What goes around comes around

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

They can be fun, casual, formal, affectionate or deferential. Either way, the words we use to greet or leave someone are part of our culture and business world.

In Germany you might say “Tschüss” or “Auf Wiedersehen.” Friendly French folk greet each other with “Coucou!” In Israel, “Shalom” and is used for hello and goodbye, and means “peace” in Hebrew. In Italy you’d say “Ciao” and in Brazil you’d say “Tchau,” although they’re both pronounced “chow.”

My ever-lovin’ bride and I recently returned from a trip to Jamaica. The richest reward of travel is being immersed in another country’s culture. While no nation is perfect, Jamaicans live in a joy of life culture.

We learned two Jamaican expressions very quickly.  The first is the ubiquitous “Ja mon.” More than just “yes,” it conveys “I agree” or “I understand.”

The other expression is used when departing. Here we say “Goodbye” or “See you later.” The custom in Jamaica is to say “Respect.” It’s more than just a word there; respect is a way of life. Go to that island country and you’ll see beach vendors and security guards part with a fist bump and a “Respect.” Business managers and their staff part the same way. Make a purchase in a store and your transaction will end with a receipt and “Respect.”

Jamaican drivers will even give a respectful toot on the horn as they approach crosswalks and busy intersections. They seem to understand that society functions better when each person is acknowledged for who they are and their value to humankind. Respect is inherent, it doesn’t need to be earned.

In our retail world, we interact with many types of people in many different roles. Some are easygoing, others more difficult. We meet friendly and reserved people. But in our retail society they are all important, have value and are needed. They include:

Retail Shoppers: Consumers are the lifeblood of our business and the dollars they spend feed us all. They come to us with low price expectations and high service demands. Yet we still must respect them.

John Wanamaker and Marshall Field built their respective businesses on the principle that “The customer is always right.” But the adage is only half true. The customer may not always be right, but it’s up to us to make them right*. And that doesn’t mean caving in to every demand.

Part of showing respect for your customers is providing them with the knowledge they need to make a wise buying decision. We sell durable goods that are rarely replaced. Building the trust needed to find the right fit and comfort level comes from respect. Presenting the shopper with the right products, accessories and services for their needs will win you more happy customers.

Retail Dealers: Be they large multi-store chains or single-location ma-and-pa stores, you gotta respect these retail warriors. No one feels more pressure every day than dealers. They juggle the pressures of shoppers, employees (or lack of them), an ever-changing cyber world, tough competition, bank notes, the tax people and more! They have to cram 32 hours of work into a 24-hour day. 

Every minute is important to dealers. Show them respect by returning value for the time you meet with them. Socializing and long lunches are OK as long as they include ideas and plans to increase sales, decrease costs and avoid returns or remove hassles so the dealer can get a few extra minutes back.

Work to make the sales team more effective and the operations team more efficient and the respect will be mutual.

Factory Reps: Second to dealers, no one else has more tasks to complete each day than your factory rep. No fancy desk and chair for them; their office is their car. They may spend four or more hours a day driving to appointments. Often that drive time is spent on Bluetooth phone calls.

Ultimately, the rep’s job is to sell you products. They know that floor samples and inventory items aren’t the goal. Factory reps can only build their business when they build your business. That next call or visit from your rep is for sharing plans and programs to earn you more sales or save you a few bucks on each transaction. Show your respect by taking the call or keeping the meeting. Keep interruptions to a minimum and ask for notes or follow-ups as needed.

Your factory rep can provide sales training, too. Respectful salespeople attend meetings promptly. They take notes, ask relevant questions and seek to learn. Store owners and managers show respect by sitting in on training meetings and reducing disruptive behaviors that prevent everyone from learning.

Respect starts with each of us. Share it with your coworkers, across your company’s departments and with your internal and external customers.

*A note on making the customer right: While in Jamaica, my ever-lovin’ bride ordered a cocktail that we enjoy at home. Our friendly bartender showed respect by refusing to make the drink.  As he explained it, the ingredients don’t mix properly. He offered to make a cocktail that we would really like. As you may have guessed, she liked it much better. He taught us well. Think about that the next time you’re asked for the hardest mattress or cheapest bed.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and is a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.

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