The importance of knowing your stuff


Last week I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I took an entire week off and committed myself to being present in my vacation. I wasn’t completely successful, but I was able to minimize the number of times I checked in on a project or fired up my business email. Most of the time was spent as a “staycation,” working on some home projects put off for a very long time. The last weekend was spent in the Lake of the Ozarks, celebrating my wife’s birthday and the Fourth of July. Reflecting back on both of these events, I discovered I experienced something that is fundamentally important to a specialty brand’s success: the importance of the person selling that brand being really smart about the product, competitive options and use of the product.

There’s Something About Tiling
My big project during my staycation was replacing a vinyl floor in our laundry room with ceramic tile. I am not very handy on projects like this, so I need a lot of help beyond looking up how to do things on web sites. I need a person who can patiently answer my questions when I don’t understand the online instructions or terms used. I went to one of the major home improvement stores that I believed would best be able to help me understand what to do.  It was a huge disappointment. There was nobody around to help, and when I finally asked someone in the tile department for help, they weren’t able to answer very many questions. Maybe I happened to be there at a time when the experts in the department had the day off, but it was definitely a different experience than the commercials would have you believe. I bought the tile and grout there because it was the style my wife and I had decided was perfect for the room. But before I bought the tools I needed, I decided to visit another home improvement store to see if I could get some help. What a difference. At that store,  the first person I approached in the flooring area was able to answer my questions and provide many “how to” tips that were clearer than the instructions on the internet. They spent a lot of time with me and made sure I had everything I needed, diplomatically pointing out several mistakes I would have made if I just followed the online instructions as I understood them.  On my next project, I can guarantee you I will be going to the second home improvement store for the entire project.

A Man Walks Into A Bar
The second part of my time off was a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks to celebrate my wife’s birthday (the most important reason) and the Fourth of July (coincidental). During the afternoons, we lounged by the pool at The Lodge of the Four Seasons and ordered beverages from an adjacent outdoor bar called The Parrot Bar. Over the course of the three afternoons as we lay by the pool, I noticed something. One barkeep, Chris, was far and above in more demand than the others. People would actually pass up help from one of the other barkeeps and wait for Chris to become available. He seemed to know a lot of the guests and was constantly interacting with everyone. I started listening to what was going on (that’s what you do when you’re an account planner), and what struck me was his knowledge of the resort, what to do, where to go and how he could help. He suggested a local BBQ (based on his personal experience) to a couple that wanted a more local fare. Then later explained the evening’s bingo hour to an older couple and told them to come by when they returned and he’d get them a good seat. In one of the more humorous moments, he settled an argument between a couple about how many quarts were in a liter (one was adamant it was four quarts and he diplomatically explained the different units of volume and that one liter was just a little under one US quart). No other barkeep put forth this kind of effort, and based on my limited sample, Chris was getting far more tips than the others. But it wasn’t just the tips he was receiving ? he was building the resort’s reputation and brand with his efforts.

When You Know Your Stuff, Everyone Wins
These examples are reflective of what we’re hearing during the course of our ethnographic study of shopping for specialty brands. One element of many that influences people to buy specialty brands or through a specialty store is the knowledge and product expertise of those who are selling the product of interest. The outcome is more than just an increased sale; the consumer ultimately buys a product that is going to make them happy and has value, the salesperson is rewarded through incentives and the satisfaction that comes from performing and the brand wins because of the likelihood that consumer will recommend it or buy again is high. When your sales associates learn how to engage with a shopper, understand their needs and then help that person choose the product that is right for them, good things happen for everyone.

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