Monthly Archives: May 2016

The most ostentatious Christmas catalogue

What do you get the man or woman who has everything?

Neiman Marcus has a few suggestions, starting with a $1.5 million Cobalt Valkyrie-X private plane in rose gold. There’s also a $93,000 ruby-and-diamond-encrusted Chanel watch or a $100,000 collection of classic children’s books. Or you could buy yourself a walk-on role in the Broadway show “Waitress” (price tag: $30,000).

The newly released Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, an annual exercise in all things excessive, includes more than 700 items, ranging in price from $10 (for a package of six snowflake-shaped marshmallows) to the $1.5 million private plane.

In the mood for a vacation? There’s a weeklong stay at three estates in the English countryside — which also comes with a helicopter trip to a castle — for $700,000. Or a slumber party for 12 at the company’s flagship store in Dallas for $120,000.

Or perhaps you’re feeling a bit distrustful. The luxury retailer says it has you covered, with a $25,000 mattress with a built-in fireproof lockbox.

Extravagances aside, the company says about 40 percent of the catalogue’s offerings are priced under $250. There’s a bracelet made of paper beads for $25 and a stainless steel beer growler for $60.

Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, says those lower-priced items are particularly important this year as high-end retailers struggle to stay afloat. Neiman Marcus has battled slipping sales for four quarters in a row. In September, the Dallas-based company posted a quarterly loss of $407.2 million.

“This is the most democratic Neiman Marcus catalogue I’ve ever seen,” Pedraza said, citing a $35 tube of Dior lipstick. “They know they need to appeal to millennials if they’re going to survive two decades from now.”

The uncertainty of the upcoming presidential election, combined with fears about the effect of Brexit on the European economy, are contributing to general unease, he said.

“Luxury is in a very challenging spot right now,” Pedraza said. “The world economy is flat and young customers are struggling. When millennials as a group have $1.3 trillion in student debt, it’s hard to splurge.”

But that doesn’t mean Neiman Marcus is completely holding back.

The company — which sifts through thousands of submissions in the spring — is offering 12 “fantasy gifts” in all, including “quarterback fundamentals” lessons with four-time Super Bowl winner Joe Montana ($65,000), his-and-hers island cars designed by Lilly Pulitzer ($130,000) and a trip to the Grammy Awards ($500,000).

The Christmas Book began in 1926, when the retailer released a 16-page Christmas booklet to its most loyal customers. Neiman Marcus offered its first “fantasy gift” in 1959: a black angus steer, either on the hoof ($1,925) or cut into steaks ($2,230). It was purchased by a customer in South Africa.

Business Bureau has disowned

download-33For more than 100 years, Wells Fargo has been ubiquitous in San Francisco. The City by the Bay is the bank’s hometown and Wells Fargo is one of its largest employers. There is even a museum in the city dedicated to the stagecoach Wells Fargo once used to cross the Western Plains.

Next week, San Francisco officials are scheduled to vote on whether to cut off business with Wells Fargo, in perhaps one of the most personal rebukes the bank has faced since acknowledging that it fired 5,300 employees for setting up unauthorized accounts customers didn’t want to meet aggressive sales goals.

“It’s disheartening to see our hometown bank was engaged in this sort of reckless behavior,” said John Avalos, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors.

And San Francisco is not alone. California, Illinois and Massachusetts have all taken steps to suspend ties with the bank, one of the largest in the world. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said “Wells Fargo’s culture was compromised by greed” when he announced the state would stop doing business with the bank for a year. “This company has lost the right to do business with the State of Ohio because its actions have cost it the public’s confidence,” Kasich said.

The bank also lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation. The 100-year old organization cited the sales scandal among the reasons for pulling its seal of approval from Wells Fargo after more than 35 years. But the bureau has also has received more than 4,000 complaints about the bank over the last three years and of 107 customer reviews it has received, all but four were negative.

“It means they no longer meet the standards of trust,” said Jarrod Wise, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau in the San Francisco Bay area. “They no longer qualify for accreditation.”

It is just the last embarrassing episode for Wells Fargo. More than a month after it agreed to an $185 million fine and acknowledged that for at least five years thousands of employees set up sham accounts customers didn’t want, sometimes by moving money from an authorized account, Wells Fargo is still struggling to contain the damage.