I stumbled across this little book and picked it up, thinking that it would be a fun book to read myself to sleep with. And I was right.
The author, Michael Tonello found himself alone, in Barcelona, and without a job. So he went to his closet looking for things to sell on ebay. As almost an afterthought he listed a Hermès scarf he had bought years ago and had forgotten about. When it sold for $400 and emails came pouring in asking if he had more, he knew he was on to something good.
Pretty soon he was traveling across Europe with dozens of wish lists from people looking for Hermès scarves that could no longer be found in US stores. At the time, Hermès did not actually own all the stores, that some of them were actually franchises, and many had backrooms full of older styles. These became a goldmine for Tonello. Add to that the fact that at that time Hermès did not yet have a website, and you can see how Tonello’s ebay business was pretty successful.
Then he discovered the Birkin bag, and the infamous wait lists. Quite by accident he found out that despite the wait list and the supposed unavailability of Birkins, that they were to be had at almost any Hermès store. You just had to know how to get the salesperson to offer one to you.
How do you make something desirable? You tell people they can’t have it. That was the philosophy behind the Birkin wait list.
Tonello’s book, published in 2008, does a good job of debunking the wait list myth, and in 2010 Hermès stores quietly did away with the list except for bags made of the most exotic materials.
The book is light and funny, and gives a nice look at the way companies create desirability. It also makes one stop and think. How can a handbag be worth more than my car?