Interview Isrid van Geuns | Published on ISRID.nl | September 2018
On the balcony of my home office at the Pontsteiger building at the IJ, I talk to Christiaan Klein Pauw. Pauw Amsterdam and ISRID have been working together for several years to find retail talent for the 28 Pauw stores and their web shop in the Netherlands. The reason to do this interview is to introduce my own network to the story behind this unique and high quality multi brand concept and furthermore to show the clear vision of Christiaan concerning the human resources policy of Pauw and his general take on staff recruitment and growth stimulation. As I talk to candidates about Pauw being a potential employer, I have noticed some misconceptions concerning work atmosphere and a negative perception on working with targets and bonus components as part of the salary. Naturally, every company creates their own buzz; it is a fact that the Pauw profile is obstinate and certainly no fit for all but in my opinion, Pauw is a beautiful and challenging retail company to collaborate with and an excellent company to work for. For many years now, Pauw Amsterdam is a business containing driven, honest and professional people who dare to tastefully design and buy high quality collections.
I got involved by chance
Pauw still remains a family business. Shortly after WW2, couple Pauw-Thiry opened their first store at the Europaplein in Amsterdam. In the seventies, daughters Henriette and Madeleine, your own mother, joined the company. Had it always been apparent you were going to join the company?
Christiaan: “No, not at all. It was more or less by chance I became involved. I studied economics but felt I needed a certain level of creativity so I joined a foreign exchange program. I was exposed to art, architecture, photography and music. I returned to Amsterdam at the age of 23 and Madeleine asked me to help at an upcoming fashion show. It was a great experience and following that I found myself in charge of the complete remodeling of one of our stores in Breda. One thing lead to another and before long I was part of the company. The international wholesale was set up which required us to present our collection at tradeshows as well. It opened up new projects which I could shape and make my own. It never felt like I had to choose my spot in the hierarchy of our family business. Madeleine and I focus on different areas and so working together feels relaxed and organic. Madeleine is still in charge of designing our collection, together we buy for the women and I keep an eye on the developing process of our own collection. We do overlap at times and even though we have individual responsibilities, it is by no means strictly separated. At Pauw, we do not confine work in a strict job description. People who show interest and excel are given the chance to roll with it.”
Targets and commission
Head office maintains close and intensive contact with the store teams, how does that work?
“On one hand we allow our staff a lot of freedom which creates possibilities to accomplish certain things, but we do ask you to give it your full attention and commitment. We expect a certain level and effort and provide you the possibilities to allow you to grow. Within our company our staff is very present and we stay in close contact with all our stores. I completely understand some people may experience this as pressure. On top of that we give our sales advisors targets and commission. It raises a lot of questions with our job applicants and yes, we work and reward people in this manner but it is a process people can grow into. We do not expect people to hit the targets on their first day and I have never let anyone go who displays passion and shows self-improvement. The reality is, however, that most people feel uncomfortable working this way and it’s up to me to take away any pressure they may feel.”
The status of a sales position
I have noticed there is a lot to do about the status of a sales position within retail here in the Netherlands. As a society and often enough the employers themselves, do not appreciate the value of these positions in comparison to other jobs in the industry. This seems odd and unfair since store employees play a significant part in how consumers experience your brand. With that in mind, it seems unique that a sales position with Pauw is considered important and appreciated and therefore made profitable when targets are being met, however, people are still on the fence.
Christiaan: “Correct. I think there is a real opening in creating added value and making the position more fun. In sales there are different levels of challenges. Certain companies are satisfied just having workforce on the floor but we are looking for so much more: own initiative, consumer relation, being pro-active and the drive to grow. It may not be the easiest road to a sales position but I think for someone to reflect and look back, they are satisfied they were able to develop within our company. On a regular basis we see people who have left us, return, even after 7 years, since they miss the level of work at Pauw and they are unable to find our way of growth and challenge at any other company.”
No little soldiers
What do you focus on in talking to applicants to know they are a fit for Pauw?
“We are not interested in hiring little soldiers, so I look to see that sparkle in an applicant’s eye and I try to discover if they have a pro-active attitude and if they possess a level of passion. Perhaps the most important thing to look for is for people to be self-motivated and if they are willing to improve themselves. Aside from all that, there is the ability to adapt to your surroundings. Is someone capable to interact with a diversity of clients. In my opinion it’s about having a certain level and flexibility. I observe if people are able to switch tactics and make contact and whether or not they are sincere and sensitive in doing so or if they are just faking it.”
I can appreciate the fact Pauw is looking for talent who may not have experience in retail and are displaying capacities in other areas, showing an out of the box resumé.
Christiaan: “I do look to see if people have been working in a position in which they have had interaction with others. Once they still enjoy that roll and they have put in enough time, it’s easy to figure out if they are capable of making contact and directing it to their benefit. Part of our selection is to always do a trial run in one of our stores to discover if it feels right and for us to know if it’s a match. I get my feedback from the stores themselves but more importantly I receive feedback from the candidate who will have to work with it.”
Our passion is retail
“We have sold de Pauw Amsterdam collection for 10 years on a high international level, think New York and the luxury stores in Japan and Italy. We did notice however, as an organization, the difficulties we encountered dealing with this growth of retail and wholesale simultaneously, to equally give it our full attention. We arrived at a crossroad in which we had to grow as an organization and forgo the personal character of our company or we had to choose one area over the other. We had a clear view of what we were passionate about and so we completely focused on retail. We launched our new concepts and web shop and reduced our wholesale.”
“Online wasn’t a major shift for us, I see it more as an extension of retail. Same points of attention play a part; to inspire, quality, service and a personal approach. We notice customers get inspired online which often then flows into a sale at the actual store due to the added value of advice and styling. For us it is all about customer convenience, that is what it’s all about.”
Pauw not only sells their own brand Pauw Amsterdam in their stores but also a mix of other brands such as Dries van Noten, Marni and Golden Goose and with that concept you are considered unique in my opinion.
Christiaan: “I do think that aside from us, only Joseph London carries a similar concept but their own brand is very basic. We do not believe in a mono brand store, rather an interesting mix and therefore we don’t work with individual corners for brands, we mix everything together. Our philosophy is that of offering a multi brand concept and we train our people to offer it that way. Our clients trust our good taste and so prior to a product hitting the store, it has been handled and felt numerous times, hence the brand-quote ‘curated luxury’.”
You also carry ‘luxury denim’ stores by Pauw. What made you decide on this concept?
“While travelling to do our acquisition, we discovered beautiful brands, who were very much ‘Pauw’ but didn’t fit in our existing stores, so we decided, pure from a passion point of view, to do a trial ‘luxury store’ at the van Baerlestraat. It became a huge success and so we are expanding this concept. Pauw stands for a certain level of style and class. Always luxurious, never loud and containing necessary fashion elements to tantalize. Furthermore we emphasize on the fit, the quality, how it’s made and continuously question whether the product is a true fit for our costumer. We dare to be radical in our decision making. Even if a piece seems fun but we figure: ‘people will buy it but they won’t wear it’, we decide not to take it up in our collection. We equally strive to attain the same level of quality at our stores and to train our staff in terms of product knowledge, advise, styling, surroundings and after sales.”
ISRID is an owner-run agency for access to talent, recruitment and change consultancy, serving an exclusive and high-quality portfolio of clients in the fashion, lifestyle and luxury industry.