I had finished speaking in San Francisco and was checking out the retail scene when I came across a smallish men’s boutique, Wilkes Bashford.
The first floor had an eclectic mix of menswear, footwear, and several collectible books from Taschen. The first floor made the grade enough for me to want to see more.
I saw that men’s sportswear was on the 7th floor, and while motivational speakers around the world haunted me to take the stairs, I opted for the elevator.
I joined a man in an impeccable suit and a woman in a brightly embroidered jacket. The doors closed. After a few moments, the woman turned to me and asked, “Is this your first time at Wilkes Bashford?” I told her it was.
As we arrived at sportswear on the seventh floor and the doors opened, she picked up our conversation…
“We have one of the largest collections of Kiton anywhere in San Francisco.” And then I realized she was a salesperson.
She proceeded to walk over to the Kiton department and I followed as she told me a few facts about the brand. She asked if I was from San Francisco and I told her I was in town from New York for business. She offered she and her husband had a place in Battery Park as we approached the jean wall.
“These are our most popular jeans in the store,” she said. I replied, “Cool buttons” as I casually noticed the price and then exclaimed, “but I’m never going to pay that much for jeans.”
“Try them on,” she said. I countered, “I don’t care if they feel great, I’m not going to buy them. I’ve worked in men’s clothing. That’s an outrageous price; they’re just cotton!”
She persisted with a bit of a laugh, ”Try them on. I have clients who have 30-40 pair; they live in these jeans. They’re for when you want to dress up a bit with a nice jacket and don’t want to wear loose-fitting farmer jeans.”
I then told her I did own a few Robert Graham shirts and she told me a lot of her clients wear them. But again I stated firmly, “I didn’t come here to buy a pair of jeans.”
“Try them on. The fit is everything. What size do you take? They run a bit snug.” As she finished she picked out a stone color in my size. “This color will go with more,” she said as she handed them to me to feel. She brought me to the fitting room and said, “I’ll be back.”
Before I even looked in the mirror, I liked the fit. As I came out she said, “Don’t they fit well?” I had to agree.
“Shall I call the tailor?”
How long are you in town?” she asked. I replied, “Just until tomorrow. I suppose you’re going to have to ship them.” She replied, “No, please excuse me while I call the tailor.”
Once measured, the tailor left. Cathy introduced herself by name at that point, only to find out I was the Retail Doctor. We chatted some more as she showed me a world of brands I had never heard of before.
“You pay downstairs. How about I give you a brief tour on the way down?” I replied, “Sure.”
We checked out Level 6 and then she showed me a few Kiton jeans on clearance in my size on the 5th level. Before I knew it, I was in the shoe department on the first floor as Cathy told me about their popular line of shoes, their bi-annual trunk show, and their ability to customize.
At that point, she brought in another salesman, excused herself,and said, “While you look at those, I’m going to pick up your new Kiton jeans.”
Two minutes later we were exchanging business cards.
A few hours later I received a personal email thanking me for my purchase.
The next morning, I received a Wilkes Bashford email with several looks and notification along with Cathy’s picture and ability to contact her below.
Now I know many people could read this as well, what do you expect at a luxury boutique. I can tell you, I expect a lot and most fail miserably…miserably just like legendary department stores.
But here’s my point of sharing this with you today…
Any retail business could do the same as Cathy – if they wanted to.
The problem is most don’t. If they did, they would invest in retail sales training.
This is what it takes to be a professional retail salesperson:
Be curious about strangers. Starting from the moment she saw me, she wanted to make a connection. Why it works: By seeking connection with a stranger, she built rapport long before trying to present the merchandise. This provided her the ability to later insist on me trying them on.
Find a connection. Her simple sharing that she lived in New York too made her feel familiar to me. Why it works: We trust people when we discover things in common. In my online retail sales training program, I call this finding a Window of Contact.
Give A Store Tour. At the beginning, she showed me around the 7th floor; even better, she suggested we tour the other floors on the way down. Why it works: Once a shopper agrees to a tour, they relax and consider other options.
Compliment past purchases. I had remarked about my penchant for Robert Graham shirts and she complimented my styling abilities, adding that their east coast stores carry them and a lot of her clients wear them. Why it works: Customers trust you when you compliment their previous purchases.
Use analogies. Her image of loose-fitting jeans worn on a farm versus the fit in these made it easy to understand what a fashionable men’s wardrobe shouldn’t look like. Why it works: Painting word pictures with familiar items helps the customer see the benefits, not just hear them.
Don’t take no for an answer – in a good way. As much as I said I’d never buy them, she persisted in getting me to the dressing room. Why it works: 70% of buying decisions are made in the fitting room. It’s a fine line between pushy and determined. I’ll go for determined any day or your shoppers never give your merchandise the chance to change their lives.
Time stands still. She kept me blissfully unaware of time by never mentioning how long shortening the jeans would take. Why it works: When you mention time as a salesperson, you remind the customer how long they’ve been shopping. You’ve brought their world of cares and to-do lists back into your shopping experience... which is never good.
Offer additional services. Through our conversation, I learned she does closet organizing, outfit coordinating, and styling for clients throughout the world. Why it works: By her sharing her other talents, I made note of how I could use her again in the future.
Go for the add-on. After I had agreed on the jeans, she suggested a second pair of their summer jeans on sale. Why it works: Once a customer says yes to the main purchase, it is much easier to get them to consider a second.
Too many salespeople on an ups system strive to get someone’s name as soon as they can so they can own the shopper.
Cathy didn’t get my name until after I had tried on the jeans. She offered hers after she built trust, and building trust is really important to not come off as a used-car salesperson.
As we finished our time together I remarked how customer service at her level was so rare. Cathy interjected, “It all comes down to training. If you don’t constantly train your crew how to engage people, it doesn’t work.”
When I got back to my hotel, I did a Google Trends search and found something surprising regarding retail sales training. In this age of store closures and brick and mortar bankruptcies, the Google searches for the one thing that could save them, retail sales training, has trended down since 2004.
So many retailers are like bad marksmen shooting arrows everywhere but at the target. An app, another friends and family discount, another free event won’t save you from becoming obsolete to your customers.
The target, the bullseye is creating an exceptional experience. One that is remarkable and is seared into your customer’s memory so well that the next time they think of getting a similar product, they can’t help but remember your experience.
That takes constant training and when that becomes your focus, you transform your salespeople into brand ambassadors whose very way of working can transform a casual shoppers’ day.
I know it did for me this past week in San Francisco.
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