Wearing Customers’ Shoes

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One of my employees, Mark, recently illustrated why salespeople should never assume they have the same buying behaviors as their customers. Mark and I visited the owner of a self-storage company to discuss the merchandising of his facilities. After our presentation, the owner was excited to move forward with a retail program; but his manager was not as enthusiastic. “I can’t sell these new products!” he exclaimed. “All I ever get are requests for locks and boxes. No one ever asks for other items.” Mark then shared with the manager one of his personal experiences and explained why he believes managers have difficulty building their retail sales.

More than 30 years ago, Mark worked at a store that sold two types of wing-tip shoes: Worthmores and Royal Imperials. Because the Worthmores were only $60, he was more comfortable trying to sell them than the Royal Imperials, which cost $120. From his perspective as a 16-year-old, nobody could afford a $120 pair of shoes, even if they were beautiful and made of the finest leather. In other words, Mark applied his value judgment to every person who walked into the store.

One day, a gentleman asked him which wing-tip shoes he recommended and, like always, Mark brought out the Worthmores. The customer said, “These are OK, but do you have anything nicer?” Mark replied, “Yes, we have Royal Imperials, but they are expensive. They cost around $120.” The customer didn’t seem bothered by the price, so Mark brought out the more expensive shoes. The customer was impressed and purchased two pairs!

Afterward, Mark realized what might not be affordable to him may be reasonable for others. From that day on, whenever somebody asked for wing-tip shoes, he would bring out both pairs and say, “The Worthmores are respectable shoes; but if you want the classiest, highest-quality shoes, which will last you years, I highly recommend the Royal Imperials.” The result was he sold more dollars in shoes than ever before—60 percent of his sales were Royal Imperials.

The self-storage owner we had visited overheard this story and pulled Mark aside. He said, “That was a great story, and you’re right! I know these products can sell because I have other facilities with the same demographics where they sell quite well. Why can’t this manager sell these products? What do you suggest?” Mark replied, “Let me work with your manager for the next hour and I assure you, he will be selling these retail products at least as well as your other facilities.”

Mark spent the next hour working with the manager, teaching him the importance of cross-selling and that there is a demand for products other than boxes and locks. He said, “Sell these products from the customers’ eyes, not yours. You might not see the value in certain ancillary items, just like I didn’t see the value in a $120 pair of shoes. However, you have some customers spending $100 or more per month to store their valuables. Don’t you think they’re willing to spend an extra $20 to $50 to protect them?”

The manager understood his point: By recommending ancillary products, he was actually helping customers. When we left the facility, the manager’s attitude had drastically changed. Two months later, we called this manager to see how his sales were. He had done so well that he surpassed the other facilities in his district, selling $3,000 in retail supplies in the month of January alone.

I can’t be there personally to show you how to sell retail products; but hopefully, you can take something away from this article. Step out from behind the counter and into your customers’ shoes. The results and increased sales will amaze you.  

Roy Katz is president of Supply Side, which distributes packaging as well as moving and storage supplies. The company has developed merchandising programs for many leading companies including Storage USA, the U.S. Postal Service, Kinko’s and Mail Boxes Etc. For more information, call 800.284.7357 or 216.738.1200.

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