When you’re recruiting, will you go High Street or Haute Couture?

Here are six questions to help you decide

When you have vacancies to fill in your luxury fashion or premium brand retail business, how do you decide who to work with? Does the size of the agency matter to you? Do you go ready to wear with a big name corporate recruiter? Or do you build a bespoke partnership with a specialist whose services are tailored to precisely fit your business?


Charmain Gyles-Ferguson is Founder and Managing Director of Outside The Box Recruitment, the boutique recruitment agency for the luxury fashion and premium brand retail sector. Here she offers her thoughts on why, whether you’re hiring for stores/boutiques, head office or boardroom, the boutique agency has a big story to tell. Whether it’s their in-depth industry knowledge, the focus of their network or their ability to get under the skin of your brand’s unique style and culture, in the luxury fashion and premium brand sector, smaller is distinctively smarter.

(1) How brief is the brief?

The stronger the brief, the better the job a recruitment agency can do. All too often, a brief is just that – brief. Ideally, it should go far beyond job title, job location and salary range, and should include detailed background information on the business, function or store in question. Because of the way they operate, a corporate agency will accept a superficial over-the-phone briefing. But without detailed insight, they can lack the necessary context for the vacancy, which makes it difficult if not impossible to deliver the prestige service the luxury brand requires.

These days there’s a tendency to do everything fast, and remotely. But Human Resources is about people and time taken developing the client/recruiter partnership is time well invested. More than that, the department head with the vacancy should want to meet their recruitment partner too – they have important insight to share.

Says Charmain: ‘I like to meet the team or departmental manager and gather the detailed brief directly from them. I ask searching questions about issues and challenges within the particular store or team. That way I can ensure the brief makes sense. I’ll also be frank in advising my clients if I believe their expectations are realistic or where I think a brief needs revision. That’s where the partnership approach comes in.’

Key point: Investing in the recruiter/client relationship, meeting those who are representing you, and spending time on a detailed brief saves time in the long run. A frank and open partnership of recruiter and client results in candidates with well-matched personal as well as career profiles.

(2) Who does all the work?

Larger agencies will do a broad electronic pass across CV’s, searching for keywords. They’re likely to present everything they find to their client – because it meets their KPI’s to present quantity over quality. But in the digital world, it’s not volume of CV’s that demonstrates an agency’s competency, because any agency can readily access candidates in volume, online. What counts is the screening process the agency performs, based on their specific knowledge of your industry, your brand, and the particular nuances and criteria of the opportunity in question.

Charmain asks: ‘How valuable is your time? Are you happy to pay your agency for a large number of CV’s, or do you want to work with one who takes the time to understand who you are and what you need, and saves your time by offering you only the best – and the best-fit.’

Key point: The true value of an agency is in presenting NOT many candidates, but the BEST candidates.

(3) Who do they think you are?

Does your agency really understand the culture of your business and what you stand for? Many larger agencies don’t take the time to get under the skin of a unique luxury/ premium brand, which can be quite distinct from its high street counterparts. This is another reason too, why meeting your recruitment agency face-to-face is so important.

Charmain says: ‘Getting to know a luxury or premium brand retail business means getting into the DNA of the company and the brand, their image and individuality, attitudes and communication style. I aim to get a comprehensive feel for corporate culture and values as well as a detailed appreciation of what’s happening ‘on the ground’.

Key point: When the recruiter truly understands your brand’s personality they are better able to source well-matched candidates who will not only fit with ease into the company ethos but continue to build value throughout their career.

(4) Can they keep a secret?

Can you be completely open with your agency? Do you trust them to operate with discretion and treat the confidential information you give them with the utmost respect?

The larger the agency, the greater the potential for confidentiality breaches. When a recruiter in a large agency takes a brief which is confidential, they’ll share it across the whole business. They will, of course, mark it confidential, but they need to share it in order that all recruiters can submit candidates for the role, and meet the business KPI’s. Now several more people know about the role, and sooner or later, someone talking to a candidate may accidentally name the client or identify the role; and to what cost to the client?

Charmain says: ‘In a competitive market, trust is critical to any recruitment process. You’ll share confidential information with recruiters – it’s unavoidable. In a boutique agency however, that might be 3-10 people in close contact with one another, but in a corporate agency, it could be substantially more, all eager to meet individual and corporate KPI’s. The fewer external professionals you need to entrust with that ‘warts and all’ picture of your organisation, or the decisions you’re making on expansion or rebranding, the better.’

Key point: When it comes to confidentiality and keeping your corporate secrets secret, boutique agencies operate at an altogether more personal level of discretion.

(5) How do they like to work?

Can you work with your recruitment agency the way that’s most convenient to you, and which best serves your business, OR are you forced to work the way your recruiter likes to do things?

You probably want a single point of contact at your recruitment agency – that’s natural because it’s convenient. But it’s not the way a larger agency is organised. They have different consultants for different specialities but because you need a single point of contact, your requirement gets filtered through to someone else, and the candidates get filtered back. The result? More links in the chain, the risk of miscommunication, gaps to misunderstand and the potential for the best candidates to fall through the cracks.

Says Charmain: ‘In the boutique agency, everyone masters all the roles and all the business areas across the luxury and premium sector. Where the bigger agency is too busy to cross-pollenate their expertise, that knowledge-share is the life-blood of the boutique; it makes everyone an expert whether the position is on the shop floor, in the back office or at head office.’

Key point: The boutique agency can deliver the single point of contact you need, with all the knowledge and expertise to directly service opportunities at every level across your organisation.

(6) What do they really know?

Big agencies service multiple industries. They don’t always appreciate the nuances of the luxury fashion and premium brand retail sector. They can also suffer from lack of continuity in the client/recruiter relationship due to their higher staff turnover. And with that come no-contact clauses and restrictions on who you are permitted to speak to. As a result, knowledge – about your business and your industry – can leave with the departing recruiter.

Charmain notes: ‘A niche agency builds industry knowledge, contacts and connections across the world of businesses like yours. For example, Outside The Box Recruitment brings 20 years’ experience in the luxury fashion and premium brand sector to its clients, an unparalleled level of market intelligence, insight, and a solid reputation for sourcing the best candidates for the job. That knowledge and experience adds value to your organisation.’

Key point: What’s best – Size of operation or an intimate knowledge of your sector, its key players, its talent and its high-fliers – the decision is yours. You could always think… Outside The Box!

Outside The Box Recruitment:
Charmain Gyles-Ferguson is Founder and Managing Director of specialist recruitment agency Outside The Box Recruitment, which focuses on the global luxury sectors of fashion and retail. With two decades of experience in the luxury sector, Outside The Box Recruitment is a thriving boutique agency with a partnership approach to recruitment and headhunting. Clients include Hermes, LVMH Group (Celine, Loewe, Thomas Pink, Fendi, Kenzo, Berluti…..,) Richemont Group ( Alaia, Chloe, Mont Blanc, Cartier……) Zegna, Eileen Fisher, Zimmermann, Miller Harris, etc…….

Candidates at all levels meet with Senior Consultants who have extensive industry knowledge. In a detailed interview, they’ll be challenged to think Outside The Box, but will never be pushed into a role that isn’t suitable, just because it’s a live opportunity.

To recruit for your luxury or premium retail brand, or discuss your next career move, contact Charmain on 020 7169 3000 / 07815 939515 or click here

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1 Comment

  1. Dwayne Ferguson

    Very informative, well done Charmain.

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