When you think about traveling salesmen, it may conjure up images of a person showing up on your doorstep trying to sell you Amway or a new vacuum cleaner. Luckily, my father didn’t have to endure the potential humiliation of being rejected on a strangers front stoop. His venue was flea markets and swap meets, and for the better part of twenty years, he worked nearly every large flea market west of the Mississippi.
This was always fun for me as I was growing up. My parents were divorced when I was young and I would get to spend the summers traveling the western United States with my dad. I learned quickly about the ways of business, and that business is often different in a swap meet setting than in a traditional brick and mortar one. You really expect people to haggle and talk you down on your prices; you make deals with other vendors to trade some of your merchandise for something of theirs that you need or want. All walks of life show up at the flea market on a hot summer Saturday, and I feel like I learned quite a bit about human nature just by watching people mill around the open air markets.
Unfortunately, as you would expect, my father has gotten older and is not able to keep up with the often physically demanding lifestyle of the traveling salesman – having to set out and pack up heavy boxes every day just to make ends meet. About a year and a half ago, he decided it was time to settle down and open a traditional storefront. He sells gift-ware items and craft supplies now and his store has been very successful.
When my dad needs to be out of town for a week or two, I run the store for him. I have to admit though, I really can’t stand it. It isn’t the work that bothers me – having to put out the sandwich-board sign and hang the wind chimes outside to attract customers, or making the rounds inside the store to straighten and fill the shelves. It’s not even the nearly overwhelming boredom once that 15 minutes worth of work is done and I have absolutely nothing else to do for the next 8 hours. What it all boils down to, the thing that makes me dread having to go down to the store, is the customers.
You might be thinking that it’s a bad thing to have a problem with customers when one is in a retail/customer service situation, but hear me out. It is not the customers as a whole, but a case where a few bad apples spoil everything. I am referring to otherwise intelligent adults saying the most asinine things.
One example took place last week, but it certainly is not the first time this has happened. A woman comes into the store and spends the better part of an hour picking through craft beads. She finally decides on several strands of beads and brings them to the register. Her grand total was $7. Instead of reaching into her purse to retrieve the money to pay for her beads, she asks, “Can you give me a discount?”
What??? A discount? I didn’t say anything out loud, but I couldn’t help but wonder what this woman was talking about. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I walked into a retail store and asked for a discount, unless I had a coupon. Keep in mind, I spent years working all of those flea markets with my dad and had come to expect people to use those words. But this is not a flea market. This is a store. There is nothing posted or advertised to give customers or potential customers the impression that our prices aren’t firm.
This puts me into something of a precarious situation because what if I say no? I could potentially drive off that customer by refusing her request, and word of mouth travels fast in this small town. On the other hand, I could say yes and give her a discount, but there again, word travels fast. Next thing you know, I have scores of old ladies picking up $0.25 worth of beads and expecting to get a discount.
I did end up giving her a discount, in the interest of keeping the customer happy, but needless to say, I wasn’t happy about having done so.
Another example would be the comparative shopper type customer. This is the kind of customer who, before they leave the store, will make a point of telling you that they can find a specific item elsewhere for less. I think most people have been to a store and said that they saw an item cheaper in another store, and if that’s all it was, it wouldn’t bother me in the least. It tends to bother me when I know for a fact that the customer is lying through their teeth about it.
A woman once commented about a pair of scissors that my dad was selling at the time, saying that she could purchase that exact brand for half the price at Walmart. Because I often help my dad price his merchandise, I have to know how much other stores are selling it for so that he can go just a little bit lower in order to compete. I knew that not only could this woman not buy the item for less at Walmart, she could not buy the item at all at Walmart because it was not a brand they carry. Moreover, the nearest Walmart is almost 2 hours away. Assuming for the sake of argument that they did carry that item for less than what we were selling it for, by the time you drive all the way there and back, you would have negated the amount you saved because of fuel costs.
I didn’t bother to bore the woman with logical reasoning and factual information because I knew that she wouldn’t care, but she and a growing group of people who do not take the time to think before they speak have gone a long way in taking the fun out of selling for me. I suppose that at the end of the day, I let the customer think that they are right. I am probably far from being the only one who goes home and vents about them after the fact, however.