You are a professional and an entrepreneur. You’re #1 priority is to help your clients succeed. You make recommendations that are in their best interest.
In other words, your relationship to the client is more than a transaction because you’re building upon a foundation of trust. You provide services with no strings attached, and there’s never a question about your true motivations because you answer only to yourself and your client. Things like because commission payments or clothing sales goals are non-issues.
Now, it’s time to take a look at your most common competition: the retail sales associate. Yes, seriously.
Before I continue, I should clarify that a sales associate is a perfectly worthy profession. Whether you’re a business owner or work for another organization, everyone is a salesperson. We all have to sell to make a living.
What is misleading is how the retail stylist is often positioned as a service provider to the consumer.
The retail industry, in its need to stay profitable, has adopted a language that sounds very familiar to those of independent personal style professionals.
In previous posts, we discussed the distinction between the image consultant, the personal stylist, and the personal shopper. It is worth repeating: understanding these roles and how they’re different will help you maximize your clients’ experiences. In our world of independent personal style professionals, personal stylists are creative strategists who bring their client’s vision to life. Often, the client appointment occurs at the client’s home where reviewing the wardrobe is part of the consultation. The client is paying for stylist’s expertise, knowledge and ideas for bringing their vision to life.
This does not mean the retail personal stylist fulfills the same role. Although the titles are similar, everyone isn’t speaking the same language. Sadly, that is not the case at all.
Here’s how retail’s version of the personal stylist is different.
Years ago, what used to be called ‘sales associate’ in the retail world is now called a personal stylist. In other words, their actual roles and tasks have stayed exactly the same, while their title has changed. This creates the illusion that personal styling is a service you can access easily and freely by walking into a store.
This further trivializes and commoditizes the profession to the point consumers have a hard time understanding the value of the service, but instead understand it as another transactional experience to buy clothes.
This not what we do!
When it comes to clients, we have to do the right thing and often, the right thing has nothing to do with selling or buying clothes.
It’s about helping your client see possibilities that already exist in their own wardrobe.
Just to be sure, I performed a search on the internet to find job postings for “personal stylists.” This wasn’t a difficult or long search process. In fact, I simply pulled the first example I found on a popular job site. With the exception of removing the store’s name and other identifiers, I made no other changes to the job description. To be safe, I compared the job post with other retail “personal stylist” job listings and they were similar. Below is an image of the job posting, plus my analysis, so you can see a snapshot of a retail “personal stylist” job description.
In all fairness, education is not formally required for personal style professionals in general, and it is possible that a sales associate can have the drive, motivation and experience to provide satisfactory consultations.
However, the constraints of the retail environment can only provide a launching ground for a career in the personal style industry, not a real alternative.
To be good at what we do, we require investment in both education and experience for our own professional development and for our business because the success of our clients is our primary focus.
This is not trivial. To keep our industry and profession ethical and principled, we need to focus on competence, experience, credibility, transparency, and relevance to serve our clients responsibly.