Top 6 Ways working in retail prepped me for marketing

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In my early career (let’s call that high school and college, and a few early jobs), I worked in retail. People who haven’t worked in retail tend to think it is pretty easy. You ring people up, you stock shelves, you go home when the store closes. It is “low stress,” “low worry,” and “low skill.”

This of course isn’t true. But one under-looked value of retail experience, is how much you can apply to an office job. Especially for marketing and sales people. I have six things I learned and apply in my daily life now, so I thought I’d share.

1. Put on a happy face
2. Respect your co-worker’s time
3. Everyone has an important role
4. Not everyone understands your lingo
5. Go where your customers are
6. If you are on the front lines, it is important to be well-informed

Put on a happy face. Everyone has a bad day, or gets in a bad mood. In retail you need to hide it. You need to smile at your patrons, you need to help them find stuff, and you need to project a positive attitude. Someone told me once to smile before picking up the phone. The person on the other end will hear your smile and this helps drive positive interactions. It really works, whether you are at a tradeshow, making cold calls or fishing for information.

Respect your co-worker’s time.
There is a lot of give and take working in retail.  Everyone has to be aware of when their co-workers will go on break, take a bio break, get a drink or have a meal.  The most essential thing is providing maximum floor coverage.  The start of every shift has everyone scheduling when they want to leave to take care of business.  Of course the best laid plans may not work out if there is a md rush around lunchtime or something similar.  Since everyone realizes they have to cover for someone else, especially if they want to get what they want, you learn to compromise.  The co-worker you have the best relationship with will let you take extra long 15 minute breaks or chat with your friends when they come to visit you.  It is in your best interest to be a nice co-worker, but not take too much advantage, since agin, you need to relive your teammates when it is their turn.  At work everyone wants you to put their stuff first.  “My stuff is the absolute most important priority.”  A little compromise and friendliness goes a long way.

Everyone has an important role.
In retail you have baggers, stock room clerks, cashiers, managers, lot attendants and a whole host of supporting roles.  Each person plays an integral part in the business, and the day won’t go smoothly if one of these key pieces is missing.

Not everyone understands your lingo
.  Each of us has had an experience in a store where we ask for help or waiting for service and you here something like.  “I need to ask the ASM about the BSRP to see if we can accommodate you.”  They really mean, I am checking with manager to see if we can get that product for you from the back.  It is really hard to use plain terms, when you spend all day talking to people who know your lingo.  This happens all of the time in the technology industry, it is really hard to lose the jargon.

Go where your customers are. Every successful retailer knows to go where the customers are.  If you cater to teenagers, there is no need to locate yourself next to the J. Jill and Coldwater Creek.  If your customers are hip and urban, placing yourself in the strip mall with Kohl’s isn’t the best plan.  For B2B marketers, our customers are moving online.  It is up to us to figure out where they are hanging out:  industry trade magazines, vendor message boards, digg, twitter, LinkedIn or somewhere else.

If you are on the front lines, it is important to be well-informed.
My personal pet peeve is when I go to a store, and the people working there have no idea about the product.  I shouldn’t tell you about the new partnership you signed up, or the new shirt in the window.  These topics of course are conversation starters, and it pays to have some talking points.  I’ve said this many times, today’s sales people are “trusted advisors” not “information gatekeepers,” so they need to people to talk the talk.  The same with your receptionist, customer service, technical support, marketing communications and PR people.   Everyone should be able to explain what you do, and where you are headed in their conversations with external people, since they are on the front lines of your brand.

Anyone else have any retail lessons to share?

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One thought on “Top 6 Ways working in retail prepped me for marketing

  1. tychy

    putting on a happy face is a sort of lying. it’s being dishonest to the customer. you work for the minimum wage, and so you’d have to be a bit simple if you were smiling the day away. if you were happy you would not be working in retail. it’s a perverse culture in which people with high paid jobs (bosses) are expected to be angry, brutal, banging tables and shouting at everybody, and those who earn nothing are expected to be cheerful. be stoical, not happy.

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