Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This is How We Do It: Management Relations Edition

This is part two in an ongoing, semi-regular series about selling in a vendor mall.  You can find previous posts under the "this is how we do it" label.

If you are re-selling stuff in a location where a hundred (or more) other people are doing the same thing, that means you have a lot of competition right under the same roof.  Standing out from the crowd takes a lot of skills and work.  Some of it is obvious--stocking, cleaning, and rearranging are ongoing processes that have to be done, week in and week out.

But, there are other, more subtle things you can do, as well.  These involve the so-called "soft skills" that employers look for, especially the ability to build relationships.  One of the most key relationships you can build is with the management and staff of the store where you have a booth. 

There are over 100 vendors at the Peddlers Mall and over 30 at YesterNook.  That's a lot of people vying for the attention of customers and store staff.  The better the impression you can make on the folks who work in the store, the better for you as a seller.  As they get to know you, they get to know your stuff.  As they get to know your stuff, they realize you carry flim-flams and dong-doodlers. Then, when a customer comes in and asks if anyone carries dong-doodlers, they can point them right to your booth.

It's not something that's going to happen right away.  Staff have a million and one things to do, and being surrounded by booths and stuff all day long makes it easy to tune it all out and focus on the job at hand.  You have to work to make the impression in their minds.  Remember, they're the ones that are there all day, so they are the ones who are your ambassadors to the customers.  Placing yourself on their radar will help them guide customers to you.

Here are some tips that can help build this important relationship:

Talk to them.  Take a few minutes when you come in to chit chat just a bit.  This helps them put a name to a face and get to know you.  Don't talk shop.  Don't gripe about business.  Just have a friendly greeting and a little small talk.  For one thing, it will help them realize how often you come in to work your space.  Vendors who show some commitment to their booth always stand out.

Spend some time at the register.  Taking a break?  Go up front and chat a sec.  You can always stand to know a little bit more about the folks who work in your store, and they can certainly always stand to know more about you.  Bring in goodies from time to time.  Offer to go get a snack.  If you have something really cute or unique to stock, show it to them first. One of the cashiers at one of my stores collects ceramic eggs, so I gave her an extra one I had that I wasn't going to sell.  She loved it. 

Help out if needed.  If you see the line backing up, jump in if you can!  You can't work the register, but you can call out tag information or bag and wrap stuff.  Help customers get large items out to their cars.  When you sweep out the booth, do the aisle around your area too.  Direct customers to things if you can.  The little things you do to help make everybody's experience a little more pleasant will stand out.

Let them know you're there.  I really can't repeat this often enough.  Let staff know when you come in to work!  They count on you to keep your area fresh and presentable.  Every mall has a few too many vendors who only show up to collect their checks and then grouse about how small they are.  When they see you work, it shows how dedicated you are.  I always make sure to wheel my new load past one of the registers and say "hi" to everyone.  Then, the next thing I do is stop at both registers and collect my returns.  Bingo!  Everyone working knows I'm here!  (And collecting your returns when you come in is another way to help out.  I've been told I'm the only one who does this at one location.)

Sell a variety of unique, eclectic items.  All booths start to look the same.  Sell items that are different from other people and you'll have folks noticing.  Staff like to come by my area on their breaks and see what's new.  During one of our special event days, they were announcing booths with discouts and telling people what they might find in each area.  When they got to mine, the first thing said was "Some of the neatest stuff at the best prices you'll ever find,' followed by a pretty good run-down of the stuff in my booth.  No one else got a description like that.  That's when I knew they were paying attention to me.

Sell a lot of a particular type of item.  Ask anyone at the Peddlers Mall what I sell and they'll say "Jesus and comic books."  While I sell a lot of other stuff too, I know for sure that when someone comes in looking for either comic books or religious articles, they get directed right to my booth.

Don't ask for too much.  Minding your booth is your responsibility.  Don't try to pass that over onto staff.  That includes making sure you have the necessary supplies--things like price tags, tape, and such--to do the job.  Everybody forgets something now and again.  I do it myself, from time to time.  It's okay to borrow, just don't make a habit of it.  If you can't cover basic expenses like this, you're not doing something right.  And if you do have to borrow, try to bring in some extra next time to replenish what you've used.

Be yourself.  If you're a nice, easy-going kind of person with a good sense of humor, then let it show.  People like you for a reason, after all.  If you're an unpleasant asshole, fake it.

Take part in store events.  Open Houses.  Special Sales.  Holidays.  Management notices who's there and who isn't.  Successful events mean lots of sales for vendors, so every little contribution helps.  Even on days when I can't be there for an event, I make sure that I've provided some refreshments, my booth is clean and stocked and that I'm running a sale.

Volunteer to do a couple of things, if you can.  At the Peddlers Mall, a couple of vendors have been working a couple of days a week staging empty booths with furniture so the place looks cleaner and fuller.  It's really making a difference.  I helped with publicity for the YesterNook Open House and got a Mayoral Proclamation naming that day as "YesterNook Day."  Another vendor got her husband to play Santa for the event.  Everyone has a skill or a connection that they can put into play to help out from time to time.  Just be careful not to overextend yourself and to deliver on your commitment.

Gently correct mistakes.  At the Peddlers Mall, we have booths numbered 62, 162, 262, and 662.  I happen to be one of those.  It's inevitable that someone is going to make a mistake and key a sale to the wrong booth.  It happens a couple of times a month.  Usually it gets straightened out in a day or two.  No one does it intentionally.  When I need to, I point it out to someone and then laugh it off.  Accepting people for who they are, even when they screw up, is part of building relationships.

Accept that some things are beyond their control to influence.  There will always be customers who break stuff and then put it back on the shelf.  There will always be some level of shoplifting.  Store staff do their best to prevent this kind of stuff, but they can't be everywhere.  These kinds of things are expected risks in any kind of retail environment.  Yelling and bitching at them about it doesn't help the situation.  I try to let them know about things, especially shoplifting, but I also recognize the reality of the situation.

Honor the terms of your contract.  Know what you can and cannot do and don't try to do the things you shouldn't.  If you're not sure, ask.  You've got a copy of that document, so refer to it, use it, and don't try to push it too much.  Seriously, staff have more than enough sellers who try to get away with things and claim ignorance.  Keeping yourself off that list is a point in your favor.

Listen to them.  The people running stores have a lot of experience in the business, for the most part.  Some started as sellers themselves.  Others have been managing places like these for a long time.  They know what they're talking about.  That doesn't mean that you always have to do things exactly the same way they would, but taking their input under consideration sure isn't going to hurt you.

Building a good relationship with your store staff really doesn't cost you anything, but it brings you a lot of benefits.  You may only see them face to face a couple of times a week, but they're with your stuff all day every day. 

1 comment:

Jim Bramley said...

Great post. I'm not necessarily someone who is a vendor in a high-density location as you've described, however, some of these same lessons and tips that you have mentioned can absolutely translate into various industries and selling scenarios. Excellent information.

- Jim
AlphaPoint IT Asset Management