Where does the hospitality industry meet the fashion industry?

An interview with the Clienteling Manager of Gucci Rue Royale and Gucci Avenue Montaigne in Paris – by Răzvan Dumitru

The similarities between the fashion and hospitality industries relate to the high standards, etiquette and customer engagement, which are crucial in creating and managing meaningful relationships with clients. This week, we would like to introduce you to Felice de Jonge – a Dutch graduate of Hotelschool The Hague who is in charge of clientele management for one of the most renowned luxury fashion brands worldwide. After having graduated from The Hague campus in 2013, Felice worked in the Sales & Marketing department of The Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam until one day when she was made a life-changing offer.

What did you do after graduating?  

I started my journey in Hotelschool The Hague in 2009 after graduating high school and spending half a year in Cambridge for a Business English language course. During my studies, I enjoyed working as the PR Commissioner of the student association La Confrerie for one year. This was my first contact with the field of Sales and Marketing. For my first internship, I wanted to go to Bangkok but there were not many opportunities in Thailand at that time. However, since my mother was working as a flight attendant for KLM, I managed to have my interviews and meetings by travelling together with her. After a couple of interviews, I opted for Le Meridien in Bangkok and completed my first internship there. For my final internship, I decided to stay in the Netherlands. Thus, I decided to apply for a Sales and Marketing internship at the Conservatorium Hotel Amsterdam. Besides being welcomed by a great team and meeting my fantastic mentor at that time, this position enabled me to further develop my knowledge and experience in this area and start becoming the professional that I am today.

After finishing my internship, I stayed within the company and worked as a local sales executive, being responsible for the local market. One year and a half later, I was promoted to international sales manager and became responsible for the Asian, Australian, and European markets. This position entailed a lot of travelling to destinations such as Las Vegas, Sydney, Beijing, and many other memorable destinations. I am excited whenever I think of this period because I met so many great and inspiring people from different cultures and had the chance to visit many countries.

When did you discover your passion for Sales? What about Marketing?

I believe that I discovered my passion for this field during my time as a PR Commissioner for La Confrerie since I was responsible for acquiring sponsorships for the student association. So this was my first real sales-related position. It was really exciting for me at that time to step in the shoes of a saleswoman and be part of a team with whom I had so much fun while running this organisation. Looking back on my time at Hotelschool The Hague, I think that the most important skills were the ones that I learned while I was part of group projects and assignments. I would say that the time between phase two and phase three is the most challenging and rewarding one because you learn how to work in a team with different personalities, nationalities, cultures, priorities and levels of commitment. I did a Sales and Marketing internship especially to see both worlds, but I preferred sales. I relate more to this branch because I consider myself a people person and I love to have direct contact with people and interact with them.

How did your adventure in Paris start? Could you elaborate on that?

This is a frequently asked question for me because many people wondered why I chose to switch to the luxury fashion industry. The story began when I was introduced to Gucci by another alumnus of our university. I used to cross him all over the world because he used to work for a luxury hotel in Dubai and so, we would always meet up all over the world for industry events. When he joined Gucci as the EMEA Clienteling Manager, we got in touch about a Clienteling opportunity in Paris. Even though I was not familiar with this field of expertise, I decided to accept the challenge and join Gucci in December 2017.

It was quite challenging in the beginning because I did not speak the language and had to move to a completely new country. I was sometimes feeling like I was living a real-life episode of Emily and Paris. After four and a half years now as the Clienteling Manager of our two Flagships stores, I could not be happier with my job. Even though Clienteling Management is a well-known term in luxury retail, it is not so widespread in the hospitality industry yet. My role involves creating meaningful relationships with our clients in order to create brand loyalty and drive client engagement. Needless to say, there is also the communication part that is a key component of the job. I mainly collaborate with the selling team and guide them on how to communicate with our clients. Even though Gucci has been one of, if not the, top luxury brand of the world, we are competing with strong other brands like Dior, Chanel and Prada, wherefore training our sales team is essential to ensure effective and personalized communication that lives up to the standards of Gucci.

And then there is the whole experience part, which is the most glamorous part of the job. For several occasions, I accompany, communicate and look after our top clients. For instance, I enjoyed the red-carpet film festival in Cannes this summer, as well as accompanying clients to the fashion show in Milan. Of course, such experiences also demand a high level of care and attention to detail. Making sure that events of such scale go as planned involves extensive preparation and long days of work with the team before living the moment together with the clients. All in all, I believe that creating meaningful connections is the point where hospitality blends into the luxury retail business. Since this is a trend nowadays and we can observe many new concepts and collaborations, I think that this is what the future holds for the fashion industry.

What are the difficulties that can arise along the way of managing the image of such a well-known brand? How did you overcome them? 

This is one of the most interesting parts of working for Gucci, the fact that Gucci is a company which moves fast, especially when comparing it to other major players in the industry. The reason behind it is the fact that Gucci wants to keep its audiences engaged and constantly relevant. For example, since the collaboration with The North Face was so successful, Gucci launched a second collection with them a few months after and a new collaboration with Adidas has just been announced during our last Fashion Show in Milan. Always innovating, Gucci has always been one of the first brands to launch exciting new projects, such as a Gucci NFT which has been launched a few months ago.

Therefore, we also have to adapt our pace to it and make sure that we target the right clients for the right events. Keeping up with the pace can be challenging at times but it is essential. Our freedom in communicating with our clients also leads to many opportunities to create long-lasting memories and experiences. One of the various advantages of working with a fashion giant such as Gucci is that it attracts many different types of clients with different needs. The dynamic nature of the business enables creativity and the need to be up-to-date and aware of the latest trends.

In your opinion, what will be the long-lasting impact of Covid-19 on the Fashion Industry? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a really tough time for the retail industry as it has been for the hospitality sector. Even though our stores were closed, we were still in the stores performing video appointments with our clients. We were even organizing ‘at-home’ fittings for our top clients in order to keep in touch with them and allow them to enjoy the latest collection. Hence, our business continued thanks to our loyal clientele that still sought the Gucci experiences. So, in a way, it has been interesting to observe how the demands, needs, and wants of our clientele adapted to the circumstances. Nowadays, I believe that organisations started to become increasingly aware of how important clienteling actually is, representing the key to achieving any sales strategy. However, since the situation started to alleviate, our clients also started to seek the human touch, the in-store experiences, and sharing moments with our client advisors. Even though people are more comfortable buying online, I think that in-store experiences are essential in luxury retail as it reflects exclusivity and uniqueness. The attention offered by such brands is what drives loyalty and long-term relationships. As much as we enjoyed creating video materials and assembling a team to create remote experiences, I still believe that real-life interactions are more meaningful.

What is your prediction regarding the future of physical shops? Is the customer experience going to be substantially different in the future? To what extent did the traffic move from the physical stores to online?

In-store experiences and guest experiences have always been my interest considering that I have a hospitality background. Without a doubt, the number of brands that started to incorporate hospitality in their in-store experiences started to significantly grow. A good example of such practices is our Gucci Osteria restaurant in Florence. Our exquisite Michelin star restaurant, located in our Gucci Garden Museum in Florence, is run by chef Massimo Bottura. The purpose of it is to offer our clients an extraordinary culinary experience together with the Gucci shopping experience.

In Paris as well, everyone in our team, from the advisors to the hospitality team, joins efforts from opening to closing in order to deliver authentic experiences and engage with our clients in ways that reflect our standards and values. I believe that the human interaction which our clients are experiencing in our stores will continue to play a key role in creating and maintaining brand loyalty in the luxury retail industry.

What is the recipe for building brand loyalty and a strong clientele relationship?

For me, the most important thing is knowing your client very well. This is something that I continuously remind my team of as well. By knowing their needs and preferences, you can easily adapt and tailor your service in order to match or exceed them. A recent example would be the surprise that we organised for one of our top client’s daughters. Since it was her eighth birthday anniversary, we decided to organise a private cooking class in one of the most luxurious palace hotels in Paris, together with their Patisserie chefs. During that workshop, she learned how to make macaroons with her friends on her birthday. This is the kind of experience that we are seeking to create and deliver as part of our effort to personalize each interaction and go beyond. Therefore, I think that knowing your client well enough, being resourceful, and preparing thoroughly are the ingredients for a strong clientele relationship. The personal touch always makes the difference.

What achievement are you most proud of?      

This would be getting my feet on the ground in Paris, to be honest. Since I moved on such short notice, not speaking the language, finding an apartment, and overall settling in was difficult to a certain extent. I am very happy that I took this risk and do not regret this decision since it turned out to be a phenomenal experience.

What do you consider your biggest failure?   

I do not consider it a failure, but rather a challenge. I also think this is something that the new generation is struggling with. We are continuously seeking to do better, to have better positions, to have promotions, and sometimes, saying no is not an option anymore. But I gradually figured out that sometimes you have to say no in order to be able to manage your time. The failure would then be to “overdo” it and force your limits. You can give 120%, but you cannot give it all the time. Keep in mind that balance is very important.  

What is your favourite book?    

I often read books by Danielle Steel, whom I have been able to get to know through Gucci three years ago. Since then, we have been very close. Danielle is an extremely inspiring person to me, and she simply has a fantastic sense of style. I am always excited when she tells me that a new book of hers is about to be published soon.

What is the last film that you saw?    

I am not exactly an enthusiast of movies, to be honest. I prefer the Netflix series – especially the Scandinavian Netflix thrillers. Some examples would be The Chestnut Man or The Girl from Oslo.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?    

I am a morning person and I am also, most of the time, the first one to arrive at work every day because I enjoy the calm before the storm.

How do you prepare yourself for a workday? What is your ritual?    

I love walking to work so that I can enjoy some fresh air and the breathtaking sights of Paris before the day kicks off.

What is your biggest dream in a few words?    

Professionally, to incorporate more hospitality in the retail world.

Name one thing on your bucket list.

My bucket list mainly includes a large selection of Michelin star restaurants that we want to try out here in France.

Name one thing you like doing in your free time.     

I love home decorating. I have a genuine interest in architecture and home design.

What is your favourite place to visit out of all the places that you have been to?   

Cape Town! I love to go back there because of the nature, fantastic restaurants and good wine.

What is your favourite aspect of living in Paris?  

Definitely the variety of restaurants and cafes.

What is your favourite aspect of living in the Netherlands? 

Going to work by bike. It is also possible in Paris but not as convenient as it is in the Netherlands.

What would your advice be for students graduating in 2022?    

Do not be afraid to take risks. If someone told me six years ago that I will live in Paris, I would have said that it is impossible. However, nowadays, I am exalted to live here and work for such a renowned brand.