Retail education: Industry code words

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by Kelly Kramer

In every industry, there is a list of secret, insider code words. These are words and phrases that insiders should know to get a quicker insight into what’s really being said. Often, they are clues that will help us cut to the chase by quickly knowing which direction to steer our buyers. Some words implicate quality levels, some mean we are being cheated, and some are just for fun.

For example, in the real estate industry code words or phrases like cozy, charming or quaint really mean cramped; “sweat equity” means a place is a real dump; “lots of potential” means bull doze it, and my favorite, “energy efficient solar dryer” means outdoor clothes line.

Customer code words

The words “just” and “only” mean she’s looking for some- thing at little or no cost. “It’s just a rental,” “It’s just a basement,” or “It’s only a piece of kitchen vinyl,” are perfect examples. She is probably looking to replace something quickly and with as little cost as possible.

Our favorite ongoing joke at my store is the phrase, “Do ya have sumtin you was jus gonna trow away?” We even bought a company-use, old bass boat and I named it Jus Trol’in Away, with money our customers were “jus trowin away.”

This means “help me”

Some positive words and phrases are “I want something that will last,” “is quality,” and “that will hold up.” These words say “I’m willing to pay what it costs to do the job correctly, and you need to give me real reasons to buy here.” Now is the time for a thorough customer interview— my code words for “give me the information to put you in the best product for your given situation.” You need to really know her objectives in order to do this correctly.

Next is, “Do you have free estimates?” This means she has been to the big boxes or other hard-hitting outfits and wasn’t fooled by their tactics. When I hear this question I don’t just rush out to do a free estimate: Here is my answer to that question. “What we do at our store is find the flooring that best fits your situation, then we bring the samples out when we give you a no-charge, (don’t say free), in-home final cost.” In most cases I follow them home. Now, it’s not a free estimate. It is a well advised finalization of a sale.

Competitors’ code words

“Free pad and labor,” “buy two rooms get the rest of the house free,” “60% off,” all mean “We think that half of all customers are stupid and we want to bait and switch you, or we have some low quality stock we can dump on you. Then we plan to over measure, bury the cost by not telling you the final footage so you could compare it because our final, true cost is much higher than any reputable store.”

Sound like someone you know? Please don’t stoop to their level. Stay away from those tactics because it makes us all look bad. Establish yourself as an expert and do the job the right way.

Ignorant salesperson codes

“May I help you?” and “What is your budget?” to a customer means, “You want me to lie to you.” A better code phrase is “Tell me what you are trying to achieve.” Now you are really helping her.

These are a few of our secret industry code words that I’ve observed. E-mail me at with some of the fun, secret, industry code words you’ve observed, so we all can “jus” have a laugh.

Thanks for reading.

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