Hows business Here are a few thoughts and lessons

August 3, 2009
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As I walked up to the Haagen-Dazs counter at the South Park Mall in Charlotte, a 6-foot-5-inch tall guy was counting money. Finished counting, he put on plastic gloves, smiled, said he was the manager and asked me for our order.

We exchanged pleasantries and then I asked for a cake cone with a single scoop of mint chocolate chip, a kid’s cone with chocolate ice cream and lemon sorbet, and, my delight, a waffle cone with a single scoop of chocolate and a little bit of strawberry on top — “Just enough to where I don’t have to pay for it,” I said. The big man laughed out loud.

I went to pay with my American Express card (three orders of ice cream approaches $15 these days). He looked at my card, looked at me and said, “It’s on the house.” I said, “What?!” He said, “You look like you’re good for it. It’s on the house.”

I challenged him: “You don’t take American Express, do you?” He said, “No, we don’t. That’s why it’s on me.”

Now get this: He didn’t ask me for a MasterCard or Visa. He was willing to give up his revenue in exchange for not being able to take my form of payment. Wow!

I gave him a MasterCard and asked his name. “Eugene Mays,” he said as he smiled and shook my hand firmly. I asked for his address so I could send him a couple of autographed books: one on customer loyalty and one on YES! attitude — both of which would affirm his demeanor and his friendly service.

I was never so happy to pay for food in my life. Instead of walking away licking my wounds from ho-hum service, I walked away licking my ice cream cone and feeling great!

Lesson: When is the last time you did something proactive in favor of your customer, rather than making an excuse for your own inadequacies?

After downing the ice cream, I walked into the Louis Vuitton store to try on a couple pairs of shoes. Stephanie, the manager, greeted me like a long-lost friend. I actually first met her at the security line in the airport where I complimented her on her bag — little did I know. I asked her, “How’s business?” She said, “Really, pretty good. We haven’t noticed much of a downturn.”

Without asking her why, she volunteered, “You know, we never discount our prices. So when people come into our store, they know they’re going to pay the same price no matter what, and no matter when.”

Economy note: You may think of Louis Vuitton as an upscale, maybe even overpriced, designer luggage and clothing store. I think of it as a top-quality manufacturer of handbags, shoes, accessories and clothing that prices itself like any other high-fashion retailer. Whatever you think of Louis Vuitton, its strategy and philosophy of “no discounts” and “nothing ever goes on sale” has kept it at high profitability all over the world for more than 100 years. Even in tough times. There may be something you can learn from this strategy as you desperately discount your prices in order to achieve some sort of survival volume.

Lesson: Is your customer happy and proud to pay full price?

I strolled down to the Apple store and could hardly enter for the throngs of customers actively engaged and actively buying. When I walked in, I was greeted by one of their geniuses who “remembered me from last time,” smiled and immediately asked how he could serve me.

It’s interesting to note that every clerk in the Apple store has a cash register (ready to take a purchase and a credit card on the spot) in his or her pocket. Everyone is upbeat, including the customers.

Economy note: Apple has chosen to offer “Buy this computer, get this iPod Touch free” rather than discount. And did I mention that the store was full of customers?

Lesson: How many customers are seeking you out and waiting to buy?

The rest of the story: Wherever I walked for the rest of my time in the mall, all I saw were signs in the window screaming SALE, DISCOUNT and MARKDOWNS. All of those stores had one thing in common: They were empty.

How’s your business doing? Maybe you should go shopping at your local mall for some strategies and answers.

If you do, make sure you stop by Haagen Dazs, Louis Vuitton and Apple. They each specialize in the same thing: excellent service, no discounts and profit.

Free Git-Bit: If you want some additional thoughts and philosophies of merchants of the past, go to www.gitomer.com and enter RETAIL in the GitBit box. Jeffrey Gitomer can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail salesman@gitomer.com

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