Working Retail Sales: How It Made Me A Better Person

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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 one in four 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, and 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 in retail when I got to witness the sheer humanity of fellow employees and customers.

You see, I sucked at sports. I was the 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…

Personalities who visited the shop where I worked

The nervous groom

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).

The Marines just back from overseas

On another day, a group of Marines who had just returned from overseas were eager to impress the ladies at a cowboy bar later that night.

The successful executive

The successful executive with a rock on her finger the size of a quarter complained about the price of a pair of blue ostrich boots that she’d only use once or twice (but purchased anyway).

The blue-haired manager

The blue-haired manager told me the most important thing was the customer – "make them happy, and you’ll make me happy."

The earnest young father

The earnest young father, looking like he’d come right in off the fields with dirt still caked to his knees, told me in his broken English that he’d tried to buy holiday presents, 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

The former stuntman, Richie, dying of cancer, 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

The movie stars and political types returned again and again and proved that they put their jeans on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.

The little girl with the look on her face

That little girl with the look on her face when she came in on her birthday to pick out anything she wanted.

The veteran shoe salesman across the mall

The veteran shoe salesman across the mall dressed each day impeccably and told me, “The customer isn’t always right - it’s our job to educate them.”

The older woman

The older woman 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 in retail, I learned "we are more alike than different."

Real people. Real communication. Being memorable.

Thousands of insights were 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.

Retail is about the truth

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 stories and be heard.

The best retail sales training enables employees to encourage strangers to tell their stories. The best employees collect those stories and form bonds. Those bonds are frequently what knits a community together.

See also: Retail Sales Training: 9 Ways To Get Better At Selling

Retail is about being human

Following your gut to discover what 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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