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A Tale of Two Tailors: A lesson in sales

By Mike Cameron. On Jun 20, 2014.

OK, well they’re not really tailors.  More high end men’s clothing retailers but the alliteration in the title sounded better this way ;0).  I really enjoy wearing a nice suit.  As a businessman there is nothing more satisfying then getting all decked out in a new suit.  This is a story contrasting two different shopping experiences and the lessons that we can learn from others mistakes.

In early January this year I made a trip to Harry Rosen to purchase a few shirts and a new suit.  My regular sales person wasn’t in so I ended up with a young fellow who was eager to assist and for the most part did a great job in assisting me with some options of suit and shirt combinations.  One of the shirts that I absolutely loved was not available in stock in my size.  It was the exact same brand and cut as one of the other shirts I had chosen so he offered to order it for me knowing that the sizing and the fit would be perfect based on the other shirt I had tried on.  I have short arms so almost always need to have sleeves shortened.  My sales person measured me up and agreed to have the three shirts I purchased that were in stock and the one on order altered to fit my arm length.  Alterations are always a pain for me because the store is in West Edmonton Mall and I live in Sherwood Park, a good 30-35 minutes away depending on traffic.  I left the store pleased with my purchase, if not frustrated because after shelling out all that money the only thing I actually leave with is a pair of socks while the suit and shirts go to the tailors.  The sales person tells me he will call when the alterations are complete and ready for pick up.

Flash forward a week or ten days and I get the voicemail that tells me that the suit and shirts are ready for pickup.  Woohoo!  Have I mentioned that I love getting new suits?  Unfortunately it is probably another week or ten days before I can actually get out to the mall to pick up the items.  When I get there the sales fellow seems surprised to see me.  I reminded him that he left a message saying my items were ready for pickup.  He goes to the back and returns with my suit and shirts as well as the shirt he had ordered.  The one he ordered in is still in the original packaging UNALTERED!!  I am not happy as I now have to make a second trip out and am tempted to just take the shirt and have a local tailor fix it.  When I ask him why he would not have had the ordered shirt altered he stammered and attempted to defend himself saying some nonsense about wanting to wait to hear back from me before having it altered.  Now I am really annoyed.  Not only did he make a mistake not having the shirt altered but now he is going to defend his position rather than just own the mistake and find a solution.  I left the store without the shirt knowing I now had to return to pick it up.

Contrast that experience with an experience I had a few weeks ago at the same mall.  My kids decided they wanted to take some friends to the water park and Galaxyland for a Saturday afternoon.  Well they are old enough that they had no interest in having Dad hang around so I had a good 3 hours to wander the mall.  Let me make it clear… I had zero intention of shopping.  I enjoy wandering the mall, enjoying a coffee and people watching.  I wandered by Harry Rosen and thought about stepping in to window shop but decided against it.  I kept on wandering and passed by Hugo Boss.  At that point I realized I had a golf tournament to attend and currently had no golf shirts that actually fit me anymore.  I popped into Boss to have a look at their golf shirts.  I was not impressed with their selection of golf shirts but did end up wandering to the back of the store to the suit racks (have I mentioned that I love new suits?).

I started pawing at a suit that caught my eye and was immediately approached by a young woman who commented on how nice my choice was.  “Let me grab your size” she says.  “That’s OK, I’m just killing some time while the kids are at the waterpark” I reply.  “You’re a 38” she states as she holds up the jacket in a size 38 for me to try on.  “No I’m a 40 usually”.  “No, you’re a 38.  Try this.”.  I slip on the jacket and immediately feel that sense of power and success that a nice suit can provide.  She leads me to the mirror.  Damn, I look good!  Even in jeans that jacket would work well as a blazer.  “Let me grab you the pants she says”. Oh, alright I’m this far now and after all I do have 3 hours to kill.  She brings me the pants, I try them on and I am no longer in love with the suit.  A little too much pattern for my liking.  I tell her this and mentioned that I had liked the jacket as a potential blazer.  She also has another customer so leads me to the blazer rack and says I’ll be right back as she goes to assist the other customer.  I select a nice gray spring jacket with a hint of pink in it.  It fits well and looks great.  She returns and says “Nice choice.  That would look great with a nice crisp pink shirt.” I reply “Um, ya pink may be a little out of my comfort zone.”  She doesn’t contradict me but quickly brings me a couple of alternative colors, both of which look great.  She then brings me a pair of navy pants and says “Try these” which I do and while the color works the style and the fit doesn’t.  Angelena doesn’t miss a beat, she offers to bring me another pair in a dressier style.  These work!  “Um… about that pink shirt… Let’s give it a try” I say.  I love it!

Long story short (and there is more to the story. she was good!) I walked out of there after not planning on buying anything, with a sport coat, 3 shirts, a pair of pants and a pair of socks.  She measured me up and indicated that their tailor was a little backed up and that it would likely be at least 10 days.  Would that be OK?  Certainly that was fine, I was not in a rush for them.  I left the store after dropping a lot of money with my single little bag of socks.

A great sales experience so far.  But wait! There’s more! The following Friday, six days after my shopping trip, Brian from Boss calls and leaves me a message and asks me to call him.  I’m thinking “Oh great. Now what?”.  I call Brian back and he tells me that their tailor is a little backed up and asks if Tuesday pickup would be OK.  He quickly tells me that if it is not OK he can make alternate tailoring arrangements.  I told him I wasn’t expecting them to be ready until at least Wednesday anyhow so that was fine.  He seemed relieved and indicated that he had hoped to have them for Saturday or Sunday and asked if Wednesday would still be OK if I wasn’t in a rush.  I told him that would be fine and he thanked me for my patience.  The kicker?  It is now Thursday, 11 days after my shopping trip and I still have not picked up the clothes.  As I am writing this article my phone rings and guess who?  It is Angelena from Boss following up and letting me know that my clothes are ready.  She asks if I know when I will be in because she’d like to be there to make sure the alterations are correct!  Holy smokes! What a different sales experience this has been!!

So let’s do a little post game analysis on this one from a sales perspective.

This is more a story of what was done right but lets briefly talk about what the salesperson at Harry Rosen did wrong.

a) He made a mistake not ensuring that all my items were ready for pick up
b) When confronted with that mistake he defended it instead of owning it.

Had he simply apologized I likely would have been placated.  If he had in fact apologized, and promised to have it tailored ASAP and then have it couriered to me I probably would have been a customer for life.

People don’t often remember the mistakes you make but they do remember how you handle them.

What did Angelena at Hugo Boss do right?  There are so many things that she did that made this a fantastic experience for me.  Some of which I did not describe.  For example the way she handled having two clients at the same time was masterful.  I could likely write a whole article on that alone.

Some of the highlights from a sales perspective:

a) She engaged me immediately and made me feel welcome.
b) She paid me a sincere compliment by commending my choice of suit
c) She got me to “feel” the new suit experience by grabbing me my size, getting me in the jacket and then suggesting I try the pants once she saw that I liked the jacket.
d) Once I indicated I was not in love with the suit combo she did not push it on me but instead followed my cues and led me to the sport coats. (Are you really ‘listening’ to your clients?)
e) She added to her sales opportunity by assisting me with accessories for the jacket.  She didn’t “sell” me things I didn’t need.  She complimented what I was looking at and I was grateful for it. (Are there additional items you sell that might be of benefit to your clients?  Do you make sure they know that?)
f) Once the sales was complete she took the initiative to ask if I needed any other accessories.  I bought a pair of socks.
g) She set my expectations by giving me a worst case estimate on timing for alterations. (Setting expectations is an easy cure for potential future problems)
h) The store exceeded my expectations by calling to ensure the ten day alteration window was acceptable and offered a solution if it was not.
i) She took the initiative to call and confirm that the items were ready for pickup.
j) She showed she cared by asking if I could try and come at a time when she would be available so she could ensure a proper fit.

There were so many things about this transaction that we can learn from.  The reality is that if the first salesperson had owned his mistake and done what he could to right it, I probably never would have walked into Hugo Boss in the first place and likely would have made Harry Rosen my first stop.

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