How to Sell: Waterproof/Breathable Shells

Grams per meter squared over a 24-hour period may be a scientific way to describe breathability, but your customer’s eyes will glaze over if you try to explain the complex theory of waterproof/breathable fabrics this way. As in most purchases from an outdoor specialty retailer, your customer is most interested in his or her comfort, convenience, and safety when shopping for a W/B shell. Leave the scientific stuff for the staff debates in the stockroom or lunchroom.
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This Training Center article is written by the editors of SNEWS® 



The numbers don’t really matter


Grams per meter squared over a 24-hour period may be a scientific way to describe breathability, but your customer’s eyes will glaze over if you try to explain the complex theory of waterproof/breathable fabrics this way.

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In selling a waterproof/breathable shell (W/B shell), try to stay away from the numbers: they don’t really matter. In fact, they tend to confuse the customer unless you allow yourself an hour for an explanation of the size of water vapor molecules, interstitial spaces in fabric coatings and laminates, and a long section with drawings on the theory of driving force and temperature differential. As in most purchases from an outdoor specialty retailer, your customer is most interested in his or her comfort, convenience, and safety when shopping for a W/B shell. Leave the scientific stuff for the staff debates in the stockroom or lunchroom.

To begin, you need to know where your customer is planning on going

You cannot properly sell a W/B shell to a customer unless you know where she or he is going? As in every effective sales presentation, the sale of a W/B shell begins with a series of carefully directed questions:

  • Where will the garment be used? Desert, mountain, trail running, alpine climbing, expedition, trekking and travel, skiing, soccer games in case it rains
  • What season will the garment be used most? Winter, spring, summer, fall?
  • What specific features are necessary or important to your customer?
    • Hood design: fixed or roll-up, helmet
    • Underarm zips and/or other ventilation features
    • Waterproof zippers
    • Adjustable cuffs
    • Abrasion-resistant fabric reinforcement
    • Pockets both inside and outside
    • Special fit requirements – athletic and form-fitting or loose for layering
    • Weight and bulk requirements
    • How will the garment be used? Only occasionally as a protective outer shell Always for alpine skiing in Vermont For highly aerobic, adventure sport activities As an integral part of a multiple layer, technical climbing, clothing system As back-up to a soft shell clothing system

    Think in terms of three general categories

    There are basically three categories of W/B shells to choose from that the answers to each of the questions above will help you to correctly place a garment in:

    1. Basic rainwear: waterproof/breathable, taped, simple design, lightweight fabric. Usually 2.5 or 3 layer, unlined and most often made of a proprietary waterproof/breathable coating. Great for travel, ultralight applications, or as a part of a soft shell layering system. Typically sells for $100 to $150.
    2. Active lifestyle: waterproof/breathable, taped, soft fabrics with some surface interest (twill, cross dye, etc.), more fashionable design, lots of pockets inside and out, usually a removable or roll-up hood. Maybe a powder skirt. Frequently features a lined, 2-layer construction. Great for general sport or spectator use, skiing, town and country use. Typically sells for $200 to $250.
    3. Technical wear: waterproof/breathable, taped or welded, simple design, heavier bullet-proof 3-layer design, waterproof zippers, helmet-sized fixed hood with two or three-way adjustment, large angled pocket entry for use with a pack on. Highly abrasion resistant. The alpinist or aspirant’s choice. Most often sells for over $300 and as high as $450.

    The Sherlock approach to matching the ideal WB garment to your customer

    To be able to match your customer's needs and desires to your store's product selection, you need to know which W/B garments will work best in which situations. Match each of your store's garments up with the possible choices above to know where each sits when the garments arrive in the store – not as you are working to assist your customer. Pouring over hang-tags with your customer looking over your shoulder isn't exactly an image that conjures up feelings of specialty service.

    Assuming you are on your game, you will be able to listen carefully to your customer and mentally run through your internal checklist to decide which WB garments best meet which need as the customer provides you clues pertaining to end-use, product features desired, etc. – but move slowly. Stay away from a discussion of price unless the customer raises it as a key concern. Focus instead on range of use, key features, fabric weight and abrasion resistance, importance of appearance versus function, role of color, fit and style.

    Be a relentless Sherlock Holmes and thoroughly understand your customer’s needs, even if he or she doesn’t, before you even touch a garment. Review your conclusions with your customer to crosscheck your information: “So let me make sure I understand exactly what you are looking for…”

    Making the sale:

    Based on the conclusions from your investigation you should be able to walk over to the outerwear rack and pick up the right garment. Review the logic of your choice, turn the jacket inside out to demonstrate the W/B details (many of these garments are actually beautiful inside out), then reverse and get the jacket on your customer, check the fit, move to the full-length mirror and review the benefits of each feature your customer identified as important.

    Talk about why your customer wants this jacket. Talk about the places he or she wants to wear it.

    Keep your language simple and concise. Avoid acronyms like MVTR and PTFE. If he or she wants more information, only then should you expound. But remember, too much information will kill a sale more often than too little. Allow silence to let your customer look, think, and imagine, and then ask questions if desired.

    Close that sale!

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