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Lessons learned: No place for class divisions in your store

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Tom Jennings

 

Readers of a certain age will remember the popular ’70s television show “WKRP in Cincinnati.” One of the recurring gags in this sitcom was the imaginary door and walls around news director Les Nessman’s office. Upon approaching his desk, he would pause and turn the knob to his pretend door before entering his fantasy of a private office. He felt he was too important to be sitting with the commoners. The joke was that he was mystified why no one else was impressed. It was funny when it was fictional.

The sad reality is I see similar behavior and attitudes acted out constantly in everyday life. On a recent trip I found myself boarding four flights at multiple airports. The airline I was booked on uses a boarding system that must have been designed by Les Nessman himself. They had an assortment of aluminum poles, nylon straps and lanes marked on the floor at the entry gate designed purely to “keep the classes” in their proper position.

If you are among the privileged, you are allowed to walk on the designated side of these straps across a specially printed mat to enter the jet way. However, if you are among the lowly majority, you must wait to enter 3 feet over on the opposite side of the barrier without enjoying the pleasure of walking on a special mat. While boarding one flight, I counted seven verbal reminders that some customers were greater than others.

My observation has always been those who got on the plane first were not necessarily impressed based on which side of the lane markings they entered. However, the reactions of those who were told they weren’t worthy ranged from amused to annoyed. What a waste of time and money. I overheard a fellow traveler state, “Southwest would have the plane in the air while these folks are still busy explaining their boarding procedures.” My rant has nothing to do with having a class system. These were hardly invented by the airlines. They existed on the Titanic over a 100 years ago when Wilber and Orville Wright were still flying their plane on the beach. Those who spend more typically expect to receive more in return. The problem I have is in constantly reminding customers with less sizable purchases that they are somehow less important. This couldn’t happen in my store, you say? My bet would be it occurs more than you realize.

Recently, while being shown around a dealer’s store, I was advised of a “huge contract job” they were in the process of installing. The RSA was obviously proud of performing this job, and I admired his enthusiasm.

The problem arose when I overheard staff members tell other customers twice that morning their jobs would have to wait until our “big job” was finished. One customer was told they could “possibly work her in,” while another was actually advised, “we simply don’t have time to do a two-room job anymore this month.” This poor lady actually apologized for “bothering them” with a job this size. Can you believe that? She should have kicked the clod in the shins for being made to feel her business was trivial to any other.

The moral of this story is to train your staff that there is no such thing as a small sale. More importantly, there is never a less important customer. Remove the perception of any class barriers that may currently exist in your store. As customers, most of us will be reasonable in our requests when treated with respect.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.