The art of selling luxury
Alexandra Singer, the UK managing director and creative director for THG Paris, explains what selling ‘luxury’ products really means and why it requires a special skillset
When it comes to experience of selling luxury products, it’s fair to say that Alexandra Singer, the newly crowned creative director of French luxury brassware specialist THG Paris, has it in droves.
Not only has Singer been at THG Paris – arguably one of the most luxurious tap brands in the world – for four years, prior to that she spent eight at super-high-end retailer Bathrooms International, before it was bought by THG.
With a portfolio of designer products – including bathroom accessories and kitchen taps – adorned with anything from semi-precious stones, crystal, marble, onyx and porcelain and prices ranging from anywhere between £1,000 and £12,000 (check out the Pétale with red Baccarat crystal), it surely doesn’t get much more luxurious in the KBB sector than a THG tap.
As Singer says, the brand itself – named after the three founders – may not have the catchiest title, but over the years it has become as synonymous with luxury brassware and bathroom accessories as Rolex has with luxury watches. French-born Singer is no stranger to the UK market or the bathroom industry. In fact, she’s been gaining more and more valuable experience since she began her career here at 18.
“I grew up in France but didn’t go to university,” she explains. “I went straight to work at 18 and have built my entire career in England. “One of the things I love about this country is that, if you work hard, you can climb the career ladder without any formal qualifications.
“I did that first as the assistant to Cheryl Gurner, the co-founder of Bathrooms International – who I credit as my mentor – when it was the UK distributor for THG. I went from there to sales director in eight years.”
Q: Congratulations on your recent promotion to creative director of THG Paris. I understand that you’ll also remain as MD of the brand in the UK. How will the two roles fit together?
A: As managing director, my role is obviously all about how the brand operates in the UK. My role as creative director is really focusing on how to make our brand even better everywhere. I’m looking at showrooms, I’m creating our catalogues and I’m making sure that we’re moving with our time and, also ahead of it a bit where possible. Our industry is growing at an accelerated pace and I’m excited to work in this elevated role for the brand.
Q: As a woman, how easy has it been to further your career in the industry?
A: If you look on the interior design side of the industry, it’s dominated by women. And I love that. But, on the flip side, it’s quite interesting because that’s also known as the pretty side, which means we’re still falling into the clichés of women dealing with the pretty stuff. Whereas on the bathroom side in particular, a lot of the industry come from a trade background, and they tend to be male-oriented roles. And there are very few women in senior roles in the industry.
Q: What can we do to encourage and empower more women to go for senior roles in the industry when the opportunities are there?
A: Women are so different to men. I’ve worked mainly with men all my life and I see that they absolutely believe they can do something. They believe in themselves in a way women just don’t. There are two sides to this. The first is that you have to push the boundaries. I’ve personally faced my fair share of sexist remarks and it has just made me more determined to push the boundaries and prove that I am as knowledgeable as the next person.
One of the biggest issues in the UK is actually outside of the industry’s control and that is to do with the cost of childcare. I know so many talented women who could have progressed so far in their career if they hadn’t had to take a career break of 10 years to look after their kids because of the cost of childcare. That is an enormous break in a fast-paced industry.
Q: A lot of people talk about selling luxury in the KBB industry, but can you define what the word really means?
A: I don’t mind that the industry uses the word luxury to promote their products. There are layers, I think. Depending on where you’re positioned in life, your view of luxury, and what it means to you, will differ from the next person. If you come from nothing, whatever you can afford with your first salary will look like luxury. But, if you have lots of money, obviously there are only certain brands that will feel like luxury. That said, I believe that THG is the ultimate luxury because of its manufacturing principles and the materials and parts it uses. I don’t think you can compare a beautiful dress from Zara to a handmade dress from Chanel. It’s never going to be the same.
Q: Is selling luxury as much about the service as it is about the product?
A: A lot of people forget that a good 50% of luxury is service. One of the reasons our clients only ever come back to us is because of our service. More and more people are willing to pay that little bit more just to get that beautiful service. This plays into the strengths of independent KBB retailers, but they have to ensure that the manufacturers they are working with are supporting them, in order for them to offer that luxury service.
Q: Describe your management style…
A: For me it’s two things. First of all, I’m kind. I hate mean people in business. I don’t understand the point in shouting or being a dictator and pushing people to their limits. So, I believe in listening and being a good person in the first place, that’s what matters most. The second thing really feeds into that listening trait, because I really try to home in on my team’s skills. Work out what they’re all good at, what they want from life and where they want to go in their career and help them achieve that. As a manager, the more you help people achieve their goals and their dreams, the more they’ll give you back. Surround yourself with good people who have skills you don’t have and you’ll reach the sky together.
Q: THG works with a number of top designers. Do you have a set design DNA that they follow or are they given free rein?
A: THG is probably the last remaining brassware manufacturer in the world that makes everything in-house. Even after four years, I still find going to the factory an amazing experience. We are still a very traditional manufacturer. What this means is that we can make truly bespoke products. We’re in total control of what we make all the time. This is where the true luxury aspect of the brand comes in. We make bespoke products for clients – we create ranges just for hotels – like the Dorchester in London – or for developments and that’s really where we’re so different. We have a huge portfolio as well – 200 products. We continue to innovate but, as a brand with a 70-year history, everything has to take in the brand’s sense of quality, craft and integral DNA.