Working Retail Sales: How It Made Me A Better Person
By Bob Phibbs
After I posted a job notice on Facebook for a client, I received this comment, “A resume for a retail job?”
I could hear the condescension in her words. Like working retail wasn’t important.
Retail represents 1 in 4 jobs in America. I’d say there are plenty of people who have real jobs in retail.
I worked in retail. I liked it. Even with long hours, low pay, having to be on my feet all day and the rest.
I liked the chance to meet other people even though I might have seemed shy.
I liked the game of seeing whether I could get someone to talk to me.
I loved working retail where I got to witness the sheer humanity of fellow employees and customers.
You see, I sucked at sports. Last one picked. You get the idea.
I didn’t have the team experience of all for one and all that.
I was a loner. For a lot of reasons. Which we won’t go into now…
One day, while working retail,I witnessed a young guy, so nervous because he wanted to look his best at his wedding the following day ... in a meadow, on horseback, while the bride’s father held a shotgun to his back (as a joke).
On another day, the Marines just back from overseas, eager to impress the ladies at a cowboy bar later that night.
The successful executive with a rock on her finger the size of a quarter who complained about the price of a pair of blue ostrich boots which she’d only use once or twice (but purchased anyway).
The blue-haired manager who told me the most important thing was the customer – make them happy and you’ll make me happy.
The short Hispanic guy, looking like he’d come right in off the fields with dirt still caked to his knees, telling me in his broken English that he’d tried to buy presents for the holidays, but none of the other stores would give him the time of day. Then he pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills and paid me over $5000 for his purchases.
The former stuntman, Richie, dying of cancer, who came in every couple of weeks just to talk, but purchased exotic boots because he knew I worked on commission.
The movie stars and political types who returned again and again and proved that they put their jeans on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.
That little girl with the look on her face who came in on her birthday when she could pick out anything she wanted.
The veteran shoe salesman across the mall, who dressed impeccably each day and told me, “The customer isn’t always right - it’s our job to educate them.”
The older woman who told my customer, “Go ahead and treat yourself; you only go around once honey.”
These were real people, not status updates, not snapshots... living out the drama of their lives in ordinary ways.
That’s when, thanks to working retail, I learned we are more alike than different.
Real people. Real communication. Being really memorable.
Thousands of insights given to me without my even knowing it at the time.
You don’t get that in an app, an email or an online survey.
It’s not about product SKUs, channel management or the latest trends. Retail is about truth.
All most people are looking for out of life is to have the opportunity to share their story and be heard.
The best retail sales training enables employees to encourage strangers to tell their stories. The best employeees collect those stories and form bonds. Those bonds are frequenlty what knits a community together.
Following your gut to discover what really matters to the person in front of you, and for that very small moment in time, standing next to them with their struggle to be understood. To get help. To be human.
The challenge for us working in retail sales is to honor the very essence of retail – that of humanizing a population desperate for a brief moment to be witnessed.
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