I was strolling around the vast refurbished watch section in Selfridges, London, when a large hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me round. “Hey man, you ‘member me?”
Standing more than a head and shoulders taller than me with his dazzling smile that flashed more ivory than a Steinway piano, was Leroy Hornblower, a black American I met some years ago in Rome. His hip look back then at the height of the bling era was jeans, shirt open to the navel to reveal gold chains accompanied by a blinding diamond-set gold watch on the wrist. Now, before me stood a man with the sartorial elegance of a successful businessman: striped blue suit, light blue button down shirt with a royal blue tie, double cuffs held together with what appeared to be white gold cuff links set with a single blue sapphire, completed by a stainless steel Royal Oak wristwatch with a blue dial.
The transformation was surprising and I sought the reason.
“Bling’s out man, it’s craptastic.” he explained, “Elegance is cool. Would ya believe I’m in sales now?”
“Selling what and where Leroy?”
“Watches in the Big Apple man, where else?”
Over a beverage in one of Selfridges’ coffee shops, Leroy told me about how a friend of his managed one of the biggest watch stores in New York and asked him to come and work for him on the condition that he changed his look from the outmoded bling to the cool man-about-town. Weeks later, having donned a suit and tie, quickly learned what makes a watch tick and read the sales manual, he soon became the emporium’s leading salesman.
“So what are you doing in London Leroy?”
“I’m buyin’ a coupla yo’ beeespoke English suits man,” he says with a nod and a smile.
“You must be earning a bundle then Leroy,” I suggested.
“You betta believe it baby!” he mumbled, giving another of his piano key grins. I asked if it was his imposing size and blinding smile that influenced the punters. “Hey no, man. I’m as cool as I ever was, but I gotta gimmick: I listen, I suggest and I show a whole lotta patience.”
As an explanation, Leroy told me about a customer he had just before he came over to London who came into the store and gazed around open-mouthed at the vast collections of watches in the showcases.
“So I coolly mosey over to him and quietly ask if I can help and he toll me he was lookin’ for a sporty watch. So I ask him what for and he toll me his grandpa gave him some money and … so I say sorry sir, I mean what do you want to use the watch for? He looks at me weird like I’m a crazy and says, ‘to tell the time.’
“So this is where my patience shtick clicks in man. I explain about all the different things I learned, like watches with moon phases and power reserve and chronographs and tourbillons and he looks like he’s in the middle of the desert without a camel. So I show him the Omega moon watch and he shakes his head tellin’ me ain’t into heights ‘cos he gets vertigo.
“So I show him a TAG Heuer Monaco and tell him that Steve McQueen wore one driving a Porsche in the movies and he toll me that’d be no good since he don’t drive. Well, here I can feel my ol’ patience being pushed a bit so I say hey, what about a Panerai Luminor Submersible, give the spiel about all the functions and how it’s water-resistant to 300 metres and he gives me a real pale look and says he gets seasick in boats. So I say how ‘bout a diving watch then and he say nope, can’t swim.
“So then with my patience really strained, I go through our range: golf watch – he’s gotta bad back; a Breitling – he scared a flyin’; Hublot Big Bang – man, wouldya’ believe he’s got Loud Noise Phobia; a Seiko – he wanna Swiss piece; an all black Bell & Ross Phantom – black ain’t his colour; a Rolex – he’s scared a being’ mugged. So then I put it to him that maybe he should forget about sports watches and he says, no way, he gotta impress his new lady friend and he makes for the door.
“Suddenly he stops in front of the Longines’ display, smiles and points to a photo of Andre Agassi wearin’ a watch from the Master Collection and says ‘That one. That’s the one for me!’ So after a coupla hours, cool as ya like, I make the sale. He pays and I say, hey man, what made you choose this particular watch? So he goes, ‘Well, it’s Andre Agassi.’ So I nod like yea what else, give him my thank you smile and he goes, ‘He’s bald, just like me!’”
A quick bone-crunching handshake, another Steinway beamer and Leroy was off to Saville Row for a fitting. It seems patience really does pay!
Source: Europa Star December - January 2011 Magazine Issue