Doffing our cap to Mr. Lansky, a legend in salesmanship
In our August/September 2015 issue, we highlighted some of the best salespeople in the city, while Jon W. Sparks looked into “The Art of Selling.” No such story would be complete in Memphis without Alvin Lansky, a fashion-forward man if ever there was one, and one-half of the duo (along with brother Bernard) that clothed the King and many of us commoners in town.
Lansky passed away last Sunday at the age of 86; our thoughts are with his family. Watching Lansky work was like watching a maestro wave his baton, like watching Elvis himself swivel his hips. I was in awe the first time I saw him and here’s what I wrote in my Letter From the Editor last year:
Mister Hats in the Poplar Plaza Shopping Center was someplace I’d driven past for years and wondered, “How does anyone make a living selling hats these days?” It seemed a fashion choice that had gone out of fashion, along with walking sticks and ascots.
I stopped in one day and browsed the shelves of bowlers, fedoras, boaters, and porkpies, but was pulled away by what was happening a few feet away. A woman had come in and told Alvin Lansky, the owner with a pedigree for fashion and sales, what she was looking for and what she wanted to pay. He led her to the appropriate shelf to look on her own. Then, without saying anything more, he picked up a similar, albeit more expensive, hat to the one she’d requested. He still didn’t speak, but simply admired it, picked a bit of lint from its brim, and ran a palm lovingly over its dome.
“What’s that?” she finally asked. “Oh, this?” he answered. There was a brief exchange and then I watched as she paid for that top-shelf chapeau and left.
It was an astounding scene, as though it had been choreographed and produced for my own entertainment. Lansky listened to his customer, showed her what she needed, and then put something she wanted just within reach.
The answer to who might make a living selling $150 Borsalino fedoras (my unexpected purchase that day) in an age of backward baseball caps is Alvin Lansky, and it was a treat to have him do so. — Richard J. Alley
The Art of Selling
Selling at its most basic level is what you find at Mister Hats in the Poplar Plaza shopping complex.
Alvin Lasky – you feel compelled to call him Mr. Lansky – opened his topper shop 30 years ago after having sold hair care products with one of his brothers.
Eventually, he wanted to do something different, and, of course, his family had some skills in the clothing store business with another brother, Bernard Lansky, who got lots of business thanks to that Elvis Presley fella.
But for Alvin (Mr. Lansky from here on out), he wanted to focus on one thing. “He was looking for something he could carry that would be simple to provide the customer,” says Mark Lennon, who married Mr. Lansky’s granddaughter and now manages the store. “He didn’t realize that product would turn into so many styles and colors, and next thing you know, he had a store with a thousand hats, and it was never enough.”
Mr. Lansky is 86 and still at the store, dressed as sharp as you please and prepared to sell you a hat.
To this day, he keeps it to the fundamentals: “We try to give the customer what we think will be pleasing to him,” he says.
That knowledge requires a keen observational power that Mr. Lansky has developed over the decades. “You put the different pieces together based on what they’re asking for – although they may not quite know – and based on body type and head type,” says Lennon. “We do it on the fly, trying to find something that will fit the customer’s personality.”
And that’s because, as Mr. Lansky says of his customers, “They’re the boss!”
Lennon says the kind of sale he most enjoys seeing Mr. Lansky make is when someone comes in, looks around critically, and declares there’s nothing in the store. “And the next thing you know, he’s walking out with $300 worth of hats.” — Jon W. Sparks
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