You can almost guarantee that the worst thing about any five-star hotel you stay in will be its retail opportunities
You can almost guarantee that the worst thing about any five-star hotel you stay in will be its retail opportunities. Plain glass cases with a variety of spangly watches. A concession with 150 ties. Local tat, from shortbread in Edinburgh to flasks of olive oil in Rome.
Simon Thompson, the main behind the new retailing concept at the Savoy (on which more in a second), is vociferously of this view: 'Why do all five-star hotels around the world only offer two-star retail?' It's less a rhetorical question, more an anguished cry from a man who has spent the past decade working with luxury retail brands like Harvey Nichols and Browns.
It is an interesting question, because even as hotels crow about their service, they forget that enabling their guests to buy a stylish tie or even an LBD, rather than forcing them out into the West End or Fifth Avenue, is a valuable plank of service. Retail is, apparently, a four-letter word in the hotel world.
Shop at the Savoy, as you might now be anticipating, has done away with the tartan tins of toffees. In their place is a multi-channel shopping opportunity, where in the hotel, through your TV or at shopatthesavoy.com you can browse their curated range of luxury items: Dunhill briefcases, Alexander McQueen clutch bags, selected volumes from Daunt Books, Moody & Farrell hats, Spencer Hart ties. You can, in fact, buy a Jaguar via your TV.
Shop have been clever in anotherr respect. The thing that makes one wary in hotel boutiques is the gouging that takes place on the prices; Shop charges the retail price, meaning it is not just more stylish but more honest than most.
There is also a personal shopping option, which a princess recently took advantage of, according to Simon: he says she called up two days before she arrived to meet a VVIP and when she got there at 2am, they had a suite filled with 30 outfits for her to choose from. For non-flying visits, Shop offers themed days (not only available to the Savoy's guests) where you will be chauffeured around London to jewellers or vintage stores or the West End.
The brands are not wholly British, but a good chunk are, and the selection largely rejects mass luxury, although Simon recognises that it has its place: 'If you're from a Bric country, they tend to be more ostentatious' and would rather have logo'd brands. 'It would be wrong to enforce a British idea of luxury onto our audience. [People from Bric countries] may suddenly have a large amount of wealth and they celebrate it.'
The concept will roll out in another London hotel next winter, before flying to Monaco and New York, Simon envisages, over the next five years. The strength of the concept, he says, is not just that it can be scaled but that it can be adapted quite specifically for whichever hotel and market wants it. Judging by the London selection, the market is tasteful, discreet and very, very chic.
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In passing, Hedgehog learnt that Philip Blackwell has selected the libraries in nineteen of the Savoy's suites, including a book from Spear's contributing editor Clive Aslet. He profiled the Savoy's audience and chose accordingly, mainly with a London theme.