It has been a while since my last Shop Talk posting and having just returned from the Miss Frenchie April in Paris show in KS City, I have been thinking a lot about you shop owners. The extremely long hours I put in preparing for the show, and the very long hours on my feet during the show, chatting, visiting, selling, and answering questions with many, many customers, (over 650 customers walked through the door in one day and one evening!), I had one customer who really caught my attention that got me thinking about you shop owners.
I had one very nice customer come up to me and we chatted for a bit. Before she departed, she gave me a hug and told me that she couldn't believe how busy I was, but how I found time to visit with her for a while anyway. She then told me that she always reads my blog and how she has commented on my blog over the years and how I have responded to her comments almost every single time. She told me that having me respond to her comments meant so much to her!
Well, of course, I was very flattered, and very happy to hear this, but what I found so interesting was that it was my personal attention that seemed to keep her as a "customer" and as one of my readers. I think with the recession going on in our country and all retailers (large and small) struggling with the public hanging on to their dollars, we small retailers have a huge advantage that larger stores do not - we can provide personal customer service! Now, this is nothing new, or earth shattering, but I feel now, more than ever, customers just want to feel appreciated and actually want to spend their money in places (or on people) that they feel a personal connection with and actually like.
Giving personal service can't be faked. A customer can spot it a mile away. So what do you do if you just aren't the chatty Cathy type but want to get to know your customers? Or what do you do if your employees aren't the type to chummy up to a new customer easily? Again, faking it is not good. But showing real interest, no matter how tentative, is always good. Below are some very simple, but honest questions, or conversations starters for you to try with customers. Now, some of you, this is not even an issue. This is old hat for a lot of you. But please remember, this posting is for those who are brand new to the retail business and may be nervous, or just may need an idea or two because they are just too pooped to think of one more thing. So, please understand that I am not trying to insult anyone's intelligence.
Simple questions I used to ask when a customer would enter a store:
Hi, how are you doing? If you need anything, just holler, and let me know. (Yes, I really said the word, "holler" which would crack some of the ladies up - but hey, I am a Texan.)
How did you hear about my store?
Have you been here before?
Are you planning on having lunch in the area today? (I would then steer them to my friend's cafe down the street).
If you want to talk politics, religion, or men, I am nixing the first two, but I am all over the last subject... (I usually used this with a group of giddy women who are laughing when they come in...)
Are you familiar with the other stores in the area?
If you find anything at all that slightly or remotely interests you, your better half called and said for you to get two of them... (I always said, "better half" because you never know a person's situation...)
I am so glad you came in today...now I have someone to watch the store while I go out and get a bite to eat...can I bring you back something? All you have to do is answer the phone....
If a customer comes in that has a great outfit on, I would ask where she got it, or I would comment on the weather, local happenings, or if she is from the area. Sometimes, she may not feel like talking, and that is important as well. Sometimes, she just wants peace and quiet.
The point is, personal attention is something the public is craving right now and I received too many comments this past weekend at the show regarding how much I "visited" with the customer and how much they enjoyed it. Yes, it takes time and effort and no, it doesn't always result in a sale. BUT, the "visit" shouldn't be about selling - it should be about visiting. Selling comes naturally during the "visit." Well, at least it should - with practice. No one wants to "be sold" to. But everyone likes a good visit now and again. I also make it clear when I am selling. For example, this past weekend, I was swamped!! I finally had a moment where there were about 10 ladies in my area and one lady asked about my French incense and I started to explain it, and realized I hadn't had a moment to really show how this stuff works, so I raised my voice loudly and said, : "Attention! Attention ladies! I am doing a quick infomercial about my French Incense since I have so many of you here and this will save me a lot of time...." I then told them the story about a Frenchman who came into my store one day and was just appalled and very confused that I sold this stuff in such a beautiful store (it is the French version of plug-ins). It would be like going to France and entering a beautiful boutique and seeing a bin filled with cans of Lysol. I then demonstrated to the ladies how it is used and I explained how I used it when I lived in Europe and so on. It was quick, people love a good story, they laughed, and I sold all of them right then and there. The point is, just be yourself, be honest, and really care about your customers and they will really appreciate it in the long run.
One of the nicest compliments I use to get as a store owner was from a customer who would come in to "visit" - she told me that she never felt pressured to "buy" when she came in. She was poor as a church mouse, but somehow, by the end of our visit, she always ended up leaving with a candle or lavender - because as she would put it, "I just have to take a small piece of Elizabeth House home with me." And not once did I ever "sell" her, and not once did she ever feel "sold" but rather, "befriended" when she came into the store.
I think if small store owners could put their efforts in befriending their customers (well, as much as possible) during this recession, perhaps that could help increase sales, keep current customers coming back, and encourage new customers to become repeat customers. Just a thought. I have no data to back up my thoughts - just some experience and gut instinct.
I know you are working so, so hard and have so many worries. I know you are doing your very best and this posting is to encourage you, not another "to do" on your already huge list of things to do for your store. You are doing well - very well. But this last weekend at the show, made me realize how much people seem to really want a connection right now and I wanted to pass on my thoughts to you.
Happy selling and I am really proud of you!
From my house to your house,