follow us

Things I Should Have Learned in Kindergarten (but waited to learn till I went into retail)

July 27, 2010
  1. Sales in the morning are not a good predictor of what sales are going to be in the afternoon. And, vice versa. One afternoon, recently, a friend was complaining to me about how slow that morning had been. I called him a few days later to see how things were going. As it turns out, a few minutes after our first talk, a customer came in and spent enough money to make his week.
  2. When a vendor tells you, “Next year things will be different (read: better) at their factory,” you can pretty reliably substitute “the same or worse” for “different.” Hard to believe that factory personnel wouldn’t want to correct problems that are causing them to lose business. But, sad to say, it is easier to talk about fixing a problem than it is to fix it. Changes come hard to corporations just as they do to people. As an example, I once sat next to wonderful older woman during a flight home. In the course of conversation, she told me she had been married for 60 years. I asked her if she thought there was a secret to their long marriage. She thought about it for a moment and said, “Yes. When we first got married, I thought I could change my husband. Now I realize the only thing I was able to change is that he likes broccoli, now!”
  3. The customer might always be right but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to mislead you. Recently a customer came in looking for a specific brand, design, and grouping. Once we priced it at about $2,000, he told us he could buy if from our competition for $500. A quick visit to the competing retailer by a secret shopper (me, truth be told) found out that the $500 was for the dining table only. Did the customer really misread the price tag or were they trying for a deal?
  4. No matter how prepared you think you are there’s always a monkey wrench waiting to be thrown in. This week we had to deliver a 72” sofa to the fourth floor terrace of their office. Our customer assured us there was a roomy elevator we could use. Plus, if the elevator wasn’t big enough, there was a roomy stairwell. Unfortunately, neither the elevator nor the stairwell was as represented. We ended up using the wobbly exterior fire escape and my lead driver informed me he would quit before making another delivery to that address.
  5. If a customer is shopping with a sister, mother, aunt, or “decorator,” we are not going to make a sale that day. As they say, too many cooks spoil the stew and a customer shopping with a friend is one cook too many. When a friend with no vested interest in the sale is asked for their opinion, they will not hesitate to give it and it will always be negative. Maybe their friend is envious that they cannot afford such expensive things. Whatever the reason, it is hard to overcome.
  6. A corollary to point 5: If parents are shopping with three or more children all under the age of 7, you are not going to make a sale. In fact, you will be lucky to end up with your sanity.
  7. Freight companies don’t have claim forms for no reason. If it can be broken, it will be. If the carton can be broken open it will be and key parts will be strewn across the country from the factory to your dock. If another store has a name similar to yours or an address with even one number the same as yours, your shipment can end up there. Usually that will be 2,000 miles away, if you’re lucky. Otherwise, it will just end up in limbo. By the way, this only happens on shipments a disgruntled customer is tired of waiting for.
  8. Never, and I mean never, buy a stick of furniture from a picture. As it turns outs, the models in those wonderfully comfortable looking beauty shots are paid big bucks to look oh-so-comfortable while the cushion is too thin, the seat is too short, and/or the chair throws them forward when it springs. Who knew?
  9. Customers are not our adversaries. We have to remember this even when they are yelling at us over the phone and claiming all sorts of thinks about our ancestry. Customers can and do react to problems they have had with their purchase in lots of different ways. We, on the other hand, can only react to them in one way; as a friend trying to find a solution that helps them. You can catch more flies with honey and so on and so forth.
  10. Perhaps this should have been point 1. In my experience the people in this industry are the nicest, most helpful, and concerned folks it has ever been my pleasure to meet. When I have a problem I know I have a circle of friends I can turn to including reps, vendor principals, other retailers, or customer service reps. My biggest fear during the current economic downturn is that “bean counters” might replace all of these friends. Let’s hope not.


Yours in confused retailing, Bruce