are old and tired whom they would like to take early retirement.

Once you've built a customer-centric organization, you'll find that customer loyalty builds over time, and with it, profitability. The true key to long-term profitability is strong and enduring relationships between the customers and the seller. When you have strong relationships, customers will do more of their buying from you. They'll refer other customers. They'll communicate with you better and tell you what they like and what they don't like, in turn making your business more efficient and effective. Your best customers are the ones who most want you to do well, so it makes sense to learn from them. And loyal customers will be more forgiving if you do something wrong, and return fewer items because you know their sizes, and their likes and dislikes.

In a customer-centric organization, everyone automatically thinks of the customer before anything else. Let me offer a story that illustrates this.

Ray Rizzo is a great customer, and his father was a real character, and not the easiest man in the world to fit. He had a tendency to undergo wide weight fluctuations, and he often was on the short and portly side, not your standard size. Some years ago, Ray's dad was living in New Orleans and he had driven up to Connecticut to visit Ray for Christmas. The Rizzo clan was going out on Christmas Eve to a friend's home, and Ray's dad had forgotten to bring along anything suitable to wear. He didn't have a sport coat or a good pair of pants—nothing. So Ray told him, "Let's go to Mitchells."

When they got to the store, it was already four o'clock. They were going out at six. Needless to say, things were a little tight. Ray spotted me and bounded over and said, "Jack, we've got a problem." He explained the situation and I told him, "Fine, let's measure your dad." We did a measurement and it was looking grim. He was a 53 short jacket and a 48 regular waist. No store anywhere in the world would have had something on the rack that would fit those dimensions, or even come close to fitting them, and here it was, Christmas Eve. Where was Santa Claus when you really needed him?

So I went to Ray and I said, "Oh, man, he is a real portly short size, and we don't stock those sizes. Your dad has a challenging body." We both chuckled. Then I said, "But let's talk to Domenic, our head tailor, and see what we can do." So I sat Ray and his dad down, gave them something to drink, and Dom got cracking. Now Dom already knew Ray and his dad, because everyone in our organization interacts with the customer. Because Dom knew them, he cared about them. Because he cared about them, what mattered wasn't that it was almost closing time and it was Christmas Eve. What mattered was that Ray's dad needed some clothes—and fast.

And so Dom rounded up the biggest jacket and biggest pair of pants he could find. In about an hour's time, he and his team in the tailor's shop had transformed them into an outfit that fit Ray's dad perfectly. He looked like a million bucks and felt the same. Hug, hug, as he thanked Dom and me more than a hundred times.

I remember driving home that Christmas Eve feeling so proud of Domenic that he went the extra yard. Just as important, I was proud that our family had been successful in establishing an environment where Domenic created the miracle without the owner telling him he had to do so.

Chapter 4

The Golden Principle

You can't truly become customer-centric unless the entire organization is integrated so that everyone touches the customers, and so you have to ensure and enable that that happens. We have very few rules in our organization, because I hate rules. I hated them as a kid, I hated them in college, and I still hate them. A rules-based company has a tough time hugging. So we have principles, not rules, and our Golden Principle, essential to a hugging culture, is that everyone, at some point, works on the floor. Of course, that includes Bill and me. It starts at the top. And when Dad used to show up, even at ninety-eight, the odds were he would get out on the floor and meet and greet customers and friends and schmooze with them as he circled the store, and sometimes they actually followed him like he was the grand pied piper.

The reason I'm on the floor every day for at least a period of time and all day on Saturdays and busy days, with a tape measure around my neck, is to send the message that no one is so high up in the organization that they are above waiting on customers. To customers and associates, it shows that you're ready for business. You have to deliver the message from the top. I consider it an honor, a privilege, and a pleasure to wait on customers. Relationship selling is based on owners or senior management on the floor. Some businesses don't have an actual selling floor like we do (the computer is the floor in the brokerage business, and I suppose the customer's living room is the floor in the life insurance business), but what I mean is that everyone must be able to interact with the customer.


On Sale
Jun 11, 2003
Page Count
302 pages
Hachette Books

Jack Mitchell

About the Author

Jack Mitchell is the CEO of Mitchells/Richards/Marshs/Wilkes Bashford, four of the most successful clothing stores in the business. He and his wife, Linda, live in Wilton, Connecticut, where they raised four sons.

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