I haven’t been in the retail industry for long, it’s been about 18 months since we opened our first physical retail store for Nic Harry.
Not only is this my first step into the real world of retail, but I’m also trying to build a new brand from the ground up. This makes many things very complicated. My most recent fascination is how product is sold at an established retail versus a new brand trying to build a reputation and a fan base.
Established retailers hire sales assistants. They do what the job description says: they assist the customer towards a sale. While I believe that younger brands like Nic Harry need active sales people. There’s a difference and that’s what I want to expand on here.
Let’s use H&M as the established example. Many of the employees at a big chain like H&M are not selling anything, they are only assisting the customer in finding what they are looking for. The assistants don’t upsell, they don’t cross sell, they just assist the customer in physically locating an item. Then the customer walks towards the point of sale, pays and leaves.
This is assisting. You are a sales assistant if this is what you do for a living. You are not a sales person. You are not someone who specialises in selling a product or a brand to a customer. You are a sifter and sorter of product. There’s nothing wrong with this, it achieves the goal for H&M. Most people go into a big retailer knowing what they want or at least having a vague idea that they want to shop for in a big store like H&M.
For a new brand that isn’t established, sales assistants are not effective or useful. A new brand like Nic Harry needs people who are actively selling brand and product, not assisting. Very few people are walking into our stores knowing exactly what they want or what we have on offer. They’re also not spending a lot of time in our stores so actively selling to them is imperative while they are in our environment.
At Nic Harry we call our sales people “Sales Specialists”. They are specific in their skill, they know their way around the Nic Harry brand and product and they dig a little deeper to make a sale (I hope).
What should an effective sales specialist at an establishing brand do to be effective? Here are a few thoughts from my experience building Nic Harry:
If you aren’t telling people about the amazing brand that you work with then you’re missing a trick. Explain the origination story and do it with passion and as frequently as you can.
How did the brand start? Where did they come from? What did the founders overcome to make it work? How can the brand relate to the person in front of you in some way?
Assistants know where the product is physically located in a store (sometimes). Sales specialists need to know the story behind the product and where it’s located. Why did the brand create this product, how is it constructed, what is the product made from and what makes it unique?
The example at Nic Harry is our incredible bamboo socks. It’s not enough to know that the sock is red with white polka dots. Sales specialists need to know that it’s called The Clown because it reminded me of a clown when I was designing it. It’s made from bamboo fibre which is anti-bacterial, absorbent and feels luxurious, like a silk or cashmere. It can work well with our red shoelaces, maroon tie or various pocket squares.
It’s integral to know how the different product in the store works together. This way you can talk to the customer about their needs and spot thing that they wouldn’t know. This is the sell. The sell is in the details, it’s in the story of the product working together. Great sales specialists understand their customer as well as their products and will work the two together in the best possible way.
Sales specialists understand that they are not selling a product. First they’re telling a story. A story about the brand, about the product, about themselves, about the store. Telling stories engages people. Only after all of that, they’re selling a product that they know a lot about.
The main thing that sales people understand is that they are selling to a real person. Real people have real stories. In my experience, people want to tell their stories so it’s the job of a sales specialist to get the story, understand the customer’s motivation for shopping and to then sell them the most appropriate products.
If you don’t find out the story then you don’t know why the customer is in your store. They may be there to browse, maybe a birthday or a even funeral. If you don’t ask, then how will you know?
This is the last but most obvious (and often forgotten) tactic of being a sales person; you actually have to sell.
Sales assistants sit or stand in their stores and wait. They wait for the customers to come in. They wait for the customers to talk first. They wait for the customer to guess about the product or to match it with another product in the store.
Great sales specialists engage – in an appropriate and personalised way – with the people in the store. They try to make them fans and then customers of the brand and product. If you aren’t actively selling then you are passively waiting and assisting. Being passive in the ruthless retail environment is going to make you the profit you need to survive.
Waiting doesn’t make sales. Selling does.
Also published on Medium.