MANILA, Philippinea ? For the second time in her life, it was boredom that drew Susan Gaddi Campos to the world of retail.
?In the ?80s, my husband was assigned in Cebu and I got bored again,? she says. ?I?m not the type who likes to play mahjong [all day], which my friends did. I was hired as merchandise coordinator for all ladies? RTW in Rustan?s Cebu.?
When the family returned to Manila after two years, she settled into her role as full-time housewife?until four years ago, when the monotony of keeping house for mostly absent sons kicked in.
An empty nester with two adult sons, age 32 and 23, who live with her but both of whom she rarely sees, she was bent on getting a job that was ?interesting and would allow me to work part-time.?
Campos applied as a personal shopper at Rustan?s Makati. It was familiar environment and permitted her with a three-day workweek.
In recent years, not a few women (and some men) have found their calling as personal shoppers, a job that pays both for their tastes and expertise in retail. Some are well-paid stylists cum personal shoppers for celebrities and the affluent.
But unlike Campos, Delia Vargas didn?t choose personal shopping as her vocation. It sort of, well, chose her.
?Ms V,? as Vargas is fondly called at Rustan?s, was the luxury department store?s first personal shopper in 1991. Before then, she had worked in practically every department of the chain, from corporate to the retail floor.
?Mrs. (Merle) Pineda (daughter of Glecy Tantoco, the Rustan?s founder) called me and said, ?I want you to be a personal shopper,?? recalls Vargas, and that was it. She has been with Rustan?s for 35 years.
Rima Lorza Ostwani, 23, meanwhile, a fresh graduate of international relations, put her dream on hold when she was offered the post. For a young woman who loves fashion and shopping, it seemed a pretty easy choice.
But being a personal shopper is worlds away from her goal of becoming a diplomat. ?I could still do that later,? Ostwani insists. She hasn?t regretted any of her last three years working in retail.
The three women are Rustan?s Makati?s in-house personal shoppers; it claims to be the only local store to offer this free service. (At the moment, only the Makati branch offers it.) They?re the only ones remaining in a long line of Rustan?s personal shoppers.
Contrary to what some may think, the scope of their job is the entire store, says Vargas. ?It?s not just fashion. We sell everything down to the supermarket.?
While the service is offered to anyone who requires assistance in their shopping, clients who have taken advantage of the service are mostly corporate types who have no time (or don?t like) to shop, and some celebrities.
?I have clients whom I?ve never met,? Vargas says. ?We just talk on the phone. They fax me a list of what they want, say, ?a gift for a 17-year-old boy, budget P2,000,? and that?s it. They just write a check to the store... Others just tell their children, ?Just go to Ms V.? I watched some of these children grow up.?
Vargas? most loyal client is a Japanese doctor whom she met in 1986, when she wasn?t yet an official personal shopper.
?He went to Gucci and nobody helped him. I went up to him and suggested items. He didn?t buy that day. But he came back the next day and bought everything I showed him the day before. Until now he?s my customer.?
?Once they get a feel of the service, they get addicted to it,? says Campos, who explains there?s no special training required of personal shoppers. Wise with her money, she isn?t a retail addict, which may seem contrary to the requirements of her job.
?It?s on-the-job training. You only need to enjoy dealing with people... We pre-select things for [customers], we call if there?s something new. We end up knowing what they like, their tastes and sizes. If they have an event, we can arrange for the dress, the shoes, the accessories and the makeup.?
Campos says their customers? most common concern is ?what to give? as gifts?an issue easily solved when the client is male. ?Oh, men are very easy! You pick and they just pay. But women, we love, because they also become our friends. They respect our choices.?
The friendship of her loyal clients is what Campos finds most rewarding. ?I love talking to people, the surprise you get from getting to know a variety of personalities. You play psychiatrist sometimes. When they?re having a bad day and they just need to while away time, they come here and we show them around.?
Some have truly enjoyed her company, too, that someone once asked if Campos could go with the client as her personal shopper abroad.
?I said no. My services are exclusive to Rustan?s... There are those who even try to tip us because they don?t know that it?s free. Just come by and the sales associates will refer you to us.?
The three women work on a fixed salary, not on commission. Except for Campos, who?s employed part time, Ostwani and Vargas both work six days.
?I?m fulfilled when the client likes what I pick,? says Ostwani, proudly adding that customers have never questioned her judgment even though she?s young.
?It?s like buying something for yourself and being very happy about it,? she adds. Spoken like a hard-core shopper.
It?s ?temptation!? Ostwani says of working in retail. ?You see every new collection firsthand and we?re in the store every day!? Often, she finds vicarious joy in her customers.
?I just don?t cater to younger clients; I have older ones who are hip and trendy. They feel they can relate to me,? Ostwani says.
While they all believe there?s no one ideal customer, they?ve also each had their share of less-than-easy ones.
?Some are a little difficult. They have very high expectations,? says Ostwani.
?There are those who just want to test you,? Vargas adds. ?They?ll ask for a brand that they know isn?t available here. You need to be patient.?
It?s extra taxing on holidays and weekends when customers come to the store at the same time. ?They all want your full attention,? Campos says with a laugh. ?Yes it?s fun, but it?s not all easy.?