Navigating the crisis | Pierre LaGrange on leading Huntsman Savile Row through COVID-19
The Chairman of historic tailors Huntsman Savile Row since 2013, Pierre LaGrange is the latest luxury leader to discuss the impact of lockdown on the business – and why the tailors’ core values of ‘discreet luxury, timelessness, style over fashion, personal attention, handcrafted individual creations and sustainability’ are more desirable than ever…
How are you navigating your business through the current COVID-19 crisis?
We have sent everyone home. Those who could have kitted out their garages, even childhood bedrooms, as improvised cutting/sewing rooms, so we would not let our customers down on existing orders. They will be ready for their fittings when the customers can come to us, or us to them! The customers have been extraordinarily supportive and our sales team (none of whom are furloughed) are in constant communication with them.
We have launched a few creative initiatives, such as the Design Your Own Tweed creation and the Literary competition, giving people something fun to do at home. Clients loved this. We also dug into our ‘hall of fame’ clientele and promoted some of our client’s films for movie nights with the family. Rediscovering how relevant Sam Goldwyn’s Best Years of Our Lives from 1946 is was a highlight of our communication. In tune with our clients’ mood, we moved our focus onto what we all need to get the most out of confinement, knowing things may not be the same for quite a long time.
What has the situation taught you about leadership?
More than ever, everyone needs to understand why they matter; why they are asked to perform various tasks and why the process is such – as these extraordinary times require imagination to solve never-encountered-before problems.
Collaborative management is unearthing amazing results, with everyone helping each other as we all have to survive the external shock – there is no time for working in isolation.
And what has it taught you about your business?
I have amazing and resourceful people working here – even more than I thought – which has provided some great surprises. But as the business revenues drew to a halt very quickly – most of our business is bespoke with one-to-one physical interactions – the cash burn is big. So one had to consider what was the relevance of what we do on the other side. Were we in the winning camp, or becoming obsolete? Well, we think our core values of discreet luxury, timelessness, style over fashion, personal attention, handcrafted individual creations and sustainability are more desirable than ever. Remember, bespoke has delivered experiential retail beyond the purchase of a product for centuries. How to deliver that experience to our clients is a new challenge, but the core attraction is alive and well. Affordability will need to be addressed, and we are lucky to have taken the initiative last year for a new approach to bespoke, offering a full Savile Row bespoke at what others charge for inferior, less fitting made-to-measure products. Furthermore, we will soon be announcing our ‘On Account’ house credit initiative, a modern take on layaway!
How are you – and the wider business – supporting your people?
We are a large family, with shared values of solidarity and pride in our work. We had been doing Zoom management meetings since last year, convinced of the importance of getting together live on a screen when not able to physically, so we were prepared. We now have extended this to social occasion, from Zoom bake-off, quiz, prosecco pong, and next – Zoom karaoke! On these calls, we spend most of our time on social non-work related chats, yet there is always a good idea popping up for the business.
What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?
Needs must; it forced us to put on the front burner projects related to how we serve our clients, mixing traditional bespoke personal service with technology. Operating with a portion of our workforce on furlough, we have been able to reap some significant productivity enhancements, so when people come back, we will be able to leverage that. I told my team to imagine themselves in six months looking back on this extraordinary period given to them, a time suspension where one can do stuff they never had the time to when stuck in the grind of regular activity: don’t miss your confinement!
How are you, on a personal level, dealing with lockdown?
I feel blessed to be healthy and to have had the extraordinary event of my fourth child born mid-April. Every time I am looking at her, I remember how much I missed of that time with my older children as I was always out of the house then! I love watching how my bigger kids have grown internally in confinement, making them better people, getting the time to focus on what matters!
IF YOU ARE THE LEADER OF A WALPOLE MEMBER OR PARTNER AND HAVE THE TIME TO TALK TO WALPOLE – AND THE WIDER LUXURY SECTOR – ON HOW YOU ARE NAVIGATING YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH THE CURRENT COVID-19 CRISIS, PLEASE CONTACT JENNI RAYNER ON JENNI.RAYNER@THEWALPOLE.CO.UK; WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU.