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Salesmanship: Attitude isn’t everything—it’s the only thing

By Warren Tyler

It was a huge event on Friday, April 30, at the Nautilus, home of the USS Wisconsin, which celebrated the 66th birthday of the famous battleship. That evening the Virginia Retail Alliance held its annual awards night at an event attended by hundreds of dealers from all over the state.

After just returning from a speaking engagement at Coverings, I thought my wife, Tara, was pushing me to join her. After cocktails and dozens of magnificent samplings from local Norfolk restaurants, we were ushered into the auditorium where the festivities were headlined by comedian Tim Gard.

Tim has a message to business people and it’s not to tell jokes, but to see the humor in the human condition and share it with customers and clients. I have always subscribed to this method of selling. As Oscar Wilde has been famously quoted, “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.” Nothing so tragic happens that one cannot find humor in it somewhere.

Tara owns a Big Bob’s franchise in Hayes, Va., and has been in the flooring industry just four years, so you can imagine my surprise when it was announced she was one of the nine finalists out of the 153 retailers from all industries that were nominated. I was awestruck toward the end of the evening when a picture of her store appeared on the 70- foot-wide screen onstage and it was announced she won the Retailer of the Year award in her division, a sophisticated retail market which includes Yorktown and Williamsburg, Va.

Tara operates under the theory that selling is entertaining the customer, something that unfortunately is unique. She had moved my offices to a remote corner of the store so I am frequently on the floor when in town. Every customer is greeted with a warm “Welcome to Big Bob’s!” If customers fail to respond we repeat the greeting, which is always accepted with a “Thank you!” Not a bad start to a conversation.

Many times I am mistaken for Big Bob whereupon I correct them by pointing out that she is Big Bob. “You mean Big Bobette” they may respond.

Our two cats, Mo and Hawk, greet every customer. Tara’s 41⁄2- pound dog, Bitty Bob, was originally hired as a greeter, but like W.C. Fields, he never met a child he liked. However, customers mention how cute he is to which we reply, “We think he looks like a rat. We’ve been leaving Decon poison around, but it hasn’t worked!”

Parents also feel comfortable leaving their children to play with our home-schooled kids who inhabit the store. That solves the problem of keeping the kids busy. Tara has a unique way of deadpanning questions about cost. For example, say a customer asks the cost of padding for a 9 x 12, she may answer, “$1,200!” After a period of discomfort they finally get the humor, after which any price quoted seems like a giveaway.

I would need a book to describe all the banter that takes place, the point being that all selling is entertaining, never mentioning product until we are accepted as friends. There is no selling and few lost sales.

Tara frequently hosts community and charitable events in the store; people drop in just to meet Stacia, the 8-year-old star of her “Why Daddy” radio ads or just to play with Mo and Hawk. Who teaches this? No one else. Remember this when you think of yet another sales training course.

Once again remember this: “Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.”