For John Paul McGuirk, looking after Harvey Nichols' most important customers involves more than just a tour through the racks, as Jon Perks discovered.
When John Paul McGuirk took on his role of looking after Harvey Nichols’ most elite clients, it’s fair to say a knowledge of baking was not on the job spec.
But 15 months on from arriving at The Mailbox store, ordering cakes is one of the many daily tasks he’s found himself performing.
While the job is principally all about selling high end designer clothes and accessories from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, J Lindberg and Gucci, elements of John Paul’s job are more akin to that of a hotel concierge – from making restaurant recommendations and reservations for his clients (many of whom are Premier League footballers) to ordering flowers for their wives or girlfriends – and helping out with last minute emergencies:
“The latest is we’ve been sorting birthday cakes, which is nothing I can make myself, I’ve had to go elsewhere,” says John Paul – ‘JP’ or just ‘J’ to his customers.
“The last three weeks we’ve had three different birthday cakes; I’m obviously in the wrong business!”
On the contrary; spend five minutes in the new private shopping area at Harvey Nichols – the store this week celebrates a decade in the city – and you soon see why John Paul is very much the man for the job.
Former Villa stars Zat Knight and Nigel Reo-Coker – now Bolton teammates – have both dropped in for a chat and a cup of tea.
Both know exactly why they’re regulars in Harvey Nicks’ private shopping area: “It’s a very, very easy experience, especially with the fast pace of life nowadays,” says Nigel. “Everything now moves at 100mph in today’s society, it just makes the whole shopping experience so much easier and more helpful to have someone that you know on a personal level that can help you and you can see things and say ‘can you get this in for me?’, instead of having to go and look for it and source yourself.
“Not that we’re lazy,” he stresses with a smile. “We have very busy and hectic schedules and tend to forget certain things and occasions and you can come in here and have a more intimate, personal relationship with them, it makes it easier for them to understand your style.
“If a piece of clothing comes in that they know you might like, JP’ll ring and say ‘this has come in and I’ll send you a picture of it, would you be interested?’
“It’s a comfort level; when I came here four years ago, I didn’t know too many people, and I use to come in here quite a bit after training just to relax, have a cup of coffee and biscuits.
“You get to know the staff and feel welcome to come in when you want, even if you’re not here to do any actual shopping,” he adds. “That’s why I prefer to come here rather than even the Harvey Nichols in London – it’s all about how they make you feel, it’s the whole interaction thing, and if I recommend friends or family and they come in and ask for JP, I know they’ll be well looked after exactly the same as I am treated.”
John Paul will happily take calls out of hours, asking him to book restaurants or buy flowers, seek out that exclusive piece of clothing or just for a chat; he admits it’s all just part of the ‘above and beyond’ service that comes when customers are parting with serious money for their designer labels:
“It’s not so much about just selling product on the shop floor – it’s about looking after your customer, and if you do theyll be loyal to you and give repeat business,” says John Paul, who joined Harvey Nichols from Serene Order in Solihull.
“Not everything I get them is off the shop floor; don’t get me wrong, we obviously want to sell what we’ve got, but if you look after the customer where you can, they’ll come back.”
Rather than put everything that comes into the store in front of customers like Zat and Nigel, John Paul will only show them items he thinks they’ll like; he also has to watch who buys what, to prevent any embarrassing ‘matching outfit’ nightmares when the players have get-togethers.
After all, they spend their working lives wearing the same clothes. “You don’t want them all dressed in the same uniform – that wouldn’t go down well,” says John Paul with a wry smile.
“Wives is the ultimate no-no; I did it once before and they both turned up on a matchday in the same top but I had warned them, so it was their own fault, but they did have a massive argument.
“When you get to know your client, you know what they wear, so you don’t shove everything their way, you pick out certain pieces,” he adds. “Something Villa keeper Brad Guzan will wear, I know these two won’t wear.”
Solihull-born Zat, who joined Bolton Wanderers two years ago, says: “I’ve been coming here for a long time now; they’ve got Harvey Nichols in Manchester and I was based up there for a while, but it wasn’t the same feel – you can go into the Harvey Nichols [there] and they might just say hello and then you’re free to do whatever you want. Here, you’ve got more of a relationship – you can phone them at the drop of a hat and say ‘J, can you get this or that for me’ and it might take a few days, but he’ll get it for you.
“If I’ve bought something and Nigel comes in and he’s going to buy it, J knows so he’ll tell Nigel – instead of selling it to all of us and we all turn up in the same thing!”
In the ten years since the store opened, Birmingham’s reputation as a top shopping destination has blossomed – the likes of Harvey Nichols, The Mailbox, Selfridges and Bullring at the forefront of putting the city firmly on the retail map:
“I can definitely see the progress and it’s a step in the right direction,” says Zat.
Nigel nods: “Myself and Zat grew up in London and it’s a very fashion conscious city,” he says.
“I remember when I first came up here, a lot of the guys were making fun of me: ‘oh, is that Dolce, is that Gucci? – it wasn’t that I was doing it to be your typical footballing fashion type, that’s the life I lived in London.
“Then slowly the whole style and demeanour changed and they all started wearing the designer brands too, and a lot of it was from them coming into Harvey Nichols. Now, they’re all ‘Dolce this, Dolce that’ – and I just sit back and laugh.”