When women shop, many turn to their girlfriends for advice. But at Nordstrom at SouthPark mall, they might reach out to a pair of men.
Hade Robinson Jr., 46, and Gil Gatch, 32, run the personal styling department, where they oversee a team of 13 personal stylists and one beauty stylist. Their clients include couples, families and children as young as 8.
Youd never know Robinson and Gatch have been a team for only a year. Stylistically different, theyre so in sync their repartee is delivered in a seamless stream. You know how two people just mesh? Its like weve been brothers all our lives, says Robinson, the department manager.
Sandra Jordan, 50, lives in Bethlehem, north of Hickory, but drives 70 miles to shop in Charlotte. When I first met Gil I had never had a man stylist for womens clothing, so I thought oh great, a guy, she recalls.
Gatch quickly won her over. Hes a great person, and hell do anything for you, she says. If he gets a handbag he thinks Ill like, hell send me a picture. Sometimes you get caught up in your own little fashion box, and its nice to have someone pull you out of that a little bit, she says.
As it turns out, a lot of people need help shopping outside the box.
About 10 percent of department store consumers use a personal shopper, says Britt Beemer, Chairman and Founder of Americas Research Group, Ltd. And its not just the big spenders.
While the perception might be that only the affluent use this service, Beemer says people who use personal shoppers are mostly a time-stressed consumer. His groups latest study shows that nearly all of these shoppers did not want to make a buying mistake or wanted advice.
If it doesnt look good
At Nordstrom the personal styling process begins with a one-hour consultation by appointment. The service is free. Clients are questioned about work and their free time, so we can draw a mental picture of the type of person we are working with, says Robinson. Then they get into size and what the client wants.
It could be a complete wardrobe overhaul or an outfit for a special event. The misconception people have is that they have to come in and spend a lot of money, says Robinson. You can spend $50 or $50,000, he says.
Belk and Dillard at SouthPark both have one personal shopper who works with walk-ins and by appointment. Macys has personal shoppers at some of their stores, but not at SouthPark.
Neiman Marcus has two dedicated personal shoppers at its SouthPark store, although Public Relations Manager Kristin Jackson says all of the salespeople on the floor are qualified as personal shoppers.
The ultimate goal of personal stylists is to build trusting relationships with clients.
It doesnt do me any good for them to go home with a bag of things they hate, Robinson says. Part of his job is to talk clients out of a bad purchase, even if it is an expensive designer dress. If it doesnt look good on her, I will tell her that, even if it costs thousands of dollars.
Robinson was raised in Pageland, S.C., and earned a bachelors degree in television and communications at Winthrop University. He lives alone and is still searching for the one.
Hes been a fragrance model, spent 14 years in the hotel industry and worked at Iveys and Sears before being hired as a mens clothing sales associate at Nordstrom.
When his manager realized he was outfitting customers from head to toe, he was given the opportunity to be what was then termed a personal shopper. When the Personal Stylist Department was introduced three years ago, he was promoted to one of the first personal stylist managers in the company, he said.
Gatch earned a degree in philosophy from the College of Charleston. His prior job was executive pastor at a pop church in the University area, where elements of popular culture, such as multimedia presentations and rock music, were blended into the services.
He is currently doing post-graduate work at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and intends to earn his doctorate degree and teach.
His wife, Heather Gatch, is the visual manager at the SouthPark Nordstrom, where shes responsible for mannequins and window and floor displays. Heathers experiences at Nordstrom were the impetus for Gatch to apply for a job there.
Gatch specializes in working with women, while many of Robinsons clients are men. I was a kind of mamas boy, says Gatch. Women are just way easier to talk to.
He is an expert at sizing up a client and delivering an honest assessment. I can say, Remember that thing that you are self-conscious about; thats not helping that, in a nonchalant, non-insulting way.
Counselor and motivator
Charmaine Belgrave, 61, is a retired nurse who met Robinson when her husband, Dr. Enrico Belgrave, needed a tuxedo. She credits Robinson with bringing her husbands wardrobe to a new level. Hade knows his size, he knows his aesthetic, and he lets us know when things go on sale.
Now Robinson advises her as well. He really believes in getting a good designer dress, something that is timeless, and working back with the accessories and the jacket, she says. Hade has impeccable taste and has a great eye for color.
While women clientele come from a broad demographic, Robinson mainly works with three types of men. The first are starting a new career after college and have nothing. Second are guys who are having a career change. Next are men going through a lifestyle change, such as a divorce.
I like to take them out of their element and push the envelope, says Robinson. Southern guys everyone looks like they are wearing the same uniform. Southern men love their khaki pants and their polo shirts.
Robinson sums up the profession with a few analogies. You end up being their support and counselor and teacher and motivator. When you are working with someone in their private space, you see a lot and they share a lot You talk about clothing, but you hear what they are going through. You put on that doctor coat.
Everybody looks like a blank wall, and we take this blank canvas and dress it up and make a beautiful portrait.
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