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RapidChat: David Abbott

Fashion Guru, Cancer Survivor, Philanthropic Advocate, and 'Lumbersexual,' may all be ways to describe Mr. David Abbott — though most would opt for 'Experience Extraordinaire.' With 25+ years of experience within the luxury retail market, as well as the inherited advice of "the customer likes to be entertained," David proves the importance of theatrics within each of our day-to-day lives.
David Abbott

Fashion Guru, Cancer Survivor, Philanthropic Advocate, and 'Lumbersexual,' may all be ways to describe Mr. David Abbott, though most would opt for 'Experience Extraordinaire.' With 25-plus years of experience within the luxury retail market, as well as the inherited advice of "the customer likes to be entertained," David proves the importance of theatrics within each of our day-to-day lives.
Rapid Growth: With an extensive background and experience in the fashion industry, what brought you to your current position with Goodwill Industries?
 
David Abbott: Philanthropy work is similar to personal selling on a luxury retail sales floor.  We all have our rack of inventory to sell (our mission, programs, community engagement, events) and we try them on each of our partners.  Sometimes the support needs to be tailored to be a better fit – and sometimes we need to go back to the rack to find something different.  Each customer deserves that same shopping experience.  I am in the idea and brand partnership business – my job is to dress our partners in investment that makes sense to them.
 
RG: What initially inspired you to go to school for fashion merchandising? What was the ‘ah-ha!’ moment for you?
 
DA: I’ve always loved clothing – I think behind every successful man in retail sales has a mother who knew how to dress well!  And, my mom still dresses the best at 77 years young.
 
Clothing as a kid was always my armor.  I was teased a great deal for being a creative, boy soprano, churchy, goody-two-shoes little boy.  Nice clothing kept me safe.  During the 80’s in EGR – it was all about the brands and the layering of them – I think one time I counted 5 shirts layered – preppy was and still can be very silly.  The clothing business remains filled with theatre and entertainment for the consumer – granted some prices are higher – and then again some restaurants charge more for a chicken breast – because the atmosphere and the people make that chicken breast better and different than the others.
 
I got into the retail industry with my first job at Mary Ann’s Chocolates in Breton Village at age 16.  So enjoyed learning from Mary Ann Maloley on how to sell and offer exemplary service – to this day I am very grateful.  The best part of being in retail sales was the look on the client’s face after helping them find the right thing – that affirmation feels so very good.
 
I still get a retail sales fix by guest selling at HyperOptik on Wealthy – every face deserves a great frame – and there we work closely with every client.  Lots of my friends have come in and transformed into a new look.
 
RG: What was some of the most valuable advice Mary Ann gave you?
 
DA: You know how you always hear the saying “the customer is always right”? Well Mary always told me that the customer likes to be entertained. She always encouraged us to give samples because that always made people like to buy the product.
 
She also made me feel that being in the store was a calling, and that being in retail was something to be proud of.
 
RG: You also worked for two of the largest events within Grand Rapids – LaughFest and ArtPrize. What was that experience like?
 
DA: Gilda’s Club is a wonderful place and I was honored they chose my idea to start LaughFest for their 10th anniversary signature impact for the community.  The former President and CEO Leann Arkema had me volunteer during the marketing and building of that first event after she vetted the idea with some key stakeholders.  Working on something that promotes great health through laughter and sharing is awesome!
 
ArtPrize remains my big game changer.  It was the catalyst from luxury retail to philanthropy and community engagement.  Rick DeVos and his team saw something in me that urged them to take a chance on my ability to sell the concept to potential partners.  It was so wild west – with little rules and so “out of the box” in every way.  I found a love for start-up in that team and shifted my thinking from tasks to ideas.  A new circle of support and care entered as I went through round 4 and 5 of cancer and that team – helped keep me looking forward. 
 
RG: What other things are you passionate about?
 
DA: Cancer thriving!  Not just survival – thrival in the midst of the journey.  I am a five times cancer survivor and doctors still follow me closely to catch an reoccurrence.  It’s directed me differently in life and direction.  I shared much of my journey on Facebook – some funny – some not so – and yet everyone got the real of the journey.
 
My faith – I know that’s predictable in this city – and yet being a part of Westminster Presbyterian is anything but predictable – it is truly my family.
 
Gay leadership – my good friend Jill May and I founded OutPro about 5 years ago and today it is a thriving program as the only LGBT Networking Program in a mainstream Chamber of Commerce in the United States.  Personally, dating is fun again – and love that two men can be seen in almost every restaurant – instead of just feeling comfortable in only a few.  Life here is getting better thanks to the pioneers who paved the way.  Hope that someday others will look back and see the difference we all have made to make GR a more welcoming and loving community.
 
Good wine and schwag beer – I like my PBR at The Cottage, The Apartment or Winchester.
 
So, life and all the trimmings are my passion.  I still like the theatre of clothing – I am learning to embrace my inner (and outer) lumbersexual.   


Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media
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