Ten Minutes With Jack Mitchell – Chairman of Mitchell Stores
Jack Mitchell is a business owner, luxury retailer, author, and speaker with a passion for life-long learning. Mitchell grew up in Westport and was always intrigued by other cultures. After a summer abroad, he went on to earn his Masters in Chinese history at Berkley. In 1958, Mitchell’s parents, started their eponymous retail business in Westport, selling men’s and boy’s clothing. In the ’60s, Jack and his brother Bill joined the company. Jack’s wife, Linda, grew up in Wilton and together the couple have lived here for 54 years.
When did the business really start to take off?
When we started to carry European clothing. Westport was growing and changing from a community that bought moderately priced clothing and drove Chevys and Fords to one that wanted more European flair. We began mirroring the needs and wants of our customers and carrying labels like Armani, Xenia, and others. The store started at 800 square feet and is now 27,000 square feet.
You have written several books espousing the Hug Your Customer philosophy. Can you explain?
We think “customers first” always. We are in the people business, not the product business—although we sell very nice products! We know every single customer, not just by their purchase, but by who they are. We develop personal relationships so we know nicknames, where they went to college, and about their kids. The “hug” is metaphorical. It represents any genuine act or deed, small or large, that tells a customer you care about them as a person.
Show and share. No one likes to be sold, but they like to buy. Be a great listener and passionately like people. Know and believe in your product. Be trustworthy, have integrity, and always tell the truth.
What made you want to write?
I chose to write books because it gives me a whole other career where I can find value and can give back by sharing ideas I’ve gleaned over the years. It keeps me fulfilled. I’m also a motivational speaker and an executive in residence at Columbia School of Business. I mentor students and lecture on family business and luxury retail.
How are other family members involved in the business?
Nine family members actively work in the business, and through a family council, all are involved. Anyone descended from our parents who is 14 and older is a member. Bill and I have seven sons between us, as well as many adult grandchildren. There are two rules before a family member can work for the company: first, you have to work somewhere else for five years and second, to join the Mitchells team there has to be a real job. We will never fire a full-time employee to hire a family member.
What’s most important to you?
Family and friends are the center of our universe.
How do you stay so fit?
I play tennis and work out with a trainer three times a week.
Travel. Also, every summer for the past 20 years I go white water rafting with a group of men.
Favorite Wilton haunt?
Home. My wife is one of the best cooks in the world.