Interview with Christian Greiner | Ludwig Beck

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Ludwig Beck is known worldwide as the ultimate shopping destination, featuring everything from live music performances to a specially curated selection of luxury cosmetics as well as personalised letters in each delivered order. MiND had the pleasure of talking with Christian Greiner, the Chief Operating Officer of the iconic department store. We explored his history within the retail world and personal insights towards designing uniquely tailored services that create a successful fashion house.  

“My job at Ludwig Beck, it’s a little different because Ludwig Beck is on the Stock Market,” Christian explains. “I’m on the Board of Directors, and I do all of the operational approving as I am the COO, so we say. Wormland, the Men’s – Only fashion specialist was acquired by the company last year and that’s a completely different company structure but I still manage the two. For instance, my colleague who is working with me in Ludwig Beck is also working with me in Wormland. We divided the resources and time based on what we do at Ludwig Beck. The Head Office at Wormland is at Hanover so it is not the closest. I have to fly for two days at least and when I go over, I always have to visit the different stores. We currently have 15 different stores there, so it’s always a busy trip.”

Despite his youth, Christian has served many high positions, including the Managing Director of the fashion company Wöhrl‘, specialising in trendy concept stores and original retail environments, earning himself a rather reputable name within the world of retail design.

“Well, for me it’s just fun doing it. People always ask me if I’m stressed, but I don’t think it’s stressful because I honestly just find it fun. The funny thing is that when people meet me, they don’t believe in me, to begin with. For me, it’s always better when someone underestimates you, that way if you make a big entrance and you come in acting as a big manager and have nothing to say, then you become a disappointment. That’s the wrong thing to do.”

Christian Greiner COO of Ludwig Beck

As one of Munich’s most famous department stores, Ludwig Beck has a rich heritage spanning more than 150 years. Despite the company persistently thinking of new ways to reinvent itself with continued renovation plans, it is important for the brand’s enchanting character to remain a predominant feature.

“Like you wrote, we have over 150 years of tradition from Munich. Ludwig Beck was working for King Louis II (the second) so that’s how far we go back here. The tradition is still very much alive here because we still sell the products that he used from back then; from wool, buttons, and bespoke haberdashery products. We always try to find a good bridge between the traditional and modernity. Another thing, is that the staff are a very familiar team that have been working here for over 20to 30 years. That brings a real emotional attachment to the company as well. Equally, we still have a connection to the Royal Family. They still grant us to actually carry the royal sign. If you go to the entrance, next to the information desk you can see on the wall the Bavarian sign from the original Royal Family as they have certain companies that are still in the tradition of the kingdom. It is very similar to a tourist attraction.”

Looking ahead, Christian describes his focus as the COO being towards the continuation of designing and creating a holistic and unique retail experience, which he feels can only be found within the Munich location.

“Well Ludwig Beck used to have a lot of stores, we actually used to have a store in New York City within the Trump Tower when it first opened up. We also had stores across Cologne and plenty all over Germany and throughout, however that was not the right strategy for Ludwig Beck. It’s similar to if you took Selfridges and put it in Milan- would it work?

Like Harrods, it’s very much a British thing – for most people, they see it as a part of London. All big department stores have connections to their own cities, from the building to the location, to the history. So all the ideas of Ludwig Beck had over the years to go into different cities, was not very successful. That is also the reason why we took the decision to acquire Wormland, to have a separate brand that is actually already multiplied into different cities and proof that reaching out new branches can work.  So we have a separate brand and a separate strategy besides that department store here, to allow for their own growth.”

In Christian’s role as Chief Operating Officer, he also oversees the design layout including the unique displays and graphics featured within the Ludwig Beck windows. Visitors from all over the world come for a glimpse of the standout stories that unravel from the exterior of the store.

 “It is a religion for Ludwig Beck. Everyone who thinks about Ludwig Beck, they think about the window design. We have a very, very talented visual team. Even for me, it is still a very phenomenal moment when the team comes up and present the ideas they have. They are still able to surprise me, and I am all over the place and I see so many different things.  I see different concepts and ideas and I go ‘oh that’s okay’, and that’s nice but they still always manage, to make me go ‘Wow’- it’s a different feeling.

We had a very cool window concept two years ago when we opened up our men’s department in the basement. We wanted to make the story very masculine, so what they did, they cooperated with KUKA. They do the arms of robots for constructing cars and factories. So what we did was we took two of those robot arms and put them into the windows. And it was an artist who programmed them, and they had flat screens, and using the arms they drew a face on every flat screen to make it look like the two robots were communicating, talking as if they were people. So they were moving in the window, and then they started to play tennis and people would be just standing at the window watching, totally captured. They always come up with new, fun ideas like that. This is a very important thing for us, to use these windows to create emotions and surprise people. It’s like an art exhibition. “

Engaging the customer and focusing on their needs is of the most significance for Christian. He believes it is important to bring people from different industries and introduce new ways of thinking, to really captivate the client. It is Ludwig Beck’s willingness to go the extra mile in their tailored services that truly make the luxury department store a stand out shopping destination.

“Well, I want consumers to get surprised by the visit. It’s not necessarily always about making them buy something, but if people come and they are surprised by the team, by the service, the selection of the products, for whatever. That’s what makes me content.

“But I still think service and product are the most important things. You can have the most beautiful store, but if your staff are not service orientated or unwilling to surprise you… For example, they should be able to amaze you, as to just how high they are willing to take care of you. That’s something we are aiming towards. That’s the goal. I am not saying that we are there yet. it is the most difficult to really find staff who have the right sensibility, and are fully able to be supportive, talked to, yet still able to distance themselves and allow for customers to look for themselves. They have to understand each individual person. That’s the toughest thing.

“We have specific training carried out all the time, but the question for me is similar to the collaborations we do with other companies -who is coaching the team? There are so many coaches who are specialists for retail. I got to the point this year, where I was asking myself, ‘Why always retail?’; and I was thinking about what business is for me and as a customer, the most service orientated business I experience is to go to a hotel. They like to make a customer feel better and socially interact to make them comfortable. Then I had to ask, why do people come to me to work here? And for many people, their motivation is because they are into fashion. But that is not enough of a reason – to be interested in fashion, to be interested in cosmetics. For instance, if you go to the buying team, of course, you have to know about fashion, but if you are in it for the service, then it doesn’t matter if you are selling a hotel room or cosmetics, it’s down to your attitude. You have to be there to make someone feel better, no matter what I sell you. But that is not in the minds of many people, that’s not the intention when I think of a store. For me it’s very interesting when we hire people, to ask them during their interviews, why do you want to come here?

Ludwig Beck currently run an educational development programme for young adults, who come to work for the company and learn about the business. Christian finds it to be a very interesting insight into why people chose to work in retail.

“What is interesting during our educational development programme is to hear why they came here. And it’s so different because right from the spot, you can see who will survive. Because if you are not happy to be in contact with people, afraid to communicate, or meet somebody else because it is a lot of energy to be able to do that, you won’t survive. So what we did, to get away from that, this year was we brought in a coach who has also coached staff in restaurants and hotels. Because I just don’t want people to come in and say that was nice, I want them to say Wow, what the hell? And for customers to go out and talk about it. It’s like with music, everybody can learn an instrument but not everyone is going to be able to put on a performance. You need passion.

Music is a crucial contribution to any in-store experience and is frequently used to set a mood in the store. However, as the only department store worldwide with an entire floor dedicated to music and rare record findings, it has become a truly unique selling point for Ludwig Beck, far beyond any other retailer.

“The music department is one of the biggest and most unique installed music department worldwide. We have over 120,000 records up here including a rare vinyl selection. It is something you don’t find anywhere else in the world anymore. It is a unique selling point that we have, and so many famous artists would come to visit the store just to see it. However, the catalogue of the product is getting smaller. We are selling a lot of niche products, from very classical recordings to very specific products that fans and professionals are searching for. But it is because we are the only ones selling them, and no record label is going to push another 5,000 records for this one store. So we started to also sell the things that are about the music, like books, biographies of the bands and singers, and almost every week we have live performances.

“What we want to do in the future is to cooperate more with labels and promote artists inside the store. We had a discussion that what we wanted to do with the labels, is to create a pop-up store; like create a destination point very specifically for that location, which you could only buy merchandise from a specific artist on that day. We are just trying to think outside of the box.”

Ludwig Beck

Ludwig Beck is a pioneer within the cosmetic industry. It was the first department store to bring new and emerging brands into Europe, putting makeup as one of the most important factors to the store’s monumental success.

“For us at Ludwig Beck, the cosmetic part is one of the most important sections in the whole store and very focused on luxury brands. If you look at the top level beauty and cosmetic departments in the world – all of the brands you see, you can find here. We were also one on the first to have MAC in Europe, one of the first to have Kiehls, and we were the first retailers to have St.Barts in the world. That is also a very niche concept that we like to implement in our web shop but only for luxury cosmetics. We launched online in 2012, and it is very successful because it was very specific.

“We were the first in Germany to sell Jo Malone online and we even do the packaging online, like how you would find it at the counter. We don’t just offer it, we like to sell it because all of the people who are interested in niche products would come here. We really want to also address this emotional, personal appeal and bring it the web shop; from the packaging, how the paper is branded and for some certain occasions, we would add in handwritten cards or letters. It is what makes it special.

“We went online with niche beauty because doing it with that specific level of luxury is very unique, but tough. You need to give even more attention to customer service online. We are actually enlarging our beauty department in the store and refurbishing the whole first floor, so there will be a lot of new space for new ideas and new product.”

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