Retail education: Ice cubes to Eskimos

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by Kelly Kramer

Since my first job in high school at a bowling alley pro shop, I’ve been accused of selling ice cubes to Eskimos. At first, I took it as a complement because I thought being good at what I did was a good thing. As I got older and saw people think salespeople are opportunistic vultures who thrive on tricking people, I started to wonder if the selling business was what I wanted to be good at.

Luckily, my manager at the lanes had a little talk with me. He said I had a great grasp on finding out what a bowler really desired and an ability to put them in the correct product for their style of bowling. That was when I decided that selling could be a very honorable profession. The advantage I had at that job was that I also worked at the front counter where I was able to watch our customers bowl. When they came in the adjoining pro shop, I had a pretty good idea of their style of bowling.

While I’m personally a terrible bowler, I grew up watching my family bowl. It was hard when I observed a guy like my brother, who had an average above 200. I always felt like a great coach who was a very poor ball player himself. Understanding something and doing it well are two different things. In the long run, I learned that the ability to observe was the ability to teach.

Fighting stereotypes

One day in my mid-20s, my roommate introduced me to some friends as, “a guy that could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” This time, I wanted to justify my profession. So, I said, “Americans buy bottled water, yet we have the cleanest water system in the world, where the water comes right from the tap. Knowing that many bottlers actually use tap water, don’t you think that’s like selling ice cubes to Eskimos?” Then, in jest I said, “You have to consider the type of ice Eskimos have avail- able. Would you want ice from fishy water?”

I guess in the long run my roommate was right. Selling is not always logical and people will pay high prices for some very odd items if they can be educated about their value.

Hot buttons

A sale is made when one hot button is hit. Just the other morning, I was working with a very bright, young, professional couple that was doing a self-installation of laminate flooring. They were doing a large area and price was definitely of concern. I asked what they had seen and as it turned out the previous two stores had turned them loose with the samples and they brought some in to compare.

First, I counted my blessings for samples being sent home by my competition. Second, I asked what she liked about the two samples. During the conversation she said she didn’t like the blocked or choppy look of one. Then her husband asked about the pre-padded back the other sample had and I explained he would skip a step in the installation.

I took them to a planked product that wasn’t as choppy looking with more realistic graining and explained that the regular cushion on the roll had no gaps in it. To my surprise the competition that supplied the pre-padded laminate had also tried to upgrade them for 50 cents a foot to a different waterproof pad.

Two hot buttons were found in this case. One was planked over blocked and the other was continuous cushion. If I had not dug for the real hot buttons, my buyers would have spent less money at another store.

Most salespeople simply don’t dig deep enough. When you do, you can sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

Thanks for reading.

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