The articles and comments get at a key issue frequently discussed in the personal finance blogosphere, namely that the more you spend on "looking wealthy" the less actual wealth you are likely to have.
I was talking to a Jaguar salesman last week and asked him what the hardest part of his job was.
“You can’t tell who’s rich anymore,” he said. “It used to be if someone walked in with jeans and a T-shirt I could ignore them or ask them to leave. Now that guy could be a billionaire. You have to be nice to everybody these days.”
Tim Blixseth, the billionaire timber tycoon, once told me about the time he visited a men’s clothing store near Palm Springs to buy a suit for his son. When they walked in, wearing work boots and jeans, the salesman headed them off at the door and said “I think you’d be better off at the mall.” They eventually bought a suit, but Tim made sure to drive by the front door in his Rolls Royce and wave goodbye to the salesman.
Identifying the rich used to be fairly simple: They dressed, talked and looked a certain way. They had iconic last names like Hutton or Hearst or Phipps, often with Roman numerals at the end.
Today, wealth has been democratized and individualized, and the rich come in all ages, shapes, sizes and ethnicities. People often ask me, “What do the rich wear? How can you tell by looking at someone today if they’re rich?” Such questioners are usually recalling old myths about watches and shoes, but my answer is that there is no way to tell. The rich don’t have a uniform anymore. Today, they all wear their wealth differently, from the dot-commers in T-shirts to the hedge-funders in khaki to the CEOs in classic pinstripes.
In her Journal column today, Christina Binkley takes a stroll down Rodeo Drive to do an “emotional audit” of salespeople — i.e., to find out how nice and welcoming they were. A woman at jeweler Van Cleef “sent us out the door with little more than her scowl,” she writes, while a woman at Yves Saint Laurent didn’t offer a smile but a “single upturned corner” of her mouth. In other words: not welcoming.
One issue that doesn't really get mentioned much, though, is that of the snobby salespeople themselves-- except in the comments. Here's a couple of outtakes:
[An investment banker says] I care my clients see me as an economic equal. But, I couldn't really give a rats ass what some two -bit clerk at Bloomies thinks of me.I'll echo what many of the other commenters said-- if you are working in any kind of store, you should treat everyone in a friendly, courteous manner. Yes, you may be working on commission and not want to waste your time, but it's a mistake to make assumptions about anyone's spending potential based on their appearance.
Many sales people in high-end stores are lower middle-class strivers with serious adequacy issues.
If sales people were so wealthy, they wouldn’t be salespeople selling luxury goods. They would be BUYING the goods from these stores. Never understood why sales people at upscale stores have attitudes. They are the ones who need to be working to get by (most of the time) - not the people shopping in the stores.
But that said, I've been on both sides of the counter. I worked in a clothing store when I was in college-- trendy but not high-end. What I learned from that job is that most customers treat salespeople like dirt. The NY Times "Class Matters" interactive graphic on class components puts retail salespeople at the 42nd percentile-- I was surprised it was even that high, as sales jobs are not usually thought to be very prestigious.
When I had that job, I didn't work on commission, so I didn't really have a stake in trying to latch onto rich customers. Most of the time, I was friendly because it just seemed to be the right thing to do. But other times, if I was tired or having a bad day, I didn't smile at people and I probably looked like I had an attitude sometimes. And I kind of did! I was barely making more than minimum wage and the job kind of sucked. Whenever a customer really talked down to me, it was some small comfort to think that I'd be going back to my fancy college where I'd be preparing myself to, I don't know, rule the world someday.
The point is, if people think they are being looked down upon, they may feel like looking down on others is their only defense. And as the comments and article showed, both sales people and customers seem to look down on anyone who doesn't, or doesn't seem to have money.