There are people who hate shopping or have little time to shop or no good sense of style. Most wealthy people are time-poor and this has paved the way for an industry that is serving their millionaire necessities; professional shopping.
Maryanne Maina, a Kenyan who lives in Paris is a personal shopper of wealthy foreign clientele.
“Personal shoppers cater to the rich who are time-poor or just enjoy being given extra services. Globally, this is a very crucial service industry. Private banks and family offices work with personal shoppers. Harrods, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and other brands also work with personal shoppers,’’ says Maryanne, who pursued an MBA in luxury brand management in France.
The personal shoppers buy from furniture, suits, fine art to timepieces. They influence their clients’ taste, research on products and work with brands on behalf of the customers.
“It is a glamorous career and you spend your time in beautiful boutiques such as Ralph & Russo, Louis Vuitton, Dior and others with private salons where you and your clients are indulged in champagne as they try on gowns costing more than $50,000 (Sh5 million) and above,’’ she says.
And how much does a personal shopper cost?
There are personal shoppers who charge Sh200,000 ($2,000) per day per client because having low charges may mean that they offer their services to the mass market or premium buyers and not the exclusive wealthy.
“I have met a Chinese professional shopper who only works with clients who spend a minimum of $10,000 (Sh1 million) per purchase: His clients buy timepieces worth Sh10 million such as Jacquet Droz or Patek Philippe,’’ she says.
However Maryanne, who clients are mostly from the Middle East, Russia, the US, China and West Africa, says her charges are slightly lower.
“I have someone I do personal shopping for whom I charge 1,000 euros (Sh116,000) per day and she pays without blinking and I go with her card and swipe it at the stores,’’ says Maryanne who got into the luxury market eight years ago.
As more millionaires turn to art gallery owners or curators to pick for them the rarest artworks painted by outstanding artists, or house buying agents with knowledge of the high-end property market, or people who understand fashion and even know bargains in opulent stores, no just anybody can thrive as a personal shopper.
“It is a job that requires ultimate discretion. A client can talk, but you should not talk much. You protect the client by all means possible. One needs a very in-depth understanding of luxury and what is not luxury. For example, Hugo Boss is a premium brand and not a luxury brand. One needs to know where to find known brands such as Cartier and less famous brands such as Satta Matturi. Will it be a brand from UK, Sierra Leone or Silvia Furmanovich from Brazil? For men, will the client look better in a Bijan suit, which ranges from $10,000 and worn by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon or perhaps he will look better in a Francesco Smalto suit? A personal shopper also needs to know how the rich live, what they wear, the global locations of their homes, where do they spend their holidays among others,’’ says Maryanne.
In addition, a professional shopper must have direct contacts of sales people at different stores who will send the latest products via WhatsApp so that the client gets the most elegant service possible.
“Finally, a personal shopper has to be patient. It is a very demanding job. You belong to your client,’’ she says, adding that before someone makes personal shopping a career, it is important to know their preferred client to avoid wasting time on people who keep negotiating or see no value in paying for the service.
However, the job comes with its perks. The super-rich sometimes send their private jets or an aeroplane ticket for the personal shopper to deliver their goods.
“In Africa, this is quite common with Nigerians who often send their private jets to Harrods shoppers or have their jets pick up their shopping in Europe or anywhere in the world,’’ Maryanne says.
Her most unique task? “I delivered three Maasai walking sticks to a Nigerian. He loved Kenya so much that he wanted souvenirs,’’ she says.
There are various types of people who look for personal shoppers. The kind that knows what they want but do not have the time for it, those who know what they want but do not know where to get it and those who do not know what they want exactly but just have the money for it.
In Kenya, most of the people who use personal shoppers may not be as wealthy to spend Sh1million on a whim, but private shopping services are reaching the middle-class. A majority of these clients are reserved.
Connie Aluoch of Connie Aluoch Styling Management who mostly shops for corporate clients says that she and her clients have to sign contracts where the discretion aspect is highlighted as well as the payment plan.
“Some clients are in senior management and so we must respect their privacy because they have a brand to protect,” she says.
George Siangani, the chief executive of Intime Group, a real estate consulting firm, is another Kenyan who helps the ultra-high net worth individuals buy property. He says his clients do not just ask for property in Karen or Muthaiga, they inquire about specific areas that are exclusive and known to be habited by Kenyans from the upper echelon.
“These people are looking for exclusive properties that are not listed or even advertised and so when they ask about a property in Muthaiga or Karen, for example, and you stammer or hesitate then that sends a red flag immediately,” he says.
He adds that a client also expects the personal shopper to know that when he says Karen, he does not mean anywhere in Karen but certain areas like Marula Lane or Jacaranda Road in Lavington and not just some random place in the area.
“These people don’t deal with just any Tom, Dick or Harry that would go bragging about how they sold them a house or that they know where they live, they require the utmost discretion.”
George gets his clients by being well connected and understanding their needs. Because most favour homes that cost an average of Sh200 million, the payment and transactions are different from clothes or timepieces.
“Property is expensive and so due diligence must be followed. These clients have Triple A rated lawyers and want homes built on not less than an acre of land. They also rarely buy ready-made properties and when they do, they bring them down and build what suits them,” he says.
The other side
However, private shopping is not all that rosy. Sada Kahindi of Zuida Bow who shops for gifts says she had a client who refused to pay yet she had already bought the item from abroad and had it shipped.
“From that time, I ask for a 50 per cent deposit,” she says, adding that some of her clients also prefer a pay bill as opposed to just handing over their debit cards.
Conny who deals with fashion has also had her own hurdles to contend with. She says that since luxury items are hard to find in Kenya, she is forced to shop online.
“I mostly favour classic pieces than luxury items because they are very expensive to find. However when the clients ask for them, we buy from trusted shops online and have them delivered,” she says.
Her rule for personal shopping is based on a style guide which she refers to as the blueprint that guides her work and helps with curating wardrobe items for her clients.
“You need to put together images that would work well with them and most importantly understand their character and personality before you can start buying anything,” she says.
Conny adds that she also does a wardrobe edit, termed as wardrobe detox service, where she gets rid of some clothes that may not be best suited for the client’s style.
As the industry grows, these personal shoppers’ secret to thriving is simple; they have mastered the tastes and preferences of the wealthy.
George says his clients want security and unmatched lifestyle which means he only shows them houses that are centred to their needs.
For Maryanne, her clients want rare and she even flies around the world to meet their demands.
“Two years ago, one African customer wanted two Vertu for Bentley mobile phones in crocodile skin, each costing Sh2.9 million. Another client, a Nigerian man, requested me to go to Geneva to buy a Bovet Récital 20 Astérium timepiece which was worth Sh20million. One other gentleman, I worked with from Russia, would come to Paris for meetings and first view all the images of the suits I would curate for him. He would give me his black credit card to purchase all the items needed and take them to his hotel room. He would then select with his wife. He hated going to the boutiques and preferred it done for him,” she says.