I Need Some Shoes! (Runner Up Award)

Some time back, we had just finished a pretty big Friday and had turned the sign around, killed the lights, locked the door, and were quietly enjoying a frosty one at the end of a long day…Unfortunately, when the door was locked, the little latches on the jam of the opposing door were not thrown…you see where I’m going with this…About 45 minutes after close, this “gentleman” jerks open the dark and locked front door, clattering the “closed” sign loudly, and storms in demanding “I need some shoes”…
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So, after 8 years on the road as an outdoor manufacturer’s rep…I have decided to return to my roots, park the van and step back onto the floor of the shop where I got my start. This time (I worked here for 11 years prior to becoming a “rep-tile”) I’m not only selling (and doing) what I enjoy…in the town I enjoy it…but, I’m working towards ownership as well…All in all, a pretty exciting time here at The Dome…

But, oh, working with the public…how sweet it is!....We’ve all had the stereo-typical questions like “Do y’all carry that Go-tex?...Ya wudn’t happen to have a pack cover made outta that stuff wudya?” or “I just got my new catalog from (insert mega-discount store name here) can you help me fit a pack and a pair of boots…and tell me about those little climbing snap-link thingys?”…

But the most entertaining distractions during a long day of floor sales are the “eccentric” customers…You know the ones I’m talking about…Many times they probably camped out behind the store last night. The great thing about our industry is that, beyond all others, we usually have the liberal views to tolerate and even encourage “alternative” lifestyles… Heck, most of our staffers fall into this category…and I love that. An outdoor specialty shop should be the one business in town where anyone caught in a tough place in their life can go and feel welcome…

That is, unless it’s 45 minutes after closing, the drawer is counted and the lights are off.

Some time back, we had just finished a pretty big Friday and had turned the sign around, killed the lights, locked the door, and were quietly enjoying a frosty one at the end of a long day…Unfortunately, when the door was locked, the little latches on the jam of the opposing door were not thrown…you see where I’m going with this…About 45 minutes after close, this “gentleman” jerks open the dark and locked front door, clattering the “closed” sign loudly, and storms in demanding “I need some shoes”…A quick assessment of the customer revealed a wretchedly dirty tank top (known lovingly down here as a “wife beater”) emblazoned with a Dollywood logo, 2 different loafers with no socks and a spectacular mullet. When the said customer requested his shoes, the reek of alcohol almost set off the DUI meters in the police cars up the street at Outback.

Now, customer service is the name of the game in specialty retail…and you can NEVER judge a customer by his mullet…hell, I have good friends that look worse than this guy. But, it’s waaaaayyy past closing and my guys are pretty beat so I patiently and professionally go through the routine of apologizing and recommending him to return in the morning when the computers are up again, the lights are on and we can service him better…besides, if he didn’t hurry, his spot in the dumpster was gonna get taken (Damn, did I just type that out loud?)…

“Well I got money to spend here, dammit!” he drawled as he deftly flattened a Smartwool display that made the mistake of getting too close…Just as I was about to give in and fire everything up again to attempt a sale…he relented and wobbled back out the door, muttering something to the effect of “No $#*&@* customer service in this world anymore.”

Feeling pretty guilty about playing the part of The Man and shutting the poor guy down, I closed the store up and resolved to dig a little deeper into the pocket the next time I got pan-handled. At the end of the day, my life is pretty sweet and I should always be able to give more back.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there…The next morning, I’m setting up a display tent as we are opening and who should be the first customer through the door? You got it, our hero from the previous evening…bright-eyed and happy as can be…After about 90 minutes of very disjointed and difficult discussion, our man walks out with a brand spanking new pair of Keen Newports…paid for in cash. You just never, ever know! It turns out this guy was indeed a bit down on his luck and having a rough time with the bottle…but he was actually very well informed about our little industry…Even to the extent of knowing things like Columbia has bought Montrail and also owns Mountain Hardwear…I stared in amazement at his knowledge of things that many of my reps aren’t up to speed on…

The moral of the story?...Hell, I don’t know…Retail is always interesting?

Maybe the best moral is “Be nice…He might be a secret shopper for SNEWS®."

by Jay Curwen

Through July 1, retail sales staff answered the contest call to submit a story of survival and perseverance in the face of challenging customers. The story titles with summaries that made the first round of qualifications are listed below, and each is now in the hands of our judges to decide on the top 10. You can read each story in its entirety by going to the contest landing page -- click here.

Ten lucky story writers will each win over $1,000 in product prizes based on the contest judges' votes. Here is where you come in! Of those 10, one will be named the grand prizewinner, cashing in on a trip for two to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2007. Three others will be named official "honorable mentions," and in addition to the valuable prizes, each will receive a gift certificate that can be redeemed toward attendance at an Outdoor Industry Association-sponsored event, such as Outdoor University, Mountain Sports Festival or the OIA Rendezvous. The grand prize winner will be announced at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2006. We will determine the grand prize winner and the three runner up winners based on popular vote (sorry judges) -- those among the top ten receiving the most votes win, it's that simple. This is for store pride, for knowing you have a winner amongst you, so vote as often as you like. Tell your friends. Tell your friends friends. Tell your dog -- but only if he can work a computer keyboard.

Deadline for voting is August 1, 2006.Click here to register your vote now!

Did you miss out on this year's contest? Bummer, but no worries. If you haven't already done so, outdoor retail staff can get ready for next year by activating a subscription now at www.snewsnet.com/freeretail/snewsarticle-contest.html. Then, watch your SNEWS® for announcements calling for our next contest entries and get ready to be a winner.



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