Before I went to Philly seven years ago, back when I took annual shopping trips/mini vacays, I saw a man on the DC metro with a BEAUTIFUL computer bag, from Burberry. It was honey brown, had brass buckles, looked just big enough to hold a laptop and a few office supplies and had a clip-on shoulder strap.
I don’t usually have a visceral reaction to bags, but this one, I did.
Now that I think back on it, it may have been from the women’s line, since they tend to make women’s bags smaller, and I wanted something that would hold a 13″ slim laptop and an iPad, a moleskin notebook, an iPencil, and not much else.
I was selling small bits of my soul working for a “Center-Right” (yeah, right) public affairs firm, had donated to charities countering some of the more awful people I designed for, and felt like I could treat myself, so I researched online, and found out their flagship store on Walnut Street in Philly often carried the bags.
Sunday morning on day two of my trip up there was my usual shopping day – croissants and warm peanut butter, a coffee, black from La Columbe, The Philly Inquirer and a spot in Rittenhouse Square park to watch the snobs walk their pedigree pups before I set off down Walnut street with a bag containing a few pounds of whole beans to take home.
I used to go to Philly at least once a year, hit DiBrunos for cheese and balsamic, Fantes for some kitchen gear, Maybe one of the pasta shops in the Italian market, and then back up for my coffee before picking up the car from the Walnut Street lot after checkout from the Alexander Inn.
The pandemic put a stop to that yearly habit, sadly.
So, I headed down Walnut, unshaven, comfy sweats on for the drive home, My comfy Doc Marten low rider boots that had some paint and stain on them from working around the yard. I meant to stop in at Doc Martens, too and see about a new pair.
So I stroll into Burberry’s looking disheveled. Nostrils flared on salespeople as they looked at me distastefully. I wasn’t aware that a 5 ft woman was capable of looking down on a 5′ 7″ man, but she was trying her level best to achieve it.
The main floor was mainly for women’s things. She directed me up to the 4th floor with a dismissive wave and a sneer like I stank. I may have smelled like hotel soap, coffee and peanut butter, but from the look on her face, apparently, I smelled like I rolled in dog shit at Rittenhouse Square before coming in the store.
…but I wanted that bag, so up the stairs I go.
A white dude was busy arranging things around the men’s section, not helping anyone, but trying not to engage with me, either, so I walked up, and described the bag I was looking for. He waved me towards some bags off to the side and went back to ignoring me.
So I looked at him. Looked at the bags, asked if they had more in the back and he pretended like he didn’t hear me.
He was white. Looked at me and sneered and likely assumed I was broke and not worth his time.
…so, I walked down the stairs, disappointed, but determined not to let bullshit spoil my day and decided to continue on to go get my boots and to see if Doc Martens might also do a computer bag.
She was the only Black salesperson in the store. All the white ones ignored me, turned their noses up.
She was warm, friendly, answered my questions, looked at my shoes and remarked that my boots had been through some things but noted that they were Docs. Went in the back. Brought out the correct size without having to measure my feet. I bought some laces while I was there, and she laced them up for me before putting them back in the box and sent me across the street to Tumi and said “they’ll take care of you” since apparently, I was wearing my experience at Burberry’s clearly on my face when I came in the store.
The rest of the staff, when noting what I bought then made a huge effort to speak as I left the store. (rolls eyes – continues on)
The woman at Tumi was a nice White lady. She called me Sir. Showed me to the men’s bags. Most of them were kind of big and not really what i wanted.
There was a bag hanging on display.
She said that’s usually a bag that women like, since its smaller, less bulky, more tailored, but I can’t see why a man couldn’t rock this bag, Take a look.
It was well-made. Has an RFID pocket to protect from spoofing signals off credit cards and phones and a tracking locator and ID chip, a lifetime servicing guarantee, and free monogramming.
…and so, with my bag from La Columbe, a bigger one from Doc Martens, and a third from Tumi, I went back to Burberry, approached the woman on the main floor, told her to contact the man up on the 4th floor and let him know that their commission went to people who know how to sell and who don’t make assumptions based on how comfortably a person is dressed.
I laughed a villain’s laugh that echoed up to the 4th floor as I left the building.
A few years later, in DC, I was looking for a bow tie to wear on a cruise, and decided to give Burberry’s in DC a second chance.
Same dismissive treatment.
They really need to work on that, unless the point isn’t to sell clothes, but to only have your brand on “certain” people, and it would not be beyond the scope of reality that this is the brief to their salespeople, as some pretty prominent houses out there don’t want their names on Black backs and have said so. Its easy enough to Google to find out who I’m talking about here.
I went down the block and spent a shocking amount of money at Paul Stuart for a bow tie, the old school kind you tie yourself, and matching cummerbund, because:
The salesperson was Black. I like to support Black people in luxury stores when I can, because I know some White people avoid the Black salespeople and go find themselves a White person to talk to, so I do what I can to balance the scales.
He didn’t make assumptions about how much I had to spend based on what I had on.
He didn’t try hard to sell me or push me, but was warm, engaging, and friendly, and made me feel as if I was not an imposition on his time.
If I’m in your store, as with anyone in your store, really, that’s the very least level of service I expect to receive and I wish more sales people were taught to understand that you need to treat everyone who walks through your door as if they were your best, long-time customer, and if you can’t do that, go find another way to earn a living.
Some of us aren’t going to bother to dress like we have money to come in your store. We may be testing you to see if you are worthy of our hard-earned money. Some of you will earn the lifetime loyalty of people who come to your shops if you can figure out how to treat us all like a life-long customer.