Worldwide Exclusive: Luxury Retail Temp Job Review
Imagine that regular retail work and promo / experiential events had a baby… and they built its crib out of solid gold.
That’s what working in luxury retail is like.
In today’s entry in The Best Temp Jobs For Actors we dive into the various pro’s and cons of the world of Harrods and Selfridges to discover if temping with a luxury retail agency is the right move for you.
Skill – Score 5/10
The primary focus is on customer interaction and selling products, but not in a passive way like working in a regular retail shop is like, in a very driect way. If you think “Traffic Stopping” is something a copper does when there is an accident then think again.
Most of your day will be spent on the shop floor of some of londons most oppulent department stores or for the most luxurious brands either simply covering for a regular member of staff who is sick or on a promotional site pushing a specific product as hard as you can to as many passers-by as possible
The reason these brands hire actors and other performing artists is two fold:
Firstly because we are generally more attractive than the general public. I know it sounds weird but it’s true. To be a professional in an industry that is heavily appeaarence driven means that generally speaking we know how to present ourselves in a more attractive way than most which is really important for these brands.
Secondly – and proably more imprtantly – we can improvise.
Improvise, blag, bulls**t, whatever you want to call it your ability to string little pieces of information together to sound like you know exactly what you are talking about is a very big part of working in luxury retail.
You will sometimes get a couple of hours of training on a new product if you are working on a launch but more often then not you will be expected to rock up on a counter and just simply blag your way through the customer experience.
The better your ability to blag – and the better your actual sales ability and product knowledge is – the better you will perform and the more you will get booked for shifts.
If you’re not very good at selling then you better be sure you are the nicest, most approachable, helpful person out there or you will be bottom of the pile when your agency gets a shift through.
Pay – Score 6/10
As rates of pay go, Luxury Retail is up there as one of the consistently highest rates of pay.
There is a pretty industry-wide standard of paying £10 an hour minimum. This usually manifests itself as a flat £70 a day for an 8 hour shift for regular counter cover or £80 if it’s a promotional shift for a new product launch.
When I worked on some really high profile brand launches, like Dior, I was paid £90 a day and was given extensive training over three days but experiences like these are few and far between.
Your bread and butter will be counter cover shifts for £70-80 a day.
Earning – Score 9/10
Once you get in the good books of your agency this works out to be a pretty solid earner as temp jobs go.
You can be expecting to pull in over £1200 on a pretty average month working only 4 days a week but if you really need the money you can push this to £1600 by working 5 days a week.
Any more than that is unsustainable for a long period of time but I went through a phase of really needing the money and did 17 days in a row with no day off earning £1300 in just over two weeks.
The trick is to pick a few counters that you really want to focus on and learn their product line inside out and backwards – make yourself an indispensable temp on their team.
When I was a regular at Harrods I had one or two counters that, if I needed shifts, I could walk up to them on any given day and ask them to call my agency to put me on, and they would – even if it meant swapping the person they already had booked in somewhere else.
I got to know one counter so well that they had me opening up and cashing up for them, they specifically asked for me to lead a team of other temps on a big promotion, when they needed someone in their stock room they only wanted me – usually the job of a full time worker, and they eventually offered me a full time position at the company – which I had absolutely no interest in.
Flexibility – Score 6/10
This is one area where Luxury Retail can be a bit deceptive.
You would think that because they are a temp agency they are super flexible and for the most part they are – except when you need to cancel a shift.
Some agencies are better than others but the one I worked for (which, shall we say, needs To Be Confirmed) would make you jump through hoops to get out of a shift.
There were only two reasons you were allowed to cancel – sickness or an audition – both of which required proof.
They would make you either send them proof of your audition – they expect an email from your agent (I shit you not) or you would have to pull a sickie and make a very convincing phone call sometimes even a doctors note.
What most people did was set up a fake email address in the name of a fictional agency and send “confirmation emails” on their “clients” behalf to the agency.
But it gets better – when you do tell them you can’t work they have a crazy elaborate reference code system that they would assign you based on your dates – something like “XF 826” which they will make you quote back to them at a future date to prove you have been booked out.
How they come up with those codes is the best kept secret in the business. And this is not typical of the other agencies across the industry – there are two or three other agencies out there but this one dominates most of the stores and the staff.
Other than these last minute shindigs though, for the most part it’s still pretty flexible – if you don’t want a shift you just don’t make yourself available. If you do need a last minute shift off you can straight swap it with someone else in that week.
Ease – Score 4/10
Luxury retail ain’t as easy as it seems.
The work itself is not very physically demanding, I spent 90% of my days pacing up and down in a straight line in front of my counter holding a bottle of perfume.
For the girls I imagine it’s a lot harder because you have to spend the whole day in heels on a tiled floor. Not so fun for the feet.
It’s more mentally draining and tiring than anything, although my limit was usually 3 days in a row before I started to lose the will to live. I usually did three days on one day off, two days on one day off.
However, there is a very high grooming standard that has to be met every morning before you are allowed to go to work. When you sign in you are literally spot checked and if you don’t meet the standard you either have to fix it or go home.
Hair style, hair colour, beard, suit, skirt, tights, shoes, heels, makeup, nail colour…
If one of the floor managers doesn’t like the look of you, or you are caught talking on the shop floor, they can send you home on the spot with no warning.
Consistency – Score 7/10
This is pretty good in Luxury Retail. Once you are in there with your agency your shifts are pretty regular and usually as much as you want.
If you’re a guy its usually plain sailing because there are less of us and counters like to have equal numbers of guys and girls on counters.
For the women it’s a little harder because there is probably double the amount of you and half the work.
You really need to make a good impression with the counters and your agency as quickly as possible to be given consistent shifts.
The two major downfalls are that firstly – until you are in demand and have made a name for yourself – you have to be up and ready at 8am every day, in full uniform and made-up ready to leave and then call into the office to tell them your travel time to the shop floor.
This means that you will often get yourself up and showered, call in and be sitting there and never get a shift. They will then call back at around midday to “release you”.
Secondly – the promotions work is seasonal – which means that during the summer there are usually loads of promotions work and during the sales there is loads of counter cover – but just after the sales and before the promotions pick up again it can be thinon the ground to get shifts.
Another reason why it really pays to get on the good side of your agency and with as many counters as you can – so you are always top of mind.
Wait – Score 5/10
Getting on the books of a luxury retail agency can be a bit of a circus.
It took me over three months from my first interview to get my first shift and that is not unusual.
How it works is – you usually have to be referred by a current member of staff and you will then be invited for a first interview.
At this first interview it is vitally important that you come dressed and looking the part. If you can borrow the exact uniform off your mate then I 100% recommend that. If you can’t borrow it I suggest you actually buy it – even to return it after your interview.
They say that they don’t expect you to do that but that is all posturing. If you come in the uniform already with the correct colour lips and nails and the right shoes then I would say you are 50% more likely to get the job than someone who comes dressed well, but not in uniform.
The agency used to tell people to come dressed as themselves, smart casual – this was an absolute test to see if you actually knew how the system works – if you came dressed in anything less than a full suit you were silently dismissed and never asked back.
After your first interview, which is the “grooming” round as it’s known, you will be asked back – again in full uniform. For a more usual interview experience: general questions to test how confident a speaker you are. You might be asked to sell something like a pen or a bottle of fragrance.
After that round which might be a few weeks apart, you may be offered the job at which point you then need to go for “Store Approval” which is basically training for the individual store you will be working at. You need to be approved by each store before you are allowed to work in it and store approvals only happen a couple of times a month, if you miss one you have to wait for the next one to come around.
After your store approval you are technically ready to start working, except that you have no experience with any of the brands so you then need to go for counter training too!
Each brand has it’s own trainings and usually to work with a particular brand you have to have done a training with them. You might have to wait weeks for a brand training to come around.
In the mean time you will still have to be up and ready for work every day to hopefully pick up some last minute counter cover shifts that come through at this point you would be lucky to get one or two shifts a week.
And the last word about the wait to get paid – the bigger agencies pay monthly, one month in arrears and last I heard the biggest of them was still paying by cheque…
Yes you read that correctly, they send your literal pay-cheque out to you by post so it can take 3 days to arrive and another 3-5 days to clear.
The newer agencies out there have started paying weekly into your bank account but those agencies are few and far between.
Total Score – 42
So Luxury Retail actually scores pretty high up the rankings.
Not quite as high as Entertainment Events or Running Your Own Business but if you don’t have much of an inkling for either of those and want something that is a little easier to get into then it’s certainly a strong choice.
Only a couple of entries left before we crown an overall winner.
Will anything be able to beat out running your own business?
Have You Worked In Luxury Retail?
Let me know how you found it. What agencies did you work for? Were there any stores or brands in particular that you loved or hated working for? Comment below…