irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.
A Customer's Nightmare
Don't store clerks know anything about
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
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
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
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
"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
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