Steve Daggs has sold racks of furs in 31 years as a furrier, but two pieces stand out: a coat that fetched more than a house and a jacket that made him want to crawl under one. Happy memory first, the coat: "You always remember your first really high-dollar sale,” Daggs said at Koslow’s Furs in North Penn Plaza, 5601 N Pennsylvania Ave. "I’d been in the business about eight years. I had a really sweet customer who wanted a sable coat. I got several in from New York for her to look at.” She picked one. "She said, ‘Oh, let’s see, how can I pay for that?’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t want to put it in layaway.’ She said, ‘I’m going to write you a check!’” So, she did — for $38,000. Daggs, then just past 30, was happily stunned. "At the time my house was worth $29,000,” he said. Not-so-happy memory, the jacket: "We were having an open house,” Daggs said, "and a good customer came in with her husband” wearing a noticeably — to a furrier’s sharp eye — older piece. "I said, ‘Where is your new jacket? You should be wearing it this evening.’ Her mouth fell open. She hadn’t told her husband. "I was totally embarrassed. That’s when I learned: What happens in the fur salon stays in the fur salon.” Daggs was working at the old Willmann’s Furriers in both situations. He had become part of Oklahoma City’s Willmann fur legacy, which dated to 1925, by marrying a third-generation Willmann furrier, Kit Willmann, who worked with her father, Bob, and brother, Kirk, in the family business. Daggs went to work for the Willmanns at age 23 — cleaning furs, which explains why he knows the business, and its products, inside and out. Willmann’s Furriers closed in 1996. Daggs has worked for Koslow’s Furs for six years, as manager since 2005. As manager, he oversees sales — and makes sales himself — as well as cleaning, repair, storage and purchasing, including occasional trips to wholesale fur markets in New York City and Montreal. A good salesperson, who might make between $30,000 and $45,000 on commissions with a base salary, considerably more after advancing to management, does have to know more than how to sell, though, he said. "You have to have product knowledge. You have to know a well-fitted garment from a poorly fitted garment,” Daggs said, as well as a keen eye and ear for discerning "what style goes on a certain lady.” "She’s wearing your label, and she’s going to wear it a long time,” he said. "She” is the customer much more often than not, he said, estimating that 85 percent of fur sales are to women — wealthy women. "It’s an upper-end clientele,” he said. "But they’re just people. They’re just customers. Each one is special. Each one is unique.” All customers have one thing in common, he said. "They’re excited to buy a fur. It’s something they have for years. They’re passed down from generation to generation,” he said. So, what’s the customer favorite? Mink? Beaver? Fox? Sable? Shearling? "It’s got to be mink. It’s our best seller. It’s our bread and butter. It’s the most durable. If you buy a good, durable mink, you’ll have it for generations,” Daggs said. Jobs in the fur business are few, Daggs said, and many furriers get into the business by family or other close connections. But he said a young person interested in the business should consider a college degree in fashion merchandising or business.
• Education: Bachelor’s degrees in fashion merchandising or business recommended, but family or other close connections to the fur business could be as important.
• Skills: Knowledge of furs, fur fitting, cleaning and repair, mostly learned on the job.
• Salary (sales): $30,000 to $45,000 per year on commissions with a base salary, considerably more if in management.
• Industry/professional organization: Fur Information Council of America.