By a happy accident it turned out to be a former executive for Marks & Spencer, the English department-store chain that bought Brooks in 1988 and went about dismantling it, starting with the staircase.
The gent was one of the M&S guys who was sent to New York to manage Brooks. When I told him I would be very interested in interviewing him, specifically noting with a wry smile that my readers consider Marks & Spencer the devil incarnate, he didn’t exactly say yes but he didn’t say no either. His wife encouraged him but perhaps he’s enjoying his retirement and would rather talk about golf. He has my card, so we’ll see.
He did, however, offer a gentle defense of Marks & Spencer’s strategy at the time by saying that there was a joke among the management team that whenever a hearse went by they’d say, “There goes another customer.” They believed they were losing customers faster than they were being replaced and had to do something to save the company. Their efforts failed, of course, and they ended up selling the company at a loss.
The gentleman, who resides in London and was visiting New York for the holidays, did offer one more interesting anecdote. In the ’80s there was still plenty of old-school snobbery among the sales staff, he said, who wouldn’t wait on somebody if he didn’t look right. One particular guy, who was “fat and sweaty,” eventually took his case all the way to the company president, saying that he wanted to be a Brooks customer but never felt welcomed in the store. The president ended up waiting on him personally and the man turned out to be the company’s number-one customer, spending tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Snooty salespeople are more charming in theory than practice, and I’m very happy to have a regular guy on the third floor to ring up my purchases. He knows my name and always has a friendly smile, even when I just pop in to grab the driver and make a bunch of noise. — CC