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306 Parker Circle
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com

 

 


Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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A Customer's Nightmare

Don't store clerks know anything about products?

by Anonymous (November 15, 2004)

(Note: CLN received an email from a leader of a major industry company. He forwarded a note he'd received from his marketing director. "You probably know her well, but she is a multi-category crafter with retail and manufacturer experience. Her message is right on. A.C. Moore is the ONLY chain that seems to have made the commitment and investment in staff training and education. The others are woefully inadequate in this area.")

The marketing director's report:

I decided that this was the weekend to begin holiday preparations with a trip to Michaels and Jo-Ann's. Both of these retailers boast some of the highest grossing stores in the country just a few miles from my home. The area I live in is very affluent and people that frequent these stores are not afraid to spend money.

The good news on this Saturday at 3:00 in the afternoon was that the registers were ringing non-stop. Customers were lined up three and four deep waiting to check out. I would estimate that the average sale at both locations was upwards of $45.

The bad news was the appalling lack of basic craft knowledge at these stores. I was looking for eyelets and Making Memories merchandise at Michaels. The clerk that I found had no idea what merchandise was stocked in the scrapbooking aisle. This person was trying to straighten up the very aisle I was asking about. Don't you think that she would at least recognize the names of the products she was handling?

There was another clerk trying to "sell" a rolling tote. She were comparing one vendor's bag to another's. The clerk told the woman that both bags were the same inside and out, but she never OPENED the bag!! Sadly, I left the store without making a purchase.

My next stop was Jo-Ann's. I thought I would find safe haven there among the fabrics. This store was also bustling with shoppers. The majority of the shoppers were Hispanic. It was easy to find a sales clerk, but finding one that had a modicum of product knowledge was reaching for the stars.

I saw a clerk tell a customer that they didn't stock balsa wood while standing directly in front of the Midwest Products wood display. I asked a clerk where to find grosgrain ribbon. She looked at me blankly and said she didn't know what that was. She was cutting fabric in the fabric department and had no clue about fabric names or ribbons. Some customer asked what type of needle her machine should take when sewing on sheer fabrics and was told that it didn't matter.

I felt as if I was trapped in a craft nightmare. Here we have shelves stocked with product that manufacturers spend millions to develop, and yet the people we put our faith in to sell and educate consumers are clueless. These stores are worried about gross margin and turn and they push the vendors for better pricing when they should also be looking in their store mirror at the reflection of their employees. It used to be that you would take a job at a fabric or craft store because you had some interest in the product. Now it looks like retail recruiting is all about the ability to fog that very mirror.

We as a manufacturer must find more ways to show people what our products are about. Signage is our only way to show the next generation what these products are and how to use them. There are no more home economics classes or parents/teachers/Girl Scout leaders who will teach the fundamentals of arts and crafts.

As I watched customers leave their $45 on the counter, I really wondered how much money was left behind due to the inexperience of the store personnel. I worry that this apathy will lead, in turn, to the decline in categories before their time.

Did cross stitch really dry up, or was it a lack of knowledge at store level to continue to educate the customer? Will people tire of preserving photos and will we see an evaporation of a robust category?

The popularity of knitting came from a resurgence in teaching young people how to knit. This grass roots effort toward education speaks volumes on how important connecting with the youth market is. It also begs for continuation in reaching for publicity through mainstream magazines outside the craft world comfort zone.

(Note: Here's my favorite customer service story: A friend was shopping in one of our industry's chain stores when a clerk came up to her and said, "Would you please help this customer?" and pointed to a woman nearby.

Our friend asked the woman if she could help her. The woman was puzzled about the sizing instructions in a dress pattern. Our friend explained it as best she could (she was not an expert apparel sewer), and then later asked the clerk why she didn't just help the woman herself.

"Oh, I don't know anything about sewing," the clerk laughed. "So when a customer asks me something like that, I just get another customer to help her."

Have any thoughts on the subject of customer service in our industry's chain stores? Email your thoughts and we'll share them (on or off the record) in future CLN issues.)

To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.

xxx

 

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