Sarah Story is a full-time MBA student, specializing in Marketing, Strategy, and Operations. Prior to Stern, Sarah was a home furnishings designer. Post-MBA, she plans to work in marketing or supply chain management within the retail industry. At Stern, she is co-president of the Luxury and Retail Club, and a board member of the Graduate Marketing Association and Stern Adventures. Outside of school, Sarah enjoys swimming with a local masters swim team and attending concerts.
One of the primary reasons I chose to attend Stern was because of the extensive DBi, “Doing Business in…”, opportunities. I was not able to study abroad during undergrad, so I was excited to take advantage of the many 1-2 week intensive courses that are part of this program. I was thrilled that my course lottery results allowed me to have this incredible opportunity to study for a week in Milan, Italy with a focus in luxury retail. I am so grateful to have had this experience; there were many laughs, amazing food, and new friendships.
We were given a warm welcome at the hotel with an “aperitif” hosted by Stern. About a dozen of us went to a group dinner afterwards, which was a great way to introduce ourselves in a smaller group and have some time to get to know each other before the class officially started. It was quite magical to walk up to a restaurant requesting to seat 12 people, and be seated in a private dining room that also functioned as the wine cellar.
The first day was class packed with great lectures, an impressive coffee break, and was capped off with speakers from Ferrari and the CMO of Gucci, who also happens to be a Stern alum. (The aforementioned comment was, thankfully, NOT said while he was there.) After class, we began our in-class project: visiting a short list of luxury retailers to examine how they treated their shoppers, whether purchases were made or not, and the overall experience of shopping in these stores. It also became a regular occurrence to find classmates at Camparino, the Campari Bar, after class, located near our hotel.
On our second day, we headed off early to visit the Mantero Silk Factory, located just outside of Como. Seeing the printing process in action, both with traditional silk screens and digital printers, was enlightening for many. We learned how so many luxury companies from around the world, not just those in Italy, seek out the talent and expertise of the Mantero factory. Of course we all panic-shopped (there was limited time) at the sample store and came away with some great finds for ourselves and gifts for others. Upon returning to campus, we were greeted by a room full of the most beautiful, soft wool textiles and raw fibers, for a talk from a Loro Piana representative about what makes their textiles and apparel so highly coveted. After the talk we continued our “shopping safari,” visiting the last stores on our lists. Each team chose to divide and conquer differently – some shopped as a group, some split the list in half between team members, and some shopped at all the stores independently.
Our third day was focused on brand extensions, particularly in the furniture category. We explored the history of design and manufacturing excellence of Italian furniture companies and the differences of how they are structured in design, manufacturing, and distribution compared to American furniture companies. In the afternoon we visited the Cassina, Versace Casa, and Dolce and Gabbana Home showrooms and heard from the CEO of Cassina, the design director of Versace Casa, and the Vice President of Luxury Living Group, which is the parent company of Versace Casa and Dolce and Gabbana Home. After a long day, we had a class dinner in the canal district, and mostly avoided a very rainy evening!
The final day, we heard from Paolo Pedersoli of Jakala, a consulting firm that includes a focused division in luxury and design enterprises. Before lunch, we finalized our findings for our group presentations, and presented our findings with the class in the afternoon. Gucci was one of the stores that several of the groups were assigned to visit, and the general take away was that the shopping experience was not as expected. It was quite entertaining and interesting to hear how each group’s experiences differed, and how some brands were presented in a positive light from our guest speakers, yet the shopping experiences were not reflective of that or very welcoming to customers.
The course wrapped up with a stellar group dinner, a close walk from the hotel. One of our classmates had a birthday on that Friday, so several of us toasted him at midnight in the hotel bar with some champagne: the perfect way to celebrate the end of the course.
I could not be more grateful to have had this experience. In addition to the course, I added on about a week of personal travel throughout northern Italy. I absolutely fell in love with Italy, and I cannot wait to go back to explore more of Milan and the rest of the country.