There are two kinds of salesmen in the world - sorry salesmen and sari salesmen. The sorry variety diffidently walk upto a customer and enquire - just for the sake of enquiring - "Madam, can I help you?" Madam glares at the salesperson and he/ she beats a hasty retreat.
The second kind of salesman sizes up his prey and then moves in for the kill. "Aaiye na sister, baithiye na... " He then proceeds to pull out some 'latest stuffs' and even as 'sister' protests "mat kholiye" he grins and declares,"Dekhne ka koi daam nahi lagta." Or so you think.
The fact is once this sales fellow has dug his claws into sister's skin she will never leave the shop without buying something. "Kya mangaoon, chai, thanda..." And he proceeds to open a few hundred saris more without a care in the world about who will fold them.
But 'sari salesman' is just a metaphor. He could be selling you nighties or salwar kameezes, jeans or jewellery.
The difference between a good salesman and a great one is that the latter exhibits an infecious enthusiasm and knows exactly which buttons to push on which customers. Like in the first 3 minutes he has figured out what the buyer's 'taste' is - Gujarati-Marwari or sober-simple.
The second hallmark of the sari salesman is his adjective-rich vocabulary. Coupled with cleverly spaced positive strokes. "Yeh dekhiye, ekdum fine concept hai... aap ke upar royal lagega." Customer is finicky, or unsure. "Aapko fitting chahiye? Sister, ek minute... clip lagakar dekhiye. Alteration ho jaayega".
Now of course even the best salesman in the world can't sell a car without wheels. So the shop should have a vast and varied stock to begin with. But a great salesman can help that stock fly off the shelves. Because he can anticipate the customer's needs, wants and also her apprehensions.
So it was that last evening when I joined a friend who is shopping for her sister-in-law in the US (and in the process going berserk herself), we ended up spending:
- 1 hour at Centerone, the local mall.
- 2 1/2 hours at 'Princess', a mere shop in the Vashi, sector 17 market.
After much deliberation, she bought one outfit from the Pantaloon store in the mall. Phatka: Rs 2000.
At Princess, the same shopper picked up 8 items and spent 6 times as much. All because of a Super Salesman. Hell, even I, who had just gone to provide company picked up 2 really nice skirts. Although what I need is a new pair of jeans!
So what am I trying to say? That the small guy is not going to get wiped out all that easily - if he operates from the 'sari salesman' platform. While the big guy could learn a thing or two from these chaps.
Yes, many shoppers at department stores would rather not be 'bothered' by salesmen. But the reason the staff is seen as a bother at these stores is they are so perfunctory in their 'May I help yous'. It's like, we have to ask you so we do. Ritual over, we can recede into the background. They don't genuinely wish to interact with you.
Perhaps they are paid a fixed sum while the sari guy gets a commission. Perhaps they're told their main role is to ensure no one is shoplifting. You can't play policeman and persuader simultaneously.
Oddly enough, the same attitude applies to designer stores. When you walk in, the salesgirl will usually be on the phone. She will look up, size whether you are a buyer or a gawker and then decide whether to get up and serve you.
The irony is that a lot of the people who enter designer stores might not be as well turned out as you'd expect. Maybe that's why they are at a designer store - in need of urgent wardrobe advice. Deciding who are the freeloaders and who the potential big bucks but you-would-not-know-it-if-you-looked-at-me is where a true salesman's instincts kick in.
Remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is turned away from one such store? . Only to return the next day and snub the same saleslady after having bought out half the neighbouring shop. Here's a similar, real life story!
In fact, I think every marketing student must spend some time selling women clothes and men, cars. One month of such an experience will provide more insight into consumers and their psychology than any lecture, seminar or project.
And yeah, that goes for our ooh-I'm-so-creative-designers as well. The government want to 'investigate' the recent wardrobe malfunction at Lakme Fashion Week.
What I'd like to investigate is who would consider buying the hideous outfit Carol was modelling in the first place... Not even Rakhi Sawant I think!
On an unrelated note I very much doubt the malfunction could be a publicity stunt. Imagine telling someone the outfit you're wearing is by that designer jiske kapde pheshun week mein model ke badan se gir gaye the. Shudder...!