Wednesday, March 16, 2016

arm yourself with awareness

Over the last few weeks, I've been approached by three different retail situations.  I'd like to discuss them all.

First, I was with a friend a few weeks ago at a department store in Florida.  I wanted to show her my favorite coffee counter and pick up a few goodies.  While we were there, we decided to the home goods and furniture, as she was in the market for a new bed.  As luck would be in our favor, there was a collection of brand new mattresses and box springs that were drastically reduced due to a sourcing issue with the manufacturer.  So of course, we had to test out the beds and ultimately bought one.  In the process, the very kind and knowledgeable salesman shared with us a very interesting comment.  He said that business had usually been pretty slow in his department, and there are even employees who work in the store on other floors who didn't even know they sold furniture, let alone beds and mattresses.

Secondly, I was at a more luxurious department store also in Florida, but another city.  I absolutely love skincare and fragrances, so I'm always excited and interested to scope out these departments in various cities.  I like to see what's new, how the stores promote the brands and category, and see what best practices the salespeople implement.  While visiting one of my favorite brands, I recognized the associate.  I had known her through retail for at least a decade, so we had some established rapport.  I was genuinely shopping for myself, but also listening to her interaction with a customer.  After the customer left, she approached me and we began talking about the brand, new products, business, and the like.  She asked my opinion about a new product, and we began sharing tips and tricks of the beauty industry. She also felt comfortable enough to share with me that she was beyond hungry for product knowledge and training, but that her Account Executive was virtually nonexistent. 

Thirdly, while I was shopping at my favorite mall, I stopped in an Italian designer's boutique to take a look around.  I was quickly and warmly greeted by a sales associate, offered a beverage, and encouraged to look around.  So far so good, and impressive, to be honest.  After a few minutes, we started talking about business and insights.  The gentleman shared with me how business was a little tricky, especially since most of their target demographic "only comes to the big department store" and doesn't come out into the mall. 

All three of these problems can be solved with increased and refocused awareness.

In any sales position, it doesn't matter what product or service you're selling.  What does matter are the relationships that you establish and maintain, the manner you sell those products and services, and how you represent yourself and the company.  If you were building a house, you'd need to know what tools are in the toolbox before you begin construction.  This same principle works for retail - know what goods and services are on offer, know what decisions you can or cannot make, and understand  your job description.  

For the mattress example above, it would be so simple to build into your team's schedule a daily, weekly, or even biweekly "walk about" throughout your store.  Encourage your associates to walk around other departments, see what products are new or on special feature, and remind themselves what it's like to view the store as a client.  Then, when you overhear a client talking about a specific need or product they may be seeking, employees can quickly and accurately provide suggestions or guidance. One-stop-shopping and maximized sales at it's finest.

For the beauty counter example, I partly blame the Account Executive.  All too often, companies are so focused on maximizing profitability and minimizing expenses that they disconnect the human aspect of business and distance themselves from success. If this employee's AE had visited in person even one time, it would have been obvious that they were in need of additional training and resources and had the aptitude to take the information and run towards success.  Merely analyzing numbers virtually only tells a part of the retail reality.  Furthermore, employees can always take the initiative on their own time and think creatively.  With some much information easily accessible online, just an hour or two per week at the company's website would offer so much product knowledge, company history and heritage, and insight into inspiration and creative development. 

For the luxury Italian brand, there are always ways to increase traffic to your store.  A hypothetical scenario: if I worked in a Goyard boutique on Mount Street, and there was also a small Goyard section inside Harrod's on Brompton Street, I would go out of my way to make a relationship with the people in Harrod's.  As an employee of the brand in the boutique, you always want people to go to the boutique first. So to be more attractive, I'd introduce myself to the employees at the counter and the management of the store.  Chances are, the boutique employees get more training, more insight, and more attention than employees of leased spaces inside department stores.  When you approach the relationship with honesty and a team spirit, the customer gets more support and the brand sees even more success.  If the department store's buyers bought a shirt in two colors, but the client mentions they want it in an alternate color, how will the department store employees know whether or not the shirt was available in other colors?  If they had a relationship with the actual boutique, this information may be easily shared.  Or, if the department store employee had a relationship with their store's managers or buyers, they could easily see if the requested product was available to their inventory.  Also, if I was working at the smaller boutique, I'd go out of my way to introduce myself to all the concierges at the luxury hotels, local magazine editors, and other luxury industry insiders.  The more networking and brand awareness, the better.  And in luxury, a personal connection is exactly the invitation needed to realize even more opportunity and success.

Long story short: arm yourself with awareness.  Shopping should be simple: customers should find the right products in the right places at the right times with the right signs and at the right prices.  Plain and simple.  Right?

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