I’ve been in retail for a long time, first as the manager of a big home beer and wine supply store twenty years ago, and later as both a retail coach and trainer to others (while still running a smaller retail store on the side as part of my day job).
I love the business, which is really a thing you need to understand: either you love retail and the whole ‘I have stuff and want to get people to give me money for it because that’s how commerce and most everything works’, or you don’t love it at all, and feel positively sticky about asking strangers to pull out their wallets in exchange for your sordid junk.
It’s okay to be the latter. After all, there are certain aspects of business that I’m ill-suited to myself (accounting, bookkeeping, staying awake in meetings that last longer than 19 minutes, etc) and I avoid them. If you hate retail, you’re probably smart enough to avoid being in a situation where you’re obligated to perform as a retailer.
Unfortunately, some people don’t do that. And it drives me bananas.
I understand if it’s a job and you really need one. Been there, done that, actually shovelled manure for 10 hours a day for minimum wage. But I didn’t do it out of hate, and I understood how the job worked: that end of the shovel went into the muck, and the other end connected to me, and I kept my mouth shut and shoveled and somebody gave me a paycheque. Hating your job (believe you me, I hated that poopy job) doesn’t mean that you let it influence how you perform it. If it does, you’re letting yourself down. After all, if you’re bad at shoveling dung, what else can’t you do in life?
While it’s a sad case when retail employees dislike their job and let it show through inattention, ineffectiveness or pure loathing, it’s much worse when it’s the retail shop owners who are the problem. That’s when things get grotesque. I’m sure that there is nobody reading this who hasn’t had the experience of entering a shop with the clear goal of making a purchase, but has been frustrated out of it by an absolutely dreadful retailer, someone who was either having a bad day and let it loose on you, or someone who simply did not acknowledge that the act of transferring money from you to them, and goods from them to you was the only thing on the agenda.
I could raise a dozen examples I’ve experienced in the last month without even trying, and probably several hundred if you gave me a day (and I didn’t get depressed and quit trying because it’s all so repetitive and awful) but my very worst peeves are when I’m goal-oriented on a purchase to the point of target fixation, where my burning desire is to give money, get the thing and go, but the retailer wants to talk me out of it–‘Oh, those are quite expensive’, ‘That’s the display model’, ‘The new ones are coming out in a few months’, ‘I’ve given up stocking those–we can’t keep them on the shelves’. AAAAGH!
It was on this topic that I ran across a quote in an odd spot today, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to share it.
The spot was Terry Pratchett‘s Unseen Academicals. For those who don’t know Pratchett, go forth and know his work immediately. He’s a British fantasy author who writes subtly, subversively and hilariously about the human condition, under the guise of a moderately ridiculous fantasy world that rides about on the back of a giant turtle.
It might seem like kid’s stuff at first, but Pratchett is a class warrior, and egalitarian and one of the humanest humanists I’ve ever read. Nine stars and eleven thumbs up for him–if you know and love a reader, give them the gift of Pratchett, posthaste. Ahem.
” . . . shops were doing well these days, largely because they understood the first rule of merchandising, which is this: I have got goods for sale and the customer has got money. I should have the money and, regrettably, that involves the customer having my goods. To this end, therefore, I will not say ‘The one in the window is the last one we have, and we can’t sell it to you, because it we did no one would know we have them for sale’, or ‘We just can’t keep them on the shelves, or ‘I’m fed up with telling people there’s no demand for them’. I will make a sale by any means short of physical violence because without one I am a waste of space.“
Yes, yes, YES! The retailer’s target demographic is people with money who are willing to give them some. Nothing else matters, give the people what they want, quickly and efficiently and you’ll be so far ahead of your non-retaily competitors it’ll make your head spin. Just having a store with goods in it and warm bodies doesn’t mean you are a retailer–retailers sell things, period.
And if you’re a retailer, I salute you. You have goods, I have money: let’s talk.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going shopping.
5 Replies to “The Gospel of Retail”
When I ran a beer and wine supply store, the only thing I didn’t want to sell was the vinometer. People still bought them and I happily took the money. And many came back and told me that I was right.
I’m with you on the Vinometer, Steve. I eventually made up a sign telling people why we didn’t sell them. It said, ‘BECAUSE WE DON’T WANT TO STEAL FROM YOU BY SELLING YOU A WORTHLESS PIECE OF CRAP.’ There’s a point where not selling someone unsatisfactory goods over-rides salesmanship, because ethics, but in the grand scheme of things you may have had the better idea: selling them a journey of self-discovery with the Vinometer.
Hmm, a store that sells life-lessons. There’s an idea.
As a shop owner, there have been times when I’ve even talked my way out of a sale with a customer based on the best of my knowledge at the time. I believe in being ethical and I want to foster a business relationship with the customer built on trust in hopes the customer comes back. I too am human, and there have been times I’ve made apologies to customers because I value them as people., who without them, I have no business.
Ah, but you did sell them something: a valuable and worthwhile relationship with a retailer who has their best interest at heart. My irritation is focused on retailers who won’t do their basic job (having and selling the goods I seek), not those with conscience and a heart.
I’ve quoted that very passage to my fellow employees many times.
Bears repeating, Adam.