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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baltimore Sun Reviews Luxury Product Shopping Experiences for the 2008 Holiday Gift Giving Season

Filed under: MOB Exotic Car Gallery — Connections Prep @ 2:48 pm

LUXURIOUS, HIGH-END SHOPPING

UPSCALE SHOPS FULL OF DOWN-HOME CHARM

NANCY MENEFEE JACKSON, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
JIM BURGER, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

JACK DAVIS, GENERAL MANAGER OF MASERATI OF BALTIMORE POSES WITH THE ULTRA-LUXURIOUS 2009 MASERATI GRANTURISMO, $120,000. JIM BURGER, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

JACK DAVIS, GENERAL MANAGER OF MASERATI OF BALTIMORE POSES WITH THE ULTRA-LUXURIOUS 2009 MASERATI GRANTURISMO, $120,000. JIM BURGER, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

BALTIMORE BOUTIQUES AND FINE PRODUCT STORES

Leathergoods: Handbags in the City

“A lot of our clients come in just to see,” says George Sakellaris, owner of Handbags in the City in Harbor East. “They can sit down, look through magazines, see what’s going on.” And if they happen to find the perfect bag when they only meant to browse? “When you see it, you’ll know it,” he says with a laugh.

And a sticker-shock price tag quickly makes sense when a buyer weighs the quality of the item, and how long it will last. “You might spend $700 on a handbag, but you’ll love it, and instead of buying seven $100 bags, you’ll use it for five years,” Sakellaris points out. “With a good bag, you’ll get sick of it before it wears out.”

Clothiers: Ruth Shaw, INC.

Says Ray Mitchener, owner of Ruth Shaw Inc. in the Village of Cross Keys, “I say: ‘We do this show from 10 to 6 every day.’ ”He understands that a buyer might simply want one really well-made piece of clothing.

“I’m for the basics,” Mitchener says. “We send people to Target and Wal-Mart to get T-shirts.”He advises customers with limited budgets “to do the most, expensive, best-fitting jacket you can find.” He also recommends investing in pants that fit really well, preferably a gray flannel and a black pair. It’s the quality fabric and the hours and hours the designers spent tweaking the fit that make the wearer look better.

Fine Jewelry: Radcliffe Jewelers

Spending a little more lets buyers reflect their unique style, whether they’re shopping for themselves or for a gift. Nola Dobratz of Radcliffe Jewelers in Towson Town Center notes that buyers can find their own unique style because many of her pieces are one of a kind.

Customers also build a rapport with sales people, who know their style. “When something comes in and we know you’ll like it, we’ll call you,” Dobratz says. Even though she travels extensively to attend jewelry and watch shows, “we’re really shopping for our customers.”

That customer service characterizes upscale stores.

Personal Attention, Customer Service: Luxury Products Vendors Respect Discerning Buyers

Mitchener, whose Ruth Shaw store sells clothing and accessories from contemporary to designer, notes, “Any customer who is savvy and knows how to navigate the computer – they can shop anywhere.” But what keeps them coming into his store is the fresh eyes of his staff, the attention to detail and their ability to choose clothes for a customer. “Unless you’re in retail, you have no idea,” he says. “I know fit.”

Shoes and Specialty Gift Items: Sassanova

Customer service goes all the way down to a customer’s shoes – just ask Marion Greely, owner of Sassanova in Harbor East, which sells shoes and accessories. “The main thing we try to provide is the customer service you wouldn’t expect from online shopping or a large department store,” she says. It’s the job of her staff, she points out, to be of service to Sassanova’s customers.

“I think sometimes these days you don’t find that,” Greely says. “You feel like you’re putting someone out if you ask for help.” Rather than simply telling a customer they don’t have a shoe in the customer’s size, her staff will suggest other styles a customer might like – or call vendor contacts to find that shoe. “We are always happy to try and find a size for our customers,” Greely says.

Her shop doesn’t just sell shoes, it also sells small gift items, such as hand creams, fancy soaps, cashmere shrugs and men’s ties. Why? Because she recognizes that often customers are buying shoes for a special occasion – one that requires a gift – and having a selection of gift items saves them time.

“I saw that need,” Greely says. “Women would take the afternoon off to try on shoes and say, ‘I’m going to a dinner tonight, and I need a hostess gift.’ ”

Exotic Cars and Luxury Performance Automobiles: Thinking of the Customer Needs Throughout the Year

That thoughtfulness toward the customer characterizes Maserati of Baltimore.

Kae Davis, spokesperson and guest services director for the Timonium dealership, notes that all of their cars are collectibles. “They’re very rare,” she says… [making a Maserati, Ferrari, or Lamborghini the ultimate in an indulgent luxury holiday gift].

A customer who drives a Maserati out to dinner won’t want to spend the dinner worrying about what’s happening to the car in the parking lot. So Maserati of Baltimore provides its customers with a list of restaurants sensitive to those needs. They also give drivers a list of places where they can drive their cars [for pleasure (such as local race tracks or road rally routes)].

Recognizing, too, that those driving such a car are often doing so for business, the dealership sponsors charity and networking events. They also host events for those who love motor sports and premium cars because, as Davis points out, like anyone with a special interest, buyers enjoy getting to know one another.

They even sponsor events that are just plain fun. Because Maserati buyers are car buffs, the dealership invited some young car owners, those who customize their subcompacts in stunning detail, to bring their cars to a car show along with the high-end sports cars. The luxury owners ended up having a great time checking out the modifications to the subcompacts and talking with their teenage owners. “When you love cars, you love cars,” Davis says.

Buying a Luxury Holiday Gift: It’s Worth the Shopping Trip

A unique gift item is just part of the holiday fun, no matter what it is.

“We tend to carry the more fashion-forward and hard-to-get pieces, the waiting list bags that you might see the stars carrying,” says Sakellaris, whose store carries everything from handbags that start at $375 to a special-order $14,000 python or crocodile bag.

“Every time you’re in the market for a new bag, you don’t have to spend $600,” he says, “but when you’re ready for that one special bag or that one fun, fabulous piece … you need to treat yourself once in a while.”

Upscale Baltimore

Dobratz notes that Baltimore has the clientele who want fun, fabulous designer pieces, but in the past those buyers have tended to head up to New York or Philadelphia for serious shopping. But Baltimore is becoming more sophisticated, with shopping venues such as the new wing of Towson Town Center and Harbor East.

Stroll into Swarovski on the second level of Towson Town Center and for a moment, the whole world seems to shimmer in crystal. The museum-like display cases, inset into wooden walls, are fitting for pieces ranging from jewelry to martini glasses to figurines that are more like works of art than merchandise.

The second level boasts some newcomers to the Baltimore shopping scene, such as Sephora, a cosmetics store that is simply a sensory delight with its rows of seemingly endless color; Martin + Osa, whose spirited clothes for both men and women manage to be casual, comfortable and the height of fashion; and Burberry, which has been offering elegant apparel since 1856.

New Shopping Venues for a Glamorous Urban Experience

Still under construction as of press time are BCBG Max Azria, a favorite of Hollywood celebrities that sells women’s clothes and accessories; and Bose, which specializes in sound systems. A Williams Sonoma Grand Cuisine store will fill 5,000 square feet with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, as well as the culinary classics.

Whether gift buying, or rewarding yourself for finishing the holiday shopping, adding a bit of upscale browsing is the best kind of retail therapy.

Add a Bit of Pampering to Complete the Holiday Shopping Experience

Gina Kazimir, who owns PR Right Now, a showcase public relations firm in Bel Air, says, “Although I love bargain shopping also, when it comes to cosmetics I shop the high-end stores. Luxury cosmetics feel good and last longer, in my opinion. Plus, shopping for face care and makeup at stores like Nordstrom or Field’s or Neiman Marcus creates just a little time out, just a little bit of pampering and luxury where you feel very important, very cared for, and you get a sense that what you’ve chosen is really the right thing.”

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