Looking Good For Lots Less
Making Friends With Sales Staff
By James F. Brown
Apr 12, 2009 - 4:21:19 PM


    Developing personal relationships with sales associates and managers is a smart, sharp strategy. It’s mutually beneficial, and will pay off for you — the customer — as well as the salesperson. This column discusses ways to accomplish this.

            Any relationship takes time, energy, and effort to nurture and grow. It won’t happen overnight. The starting point is always the same: engaging someone in conversation. I suggest doing a twice monthly reconnoiter of department stores, clothing stores, specialty shops and discounters. Large shopping malls have many such retailers under one roof. They’re a good place to begin.

Weekday evenings, Monday through Thursday, are the best times. Business is slow and there’s lots of time to talk. Salespeople are often simply standing around, bored, with time on their hands, and are usually willing — even eager — to talk.

Fridays and weekends are the worst times to try shooting the breeze with sales associates. They’re busy, frazzled, and have to deal with an onslaught of often rude, demanding, pushy customers. There is no time for chitchat, and any conversations will be constantly interrupted.

            But on weeknights, be forthright about going up to idle sales associates. Ask them if they have time to answer a few questions. Inquire about possible upcoming sales and how big the discounts might be. They usually have advance notice and can share that information with you. Solicit their advice about clothes. What indicators of quality fabric and workmanship should you look for? What brands have good reputations, and which ones should be avoided? Pay particular attention to what they have to say about the store’s house labels. Make a point to always thank them for their advice when you leave.

            Continue to develop relationships. Be sure to seek these associates out whenever you’re in their store. Whenever you make a purchase, do it through them. Commissions can be a significant part of their compensation. And even when they aren’t paid commissions, their overall sales are still tracked and noted by management.

            You’ll also find that friendly sales associates will help resolve any problems you may have. They may go out of their way to give you “the benefit of the doubt” and get you better deals than the average customer. They can also educate you by “spilling the beans” about their company’s ways of doing business that the company would much prefer remain confidential.

            I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned over the years by becoming friends with sales associates and managers. Knowledge is power, and I’ve personally benefited enormously from what these people have taught me. You, too, can pursue this strategy. Take time to talk with sales people, be friendly, and you’ll gain from these relationships.


James F. Brown is a business consultant and expert on professional attire.

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