A Survival Lesson from a 108 Year Old Retailer


Retail is a tough business these days. Mega stores are shutting down mom & pop operations all over the world. Saturday afternoon I visited a clothing store downtown Vienna that has been in business under the same family ownership for the past 108 years. That’s staying power. It has endured two world wars, bombings, fires, the great depression and numerous other challenges that I can’t even begin to imagine. As I compare my experience of buying a traditional Austrian coat at Loden-Plankl with my previous week’s shopping attempt in Vienna in which I blogged about here, there are obvious differences that I am certain have contributed to their century-long staying power.

a Survival lesson from 108 Retailer Loden-Plankl

Unique Merchandise. Loden-Plankl sells primarily traditional Austrian clothing. While it might not be the “it” thing to wear, their apparel is never out of style ( I thought the multi-button collarless sports coat was a very stylish, thus my interest). In a sea of stores selling the same stuff, Loden-Plankl was the top-of-the mind suggestion from my friend Barbara Shantz.

Location. You don’t stay around for a century at a bad location. The store was at the heart of tourist and local traffic near famous landmarks. Even without a map I was able to find the store on my own.

Service. I had strong complaints about the lack of help and friendliness of Viennese retailers. Not true here. I was helped right away by a knowledgeable and helpful older gentleman who knew exact what size of coat to show me.  Even though he first told me he didn’t speak much English, he made it work.

Quality. I bought a cashmere wool coat that fit like it was tailored just for me. The craftsmanship is obvious by the hand stitching and the subtle piping along the lapel, pockets and back of the coat.

Fair prices. Ok the coat was not what one would consider a bargain, but it was not grossly overpriced as were most the other designer apparel nearby. My friend Steve who was with me at the time even commented: “I expected it to cost much more than that.”

Most small shops are disappearing from the market because they cannot compete with large retailers playing the margins’ game with merchandise that’s found the world over. if I were in the retail business I would take a serious look at successful enterprises like  Loden-Plankl and take a clue from their playbook. After all, they have stared retail giants down and keep carving their own niche.

How was your last customer service experience?

  • Lisa Lewis

    This is a timely post Maurilio. We own a small business and are trying to figure out how to compete with the big guys. We need to focus on the uniqueness of our product. Thank

  • Marc Stroup

    I was at a store where a sales woman must have thought I didn’t have enough money to shop there and just ignored me while she went out of her way to help another guy who looked more put together than me. I found someone else to help me and ended up spending quite a bit of money with that person. The first lady looked shocked to see me checkout and give her coworker the sales commission. Meanwhile the other guy didn’t buy one thing. Sweet revenge.

    • Marc, I love when that happens! Don’t ever judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, this sales woman is not alone there are always someone like her around most stores.

  • You just made my retail heart happy. Love stories like this and how fun you got to experience the magic. Feeling valued as a customer is priceless.

    • I can’t wait to get cooler again so I can wear my new coat. I could rock the European fashion, I must say.

  • I think Customer Service has become an oxymoron for the most part.nnThis weekend, I had a horrible experience while buying a wedding present at Pottery Barn. Totally baffled me as I come from a very strong retail background and think service is paramount to success.nnOn the other hand though, I think that small boutiques are making a comeback as they fill that niche market of those of us who like great quality and service.nnIn Nashville I do a good bit of business with Tom James (not boutique but great service for certain), J Michaels and Oxford Shop. All are amazing with service and quality. On the chain scale I shop with Brooks Brothers quite a bit and their quality and service are exceptional.nnI no longer shop with big box strictly because I cannot find the attention to detail I would personally like. That will change when the first company I ever worked for, Nordstrom, opens up in September 🙂

  • Tina Levorse

    I’ve enjoyed reading your fashion blog posts, especially as I’m not a big fashionista. But anyway, you might want to post a link to Loden-Plankl if they have a web site, just to help the guy out a bit, since you like his stuff and his service.nnI wonder if a lot of customer service is bad because the store management hasn’t been clear to their employees what is expected and then followed up with good modeling behavior, and corrected their employees when a mistake is made. This is especially true for teenagers and young employees. If they don’t get taught good customer service, they’ll never “get” it, because they probably don’t get it when they are out shopping themselves.

  • I had an exchange with Akismet, the anti-spam guys, that was a pretty far cry from your experience. It’s a free service, so I guess you get what you pay for. nnI sent in a note about my problem, and I received a reply that had almost nothing to do with my request. I wrote back again, and never heard back. I reached out on Twitter, and again, no reply.nnWhen you’re the only game in town, you kind of don’t care about the dissatisfied, I guess.

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