Customer Service or Cross-Selling?

Roy Katz Comments
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As a business owner, it’s important to learn as much as you can from other industries. For instance, there’s a huge home center in my neighborhood. There’s also a family-owned hardware store that continues to prosper despite its giant competitor. How it manages to stay viable is a lesson for all of us. This small business doesn’t stock everything the bigger store offers, nor are its prices better. What it does have is a sales staff that is knowledgeable and helpful.

During a shopping excursion, I watched one of the store’s employees help a customer who was looking to replace a wall switch. By asking a series of helpful questions, he sold the customer on a high-grade switch plus wire nuts, a wire stripper and electrical tape. When it was my turn to be served, I said, “Nice cross-selling,” referring to the practice of selling a customer the item he requests, plus other related items he requires but hadn’t anticipated. (In self-storage, this might mean suggesting packing tape or bubble-wrap with the sale of boxes, for example.)

The salesperson didn’t know what cross-selling was, but he smiled and said, “I was just making sure the customer had everything he needed.” This “do the right thing” mindset is the reason the store is still in business. People will even disregard a slightly higher price if they’re sure to get exactly what they need. The question is: How can you apply these cross-selling tactics to your self-storage business?

Retail Training

Self-storage facilities that have the most success with cross-selling have well-trained and motivated staff. Their employees know how to ask customers the right questions. Once they learn what project a customer is undertaking, they know their retail products well enough to make useful suggestions. You may not think your staff is prepared to handle this task; but learning takes many forms, and you can teach your employees to do this, even without formal training sessions. Here’s how:

Use signage that helps the consumer and your team.

Ask your retail supplier to provide signage that lists all products useful for storing, shipping, moving and packing goods, such as tape, labels, boxes, protective materials, etc. These “consumer” posters are geared toward employees as much as they are the public—and they work. They are constant reminders to your staff of what items they should recommend to customers.

Group products into kits.

For example, display everything a customer might need for storage or shipping together as a package. Create special signage for these kits and consider discount pricing. Combining items in this manner helps train your staff to sell products in groups.

Motivate your staff with rewards.

Most people are creatures of habit. Sure, your employees will offer boxes to tenants, but to make the sale of other retail items a routine practice, it may help to provide a little incentive. And constantly raise the bar over time. For instance, if your average retail sale includes four items, reward employees who are able to sell six or more, and so on.

Base your inventory on your “after training” sales.

People can’t buy what you don’t have, so don’t drop an item that “doesn’t sell” until you’re sure it’s being offered to customers by your employees. A change in staff or training can dramatically affect what is sold and in what quantities. Why pass up sales? Make sure you have the right mix of products, signage, displays and training. You may find your sales increase with employees’ eagerness to give every customer everything he needs.

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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