Boodles, customer service, and the advantages of private businesses

We had a major wedding anniversary and big birthdays in 2008.  My wife took advantage of this by spending considerable time pre-event going round good jewellers to choose what she wanted as her major presents from me.  Yes, I am a coward and no, there was no way I was going to risk choosing myself.   I was then given very precise instructions as to what I was to go and buy - down to the name of the assistant I had to speak to in the chosen shops!

She enjoyed this so much she suggested to our daughter that the two of them could do the same and choose daughter's 21st birthday gift (some months ahead of the big day) in the same way.  So on Sunday they went off to Harrods on the first of what will no doubt be several scouting missions.  A necklace was purchased from the Boodles shop / franchise within Harrods last time, so they visited again this week . And the service they got was amazing.  That's amazing as in 'brilliant'.

Having established my daughter's preferences, the young Boodles lady (I would also note that they employ very charming young people - of both sexes)  actually suggested a bracelet, not in their normal range, that was cheaper than anything they had on display because she thought it would particularly suit her.  Most unusual.  Then daughter decided she would like this design, but three strands (getting into technical jewellery speak now - alert! alert!)  combined together into one bracelet.  How much would Boodles charge for creating this unique design?

"Oh, just the same as for three individual bracelets.  We won't charge you for putting them together, fitting a suitable clasp and so on".

Now, they could easily have added on at least £50 to the price without any difficulty; probably more.  But Boodles didn't.  And they were treated like royalty, including a free glass of champagne; treated, in fact, in exactly the same delightful manner as the young middle-eastern lady who was buying a £250,000 necklace at the same time!  Boodles even cleaned my wife's wedding ring (free of charge) while they were looking at bracelets.  All of this for a purchase that was always going to be very firmly in the not very high 3 figures territory...

Their whole approach was so NOT 'short term profit maximisation' as to be almost unbelievable.  But.. they are a private, 200 year old, British, family owned firm.  Founded in Liverpool in 1798, since you ask.   I strongly suspect their whole approach is based on a very long term strategy: capture your customer for life with incredible customer service .  That assistant was clearly not motivated by a short-term revenue target or bonus. (We've had a hand-written card from her since as well...)

And it works.   What will be daughter's first thought if and when she needs her engagement / wedding ring?  If one day she has £25K  - or £250K (unlikely as she has no plans to become a banker) - to spend on something very special?  Where will she go?

But private firms can afford to do this, and it does give them a potential competitive advantage over public corporations.  No quarterly profit figures to announce, no sacking the CEO if the revenues dip by 3%.  They can take a long term view, over years, decades or even lifetimes.   I suspect Boodles genuinely think in these sort of timescales; why wouldn't you, when it is the fifth or sixth generation of a family running a business?  (Mars had - probably still has - the same attitude when I worked there).

Unfortunately, in my experience, we don't come across many suppliers with this approach in the commercial world. That's a big shame.  Could we persuade Boodles to diversify?  In which spend category could we most benefit from a firm with this sort of customer approach?

And if you've got a big event coming up - try Boodles!

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