Last week’s news that Primark was to open menswear concessions in Selfridges will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows.

Last week’s news that Primark was to open menswear concessions in Selfridges will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows.

At first glance, it is not an obvious pairing, although Selfridges has been successfully broadening its high street brands and therefore its appeal.

As a general rule though, among the current doom and gloom, it is the high end that seems to confound logic and expectations.

From Burberry to LVMH, Mulberry and Gucci, the news continues to make other retailers read and weep as sales and profits climb.

To learn more, I attended the Wealth Summit. Apart from worrying that they may run a personal credit check before being allowed in, the event was a complete eye-opener.

Apparently there are now about 17 million global millionaires and by 2015 the number of Asian millionaires will overtake Europe’s embattled ones.  Despite the economic meltdown across Europe, the UK luxury market is forecast to grow by 10% per annum and the number of UK millionaires by 11% year on year. It can’t all be because of the National Lottery.

But what was really striking in listening to a number of the presenters talk about how they have targeted high-net worth individuals – or HNWIs – is that it always comes down to knowing your customers.

As one operator stated, if he is working in say Denmark, he makes sure he has the name of every single HNWI. To sell luxury products and services to this market, it was also said that you have to really know their ‘passions’ whether art, fine wine, golf, sailing, etc.

Vernon Hill, the creator of Commerce Bancorp in the US was quoted extensively about his business philosophy, which is that you start first with relationships, then service, and only then the products.

The messages seemed to go down well, as if they were new business lore. But perhaps there is something that everyone can learn from this sector.

In tough times, every business has to see transactions as relationships, to understand what customers really like if they are to stay loyal and to treat people with a little more care and attention than before.

  • Ian McGarrigle, Director, World Retail Congress