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  • Writer's pictureJudith Ostronic

HERMÈS: Saddles to Something Else

I spent the better part of my dog-walking hours this week listening to a podcast I only recently discovered but highly recommend, Acquired. With new episodes airing just once a month, each one is up to four hours long, which means Audrey and I got a lot of exercise this week.


Two hosts, Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal, dive deep into the stories behind some of the biggest and best-known companies around the world. They cover a medley of interesting topics, including the history of key people as well as relevant financial facts and figures.


I started with the episode featuring luxury brand designer Hermès which begins with horse saddles in the 1800s, so kudos to these guys for keeping it short, relatively speaking. While my brand preference is more Levi's than Louis Vuitton, this story really landed with me.


Hermès is still family run after six generations. They don't just hire artisans who are trained in a dying craft, they have built schools to train these artisans in a craft that, if not for Hermès, would have otherwise died. They believe the value of their handbags is in the craftsmanship, and they will not deviate from 187 years of tradition. 


But what stood out the most is that Hermès has shunned the idea of producing to scale its two most popular handbags – the Kelly and the Birkin. Together they account for almost 30% of sales of leather goods, which happen to be 40% of Hermès $14B in annual revenue. Wow.


In this respect, they have almost mastered the paradox of luxury, summarized by Patrick Thomas this way, “The more desirable a brand becomes, the more it sells, but the more it sells, the less desirable it becomes.” 


Kelly and Birkins aren't displayed in stores, they are not available to purchase on the website, they have no celebrity sponsors and they aren't advertised. And yet, with a waiting list of up to five years, they set the bar for what it means to be in high demand.


Because Hermès limits production of their most wanted creations, the value of these bags is retained, even increasing over time.


It's not a story about luxury, status and exclusivity – but sure there is some of that. I heard it as a story about restraint, craft and even family. 


I'm coming back to a theme that I have touched on before in this space, but I'll ask it a different way.


Once you get what you want, does it lose its value?


How do you weigh the value of what you are working toward, as compared to what you already have?


On what are you basing the value of what you say you want?  


As your coach, it's not important to me if you aspire to an Hermès blanket for every room of your house, or if you need me to wrap this letter up now because Ikea closes in an hour. 


What is important is helping you foster an understanding of what matters most to you, so you can make decisions about the future. By viewing your decisions through the lens of your own values means the achievements you make – the goals you reach – are more likely to retain their worth long into the future. 


As your coach, I value this the most. Giddyup!


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