When retail executive and bestselling business book author Jack Mitchell of Wilton was recently asked to stand for a publicity photo for his new book, he did so with a clothier’s tape measure around his shoulders, and there’s a reason for that.

Mitchell, 79, chairman of the Mitchell Stores, is a firm believer in customer service, in being personable and making the buyer feel good. It is a philosophy he has persuaded his salespeople to adopt for decades.

His flagship store, Mitchells of Westport, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

“Our basic values are all about personalized service. Our mission is to make people feel great,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview to talk about his upcoming seminar at Wilton Library.

The author talk “Jack Mitchell — Selling the Hug Your Customers’ Way,” will take place Tuesday, Oct. 30, 7 p.m., at the library, 137 Old Ridgefield Road. The event is free, co-sponsored by the library and the Wilton Chamber of Commerce. The media sponsor is The Wilton Bulletin.

Registration is online at wiltonlibrary.org or by calling 203-762-6334. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

“We get to know you, get to know if you like the Red Sox, Pepsi or Coke, because the customer is the center of the universe,” Mitchell said. “We connect with smiles and the little things you do, that we care about. We want to be the greatest speciality store on the planet.”

“Selling the Hug Your Customers’ Way” is subtitled “The Proven Process for Becoming a Passionate and Successful Salesperson for Life.” It is Mitchell’s third business book.

“My first book was Hug Your Customers, in 2003. A lot has happened since then,” he said. “In 2008, I wrote Hug Your People. If you don’t hug your people, you don’t have the customers.”

He doesn’t always mean literally hugs, which may be unwelcome. “Hugging is a metaphor, especially in this day and age. A hug is any act or deed that says this person really cares about me as a person,” Mitchell said.

His policy is always to get permission to give an actual hug. It pays dividends.

“We try to make our associates part of our family,” he said.

In a nutshell, the selling process Mitchell describes in his book is:


  • Make the connection. Make a first impression and engage customers immediately.

  • Decode the mission. Determine what the customer wants and figure how best to make them happy.

  • Show and share. Form a personal connection between the sales associate and the product.

  • Allow the buy. Adopt a warm, relaxed manner and ultimately close the deal.

  • The kiss goodbye. Just as important as first impressions, make the customer feel valued and delighted.

  • Follow up with the customer and make them a client for life.


It’s a seminar Mitchell is expert at giving. He has done more than 250 motivational speeches over the years.

Mitchell has lived in Wilton since 1963. His four sons attended Wilton schools. His wife, Linda, actually attended one of the town’s one-room schoolhouses and her parents owned the Talmadge store.

He was born and raised in Westport and is a 1957 graduate of Staples High School. It is Westport where his father, Ed Mitchell, started the Mitchell’s store in 1958. It is known for its high-end designer clothing and jewelry.

The company also owns Richards in Greenwich, Marios in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., and the Wilkes Bashford stores in Palo Alto and San Francisco, Calif.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a master’s in Chinese history from the University of California at Berkeley.

Mitchell shares with his family a number of community leadership awards from the Anti-Defamation League, the menswear division of UJA-Federation of New York, and Sacred Heart University. He is on the Yale Cancer Center Director’s Advisory Board, is a trustee at Greenwich Hospital, and is an executive in residence at the Columbia University School of Business.

To sum up his business pitch, he said he believes any business could increase its success by emphasizing personal customer service.

“I do think the culture of hugging is missing,” Mitchell said. “Most stores and restaurants talk more about the product. They don’t really know your nickname, or your real name. Know what the customer wants. That’s the whole point of what we do.”

It has worked for him.

“Over 50% of our business is with people who have been buying from us for 25 years or more,” Mitchell said.