Buying a highchair can be stressful. New and old parents alike struggle with a looping pair of mutually exclusive questions: Is it safe? Can we afford it?
But like basically everything else in life, this situation looks significantly different if you’re rich. If you’re rich, buying a highchair is less about price than matching the chair with your pre-existing drapes and silk Isfahan rug. The fact that the chair costs more than a month of New York City rent doesn’t matter.
This brings us to Mark, who works as a salesman for a high-end baby furniture company. Mark didn’t want us to mention the company’s name, or his last one, but we will say that he started out selling plumbing equipment and got his current role through his uncle. He’s now 36, lives in New York, and although he didn’t have a kid when first starting over a decade ago, he now has a young son, which he says allows him to mix work and play.
What’s important, however, is that Mark sells baby furniture to tycoons, oligarchs, and celebrities like Beyoncé and the Kardashians. This gives him a fascinating window into the world of the rich and famous, and we wanted to hear some of his stories. So I spoke with Mark over Zoom about what it was like convincing Kanye West to pay full price, and setting up a crib in Beyonce's green room.
VICE: Hey Mark, let’s start with the Kardashians. Can you tell me what it’s like dealing with them?
Mark: Well sometimes I roll my eyes because they’ll call and be like “we need five of this product. We need it by early next week, and it's for Kylie's new office.” You're just like “holy shit, this person spends more than anyone would on their entire nursery just for a small space in an office.” Having said that, the Kardashians have been a pretty good client of ours for a long time. Over 10 years, we've worked with them on getting the same sort of products in every one of their homes.
Really, our brand’s infamy has grown with the Kardashians, because our chairs started showing up on the TV show. So we literally get people picking up the phone and saying “I saw your product on the Kardashians last night. How do I get it?” When you're not busy watching the Kardashians the night before, you don't know what chair is on there. They've got screenshots of their TVs at home.
(Here's an example of a highchair sold by Mark appearing in a Kardashian post)
And what’s it like working with Beyoncé and Jay-Z?
As a celebrity experience, it’s been very surprising because they’re just so respectful as a brand and as a business and just as, like, general human beings towards us. They’ve been the best, nicest celebrities to work with––completely adamant about paying for the product, completely adamant about paying full price.
One of the interesting things we learned about musicians or entertainers that go on tours is that they like to replicate the space and the setting that they have at home within their backstage areas and green rooms. They basically got someone to replicate the nursery they have at home. So one time Beyonce was performing in New York, and I had to go to Barclays Center [where they had set up a nursery]. It was like going to another world. I drove into an elevator that was the size of a semi-trailer truck––and in this tiny little van, it was like a comedy video. All the people are running around, getting set up for the gig, and I'm wheeling around this little crib into Beyonce's green room. For someone that sells baby products and was sitting behind a desk selling plumbing products 20 years ago, I really didn't think I'd be in this situation, where I'd be standing in Beyoncé’s green room setting up a crib.
As an official supplier of baby furniture to celebrities do you go to the concert after-parties? What’s that like?
Yeah, as soon as the gig finishes or like a couple of songs before the end, everyone rushes to the after party to get a spot. After one concert, we started racing back after Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake were tipping their hats. We're running down a small corridor at Yankee Stadium and right next to us was Rihanna and her whole entourage. And then this big burly security car comes barreling around the corner, stops everyone, and Rihanna is like “what the fuck, let us through!” And I'm like “yeah, let me through!” He had the choice of letting Rihanna through or letting me through, but instead he let the baby salesman guy, because I'd actually talked to him earlier when setting up the crib and was nice to him. I had the all access pass, but Rihanna had to wait because none of them had passes.
Have you been surprised by anyone who seems really nice in public but then when you’re working with them they're assholes?
I'm pretty proud of standing up to Kanye West about paying for the product. One of the products we'd sold out of and weren't making any more, but we had one in our showroom. We had the last one available on planet Earth and he wanted it and said “great, can you send it to this address?” And I was just like “no, here's the link to the checkout on our website for the product––full price plus shipping.” It took a couple of weeks but eventually he paid for it. Here we are five years later and he's a billionaire.
What’s the main difference between interacting with people in the one percent and selling to an average person who just wants a crib?
For people in the one percent money is no object and they expect you to solve their problems for them without them having to lift a finger. We've had rich customers that have received the products––a normal baby product that would never have arrived set up because every single product in that category is disassembled––and we get people calling us and saying “thanks for shipping but it's not set up—who’s going to set it up?” And then I'm like “you.”
It says on the website that there's instructions included to set up. It's a 10-minute instruction. We've got YouTube channels; we've got this, we’ve got that. The comments are normally like "well, my nanny is gone for the weekend.” And it even gets pretty granular where we're FaceTiming with customers, and we're like “you just have to push that button.”
You go to Kmart and you can get a crib for less than $100. Can you tell me why your products are worth so much more than these alternatives?
The difference with us is that we don't just sell designer products, we sell designer products that actually work. There are gimmicks out there, but that's not us. There are a few stroller brands that [partner with] another luxury fashion house, and they'll sell one of their normal products that are like $200 and they'll put on a Gucci cover and then it's a $10,000 stroller.
Cool, now back to talking about celebrities. What’s it like going to a Real Housewives house?
Real housewives have the persona of being rich and bored, but in my experience a lot of them actually aren't. [I’ve been to] a couple of them in New York, and the apartments are tiny, just as small as the average person. I got a glimpse into the world that wasn't as glitzy as everyone sort of expects. I found that interesting as well, seeing into the world of celebrity, but not necessarily rich celebrity.
What is the least luxurious part of your job?
Returns. People like to use baby products and pretend they haven't and then take advantage of our no-questions-asked return policy. They just arrive back disgusting and clearly the parents have been using it for like a whole year and they haven't cleaned it. It's got food all over it and smells like pee. It's just the most horrendous thing about the baby industry in that sense.
When you deliver products yourself, what’s the highest tip you’ve ever received?
One Friday afternoon, I knocked on the door and a very lovely, extremely pregnant woman answered. She brought me in and gave me a glass of water. She's like, “listen, I got one quick favour. I just got this little kid’s piano that I need to put together, but I just don't know how to do it.” She said, “Please, I'll do anything. What do you need? Like, what is it? What do you want? Like, I'll tip you. I'll give you money. What do you want?” Eventually, through the guilt of a pregnant mum needing some help, I said I'd do it. It ended up being probably two and a half hours later and I'd set up about four or five pieces of furniture for her because she just kept guilting me through it. She ended up cooking me a steak dinner, and gave me a bag full of Portuguese olive oil, tuna, and tipped me 250 bucks.
What’s the thing that’s shocked you the most about billionaires and celebrities?
When we're taking an expensive order over the phone in New York and sort of doing like a concierge service, a lot of times when I’m asking for the address we’ll have have this awkward pausing moment. I'll say “what's the address?” and they're like “well, it's 300 West 58.” That's overlooking Central Park. And you're like “yes but what apartment number is that?” And then they sort of pause and don't say anything and go silent. “No, there is none.” Then you realise that you're talking to someone who owns the entire building.
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