Is that so hard to do? One of my best, longest-running clients told me that this is one of the few mantras she teaches her children: “BE NICE!”
Yesterday, I was kicked out of a furniture store. My mother and I went to see a very cool dining table she was considering purchasing for her home, and since I’m a designer, she wanted my opinion on it before taking the plunge. This was a vintage wood table, with interesting carvings around the apron, and it had a unique extension mechanism that allowed you to lengthen the table from both ends.
I would show you a picture of it, but this shop doesn’t allow cameras or video-taping (a SUPER pet-peeve of mine), which is another reason why my mother had to bring me over there to see it.
The shopkeeper was unsmiling when we first walked in (in retrospect, not a good sign, but I try not to make snap judgments), and as soon as my mother asked him if he could show me how the extension mechanism worked, not only did he refuse, but he became immediately nasty toward us. I’ll save you from an exact play-by-play of his comments, but after a couple of seconds of his increasing anger, I asked him, “Why are you being so hostile to us?”
This apparently served only to make him lose his temper completely, but hey, I’m not going to take abuse. If you’ve got a bad attitude toward me, I want to know why. He yelled at us to get out of his store, we were rude to him; he refuses to sell anything to us, just leave immediately!
To say we were baffled is an understatement. We hadn’t done anything wrong or acted rudely in any way. I had never even been in this shop before, and my mother’s previous experience with this same man, about this same table, had been cordial, pleasant, no problem.
But by that time, instead of continuing to try and analyze what we could have possibly done to make this guy so mad, we started to get defensive and angry in return. As he shouted at us to leave, I said “Who is the owner here?” To which he leaped up from his desk, came at me with his chest puffed out, and screamed at me within inches of my face, “I AM THE OWNER HERE!! I AM THE OWNER! DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM!! GET OUT!!”
I really was curious and astonished, and I like to understand things (and people), so I looked at him quizzically and said, “Why?” I mean, really, I had every intention of leaving at that point anyway, and I told my mother later on that I don’t care how much you like that table, don’t you DARE give that maniac a dime, but I was so confused and curious about the bizarro world I had just entered, I couldn’t help but ask. Pointless, I know. You can’t argue rationally with crazy people.
My snarky and cynical inner voice said, “Dude, did you forget to take your pill today?” But of course, I would never say that to someone’s face, because….I’m nice. Dammit. I also have a little roaring, vengeful sprite banging around inside my head saying, tell them the name of the store, Tammy, tell them where it is, so everyone can go leave steaming bags of poo outside his door and spam his Facebook page into oblivion. But I’m not going to do that, because…I’m nice! Dammit! And I believe in karma.
We learned a few minutes later, at one of the other vintage stores within the same cluster of shops, that this guy acts that way regularly and throws people out of his shop in a fit of rage all the time.
How does he stay in business?
A better question might be: why has he chosen this particular type of business when he clearly has a severe lack of civility and maturity, and lacks the coping skills for dealing with the public in a sales setting?
I’m a designer, but everything I do is sales. I sell ideas, products, and my “self” all day long. What about your profession? You may think you’re not really in a service industry, but if any part of what you do requires convincing someone to go along with it, then I’ve got news for you: you’re in sales too.
As a designer, I shop for furniture and other items a lot. Sometimes with my clients, but most of the time, alone. If you’re in the business of selling furniture or home goods of any sort, from a showroom, or retail store in particular, there are certain expectations I have to help you make a sale, to me, and by extension, my customers. And that’s what we all want, right? Commerce makes the world go ‘round, does it not?
The “no cameras or video-taping” rule needs to go. That immediate lack of trust from the moment a potential customer walks in the door sets a negative tone right from the get-go. With the quantity of items that I look at every day to put together a scheme, I need picture references of everything. If your item is unique or one-of-a-kind (like an antique), and it’s not possible or convenient to come into the store over and over, how can I sell it? If my client sees something they want to run by me, and the shop won’t let them snap a picture, then you have just wasted my time and my client’s time. What are you so afraid of? That someone will “shop” you? That is not news. People do that all the time; it’s not a crime. But they’re more likely to come back and buy from you if you make it easy and you’re not a jerk.
Expect people to want to touch things and see how they work, especially if they actually do something, like open and close, extend and retract, raise and lower, whatever. If you’re not comfortable with the customers doing it themselves, then please show them yourself, willingly, with a smile on your face, and not disgust and annoyance.
Be generous with samples and keep them free. I realize this is not always possible when you’re dealing with vintage or antique items, which is why photos are so important. But for product showrooms and stores, like fabric, tile, paint, etc, this is vitally important. Does it increase the cost of business? Yes, it does. Samples are expensive to make and keep on hand, but if I can’t show it to my client, I can’t sell it. And if you make it cost me to obtain your samples, I’ll go somewhere else.
And lastly, BE NICE. Dealing with people is hard. They can be ornery, obnoxious, rude, condescending, the list goes on. If you have little-to-no-patience and a short fuse, find a back room to work in, and spare the rest of us your assholery.
Well, it felt good to get that off my chest.
What about you? Do you have a story to share? Instead of retelling all the tales of the endless Neanderthals out there, let’s keep it positive and hear some stories about the best buying experiences you’ve ever had.