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How To Build A Client Base In Retail, And Always Have Them Coming Back For More

Updated on May 18, 2014
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A view of my former boutiqueMy former boutiqueMy former boutiqueAnother view of my former boutiquePhotos of my now defunct boutiqueMy former boutiqueMy former boutique
A view of my former boutique
A view of my former boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique
Another view of my former boutique
Another view of my former boutique
Photos of my now defunct boutique
Photos of my now defunct boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique
My former boutique


I was just reminiscing about my days as a salesperson, and this article was born.

One important piece of advice is "DON'T STEAL THEIR MONEY!" I'll explain that later.

This article is directed to salespeople and small shop owners, who want to build and keep a client base, I might add build a loyal client base.

I worked retail for about six years. I worked for a department store called J.Jill and for Nordstrom. In both I was a top salesperson. Nordstrom has something called, "Pacesetter." This is the highest rank you can get as a salesperson in the company. In a store of about 500 employees, there's sometimes less than 30 employees throughout the entire store, covering all departments, who reach that status. One of the years I reached that status, there were only 22 of us, from our particular store. I say all of this not as a way of boasting, but just to lend credence to my advice.

I don't think it's a secret that Nordstrom's is a commission based company, as is other high end stores. So, to work on commission you must acquire, and retain a good personal customer base. Working on commission is very challenging, to say the least. I won't hang around this territory, as anyone working in, or have worked commission retail can testify to the validity of that statement.

My Advice

These are the things that helped me reach the "top of my game," in retail. I'm sure there's more expert advice to be found, but just follow these few tips and I'm sure you'll find a measure of success, in building, and keeping a good client base.

To begin with working retail is not easy. Especially because you're dealing with the public, and not everyone wakes up on the right side of the bed each day. To be a successful salesperson, you must always, or at least give the impression you did. I've had customers come in, and declare they were "mean," and proceeded to demonstrate their declaration. However, I was always undaunted by that, as a matter of fact they become a project, and guess what, I won in most cases. You see most people only want to be understood, and in some cases understanding them is knowing when to speak, and when to keep quiet. I must admit, I am a "people person." Meaning, I like to be around people, and engaging with them. Actually, if you are not the sort of person who appreciates talking to people, then this is surely not the career for you. Oh, you can make it a temporary job, but success as a salesperson quite possibly won't be yours.

My Pointers

  • Put on your smile first thing in the morning, and wear it all day long. Customers can't look across a room and see a frown, and when they approach you suddenly break out in a toothy grin. You don't have to walk around looking like a Cheshire Cat, but just have a pleasant look.
  • Greet, sincerely, you must consider everyone who walks into your store/department as potentially a friend, if appropriate introduce yourself, and ascertain their name. Think about your best friend, or favorite relative, and picture that's who just walked in the door, and act accordingly.
  • Offer your service, ask if they need help, don't pressure them. If they say they'd like to look around, let them. Don't follow them around, and every few seconds approach, and suggest something. Busy yourself doing something else, and periodically look over to see if it appears as if they need your help. This is especially true for small shop owners, don't make them feel as if you don't trust them to walk around your shop. Of course, there are instances where this might be the case, however, these are not the customers you want to return anyway.
  • This point is especially important In clothing departments/stores, don't lie to the customer, remember I said, "DON'T STEAL THEIR MONEY." Well, lying to a customer and encouraging them to purchase an item just to make a sale, is tantamount to stealing their money. For instance, a customer chooses something that you know is not flattering, and after trying it on they ask your opinion, or you notice them wearing the item, what would you do? Remember you want them as a repeat customer. You wouldn't be so bold as to say, "Oh no, girlfriend/man that looks awful." Or you shouldn't say, just to please them, Oh, I like it, it's you all over," knowing it's not right for them. Believe me, there is someone that's going to tell them the truth, or at least let them know by their reaction that it's not right for them. And you've probably lost a potential customer, (oh yes they're going to remember you sold it to them). You could say something like, and I used this often, "I think," suggesting something else, "this might be more flattering for your figure or physique." If nothing else is found, point out places where it could fit a little better, or you could say something about the color and their complexion, eyes etc. At any rate, get them out of that outfit. Even if you don't make a sale that day, you will have a repeat customer. That's how I got most of my customers, if it looked good on them, I'd point out why I said that. If it didn't fit, I'd likewise let them know. Overwhelmingly, my customers said that they appreciated my honesty, some would not shop on my off days.
  • If you don't have it and know a competitor who does, there's nothing wrong with suggesting they try the other store. I used that technique also. To my knowledge I didn't lose a genuine customer that way, as a matter of fact I gained them. There was this one instance where a man came in looking for something specific for his wife, and we didn't carry it, but I knew who did, so I steered him in that direction. About an hour later he came back and bought something from me, as he said, just to say thank you.
  • On the way to making the sale. Make the customer feel comfortable. One way to do that is, address them by their name, remember you've gotten their name, you did that initially, if not, ask now and use it. Another thing, listen, yes listen even if what they're saying is not related to a sale. Of course, you're trying to make money, and you can't spend all of your time with just one customer, however, most people can see when you need to move on and they usually will excuse themselves. If not, you can discreetly point out that you must go and give them a nice send off with something like, "have a good day, see you next time (their name). I can't overemphasize how important it is to call a repeat or potential customer by name. Think about it, don't you appreciate it when someone calls you by name, especially in a setting such as that.
  • Another little tidbit that I learned, or rather I learned I was doing, that really worked for me. I'm naturally a touchy feely type of person. That really came in handy in retail. I read in a magazine once that when a salesperson touches you, you bond with them. I think it served me well. I use to lightly touch them on the shoulder, or upper back. I had my huggers, and I did that too. Of course, some people prefer not to be touched, and you must discern who they are and act accordingly.
  • Now, when the sale is made, and concluded, don't just send them away, walk them to the door or out of the department.
  • If you're anything like me, and your memory is bad, write down something pertaining to the customer. Actually, we were encouraged to do that at Nordstrom. Because when that "good customer" returns you'll want to remember them, and again treat them like your best friend, or favorite relative.
  • One more thing, make concessions, according to your ability to do so. By that I mean, if the customer has a complaint, and you're allowed, do whatever it takes to please them. If you're a shop owner, and if it doesn't break the bank, why not do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, including, and up to taking a return against your policy. I can't tell you what one bad report can do to a Mom and Pop shop. For instance I only heard about a very objectionable incidence that happened at one of my favorite "variety stores," and I haven't shopped there since. I've actually seen formerly successful neighborhood shops change hands, and the new owners were not customer friendly, have to close their doors. So I say, remember from whom you make your living, the CUSTOMER!


So, with these tidbits from my very limited repertoire, I hope you've found something that can help you build a client base, and also become the super salesperson that you want to be. Now go get 'em champ!


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    • Holly OBrien profile image

      Holly OBrien 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      Will do!

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 5 years ago from Southern California

      What good advice Holly. I hope future readers of this article will scroll down to this comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave these tips. My suggestion, why don't you write an article with these tips and link it to mine and I do likewise and we "Pin" each others article.

    • Holly OBrien profile image

      Holly OBrien 5 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      I needed this post! I'm getting back into retail after a 2 year hiatus, and needed my memory refreshed. You even taught me a few new things (and I've worked in retail for over 10 years)!

      I would add, however, that a good way to figure out how to relate to your costumers is to figure out how they relate to the product. Over the years, I've taken note of 3 different types of shoppers related to 3 of the 5 senses. There's probably a lot more, but these are, I think, the most common.

      Type 1 - TOUCH: Some people are very tactile. These customers like to touch, and should be encouraged to do so. With these types of customers, you can forget trying to "sell" them with information about the product. To them, it's more about the visceral pleasure.

      Type 2 - SIGHT: Some people are very visual. These are the people that are easily sold on packaging. Usually, you can get hints on what appeals to them visually just by taking in their appearance. Note what colors they are wearing, their personal style, and the fact that they haven't touched a single thing in your store. Take all that information and find products that relate.

      Type 3 - HEARING: Lastly, some customers actually base their product selection on cerebral information. These folks would like to know as much about the product as they can before they buy. As a screenwriter, I LOVE these types of customers, because I get the opportunity to tell them a story about the item they are considering buying. To sell to these types of customers, you really have to know what you're talking about, so do your homework!

      Anywho, those are my 2 cents. Thanks again for this great hub!

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks tarajeyaram, I never thought of that, I mean applying the rules to HubPages, very interesting. Thanks for the suggestion. Oh, and thank you for choosing my hub, I consider it an honor. I appreciate your visit, please come back.

    • tarajeyaram profile image

      tarajeyaram 6 years ago from Wonderland

      Fastfreta - thank you and Happy New Year. I believe in customer service - no matter what business or service you are offering. Some of these tips can be applied to hubpages too. Your comments and fan mail encouraged me to be active on HP. Thank you. I chose this hub in my Tribute to 100 followers - top 10 hubs.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks AllSuretyBonds for validating my hub, and thanks for stopping, see you soon.

    • AllSuretyBonds profile image

      AllSuretyBonds 7 years ago

      Nice Hub with some great tips. Most of your tips here are about having great customer service and I think that is the best advice. If a customer walks in and is greated nicely and assisted right away they are more likely to come back to exeperience it time and time again.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you sUnset44 for the compliment and comment. I am not sure what I can offer you, but I'm more than happy to help where I can. Thanks again for stopping and please come again soon.

    • profile image

      sUnset44 7 years ago

      Hi Fastfreta, I'm new to the hubbing scene.

      Trying to find my way with how this works.

      I must say; reading some of your hubs was very inspiring.

      You have a very warm and endearing way you express yourself.

      I Hope I can learn from you and others, who seem to have mastered the art of hubbing.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Hi there samboiam, say why don't you. Loved hearing from you. See you soon.

    • samboiam profile image

      samboiam 7 years ago from Texas

      What a great article. I wish I could send this to our local Wally World. Voted it up.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks hair2nv for the validation of this hub. I agree that if you don't grasp the concept you won't make a good salesperson. Thanks also for taking the time to leave a comment. Please come back.

    • hair2nv profile image

      hair2nv 7 years ago from Huntsville, Alabama

      fastfreda, great hub!!!!! I too work in retail and you are right you must love the people. Wearing a smile everyday won't hurt either. I work with people all day and it can be challenging but I love it and that makes all the difference in the world. Great advice, I have worked with others who just could not grasp the concept of being a peoples person and a lot of them lost out. Keep on keeping on.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Pamela, I did learn a lot. I hope my info helps others to make a little money. Thanks for stopping, please come again soon.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      freta, I am glad I am not a sales person. It sounds like you learned all the tricks and were successful as you listed so many great tips. Good hub.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you very much Doris for stopping, I also appreciate the comment. Hope to see you again soon.

    • Doris Hullett profile image

      Doris Hullett 7 years ago

      Hi Fastfreta,

      Thanks for sharing some great sales tips. I enjoyed your insights and experiences that you shared; great hub!

      Doris Hullett

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Pamela for that little insight into your life. You're right I think you should be in the prime of your life. Even though I wasn't in the prime of my life, I did it, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Thanks for stopping and taking time to leave a comment. Hope to see you again.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 7 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I enjoyed your article. I wouldn't make a good retail saleswoman. I did used to teach sales, though. Napolean Hill was the backbone of our sales department. I used to own a small college in Vancouver, BC and sales was one of the required courses for the budding fashion boutique owners or future estheticians. Obtaining enrollments was a form of selling and I had to be careful who we enrolled so that we had a happy campus. I created the marketing and I qualified the candidates before accepting them -- plus I handled other duties. I missed that part of it for years after we immigrated here to the States.

      I agree with Nellieanna (above) that sales is a most honorable profession, but I think -- and I could be wrong -- you have to be in the prime of your life to do it well. I couldn't do it now.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Thank you Linda, you know you're right, sales and commission is not all bad.

      ladydijay, I agree you can make lasing friends that way.

      You're right Veronica, leaving your problems at home is really good advice.

      Thank you all for stopping and taking the time to leave a comment.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 7 years ago from Georgia

      I too worked in sales for some time before becoming a stay at home mom. I must say, my favorite piece of advice you offered, was the one about greeting the customer.

      I think a sincere greeting is so important, that there have been instances when I have gone into a retail store; had a sales associate look me straight in the face; turn their head without a greeting; resulting in me turning around and walking out. Situations like these make me feel as if my service is not important and that I am just a bother to the sales associate.

      Another thing I learned from working in retail, is to never, ever, bring your problems to work. Leave your problems at home because when you bring them with you, it trickles down into how you work and how you treat the customers.

      This has really taken me down memory lane fastfreta. It is so good to hear from you again.

    • profile image

      ladydijay 7 years ago

      Very good, it makes me want to go out and sell something. More than that, it's a good way to treat people in general, you can make lasting relationships by treating people in a respectful way.

    • lctodd1947 profile image

      lctodd1947 7 years ago from USA

      You really know the art of people and I can say that I see "emotional intelligence" in your being...This is an excellent hub. The customer is always right...always..that is if you want them to come back. Great articles. Oh, yes I understand commission income; I was a mortgage loan officer and it is tough but I made more money in 2003 than I had ever made so....sales and commission is not all bad.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Well Nellianna, very fine peek into your life. And your advice and insight is very helpful. You actually could have written a hub on this also. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave this very nice comment. Please come back again.

      Thank you alekhouse, you really did work a long time and a lot of places. You probably have some advice that I didn't include here. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. See you soon.

      Hello,hello and productforall thank you both for stopping and taking time to read and also for leaving a comment. Hope to see you soon.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 7 years ago from TEXAS

      I like this very much, fastfreta! And agree wholeheartedly.

      When I was young, just out of college & very shy, I worked as a Bridal Consultant in a fine department store in Houston and felt successful, although my interest then was more in the clothes than the brides. My main interest was fashion design and I spent a lot of time studying the clothes, inside and out. Still, clients seemed to respond to me as a person, but I was shy and didn't clean up in the commissions area, where the score is measured. I was so naïve, though, I probably willingly bowed to the head of the department and let her take credit for much that I contributed. I know I contributed my drawings of the dresses, much physical hard work (bridal gowns were very heavy and had to be taken back and forth to alterations and then "serviced" at the weddings), and I made special request items for the brides including custom headpieces & veils, lace fans, etc, and I spared no effort to coordinate their outfits & trousseaux beyond the call of duty - I was all over the store finding just the right things to work together, etc. I was more artist than salesperson. I really had the wrong job! LOL

      Then after a long marriage which finally died of its own disease, I was a Bridal Consultant at a very exclusive Brides and Belles shop in Louisville. Not only brides but beauty contestants, debutantes, etc. Again I preferred the behind-the-scenes arty stuff. The owner of the shop tried to encourage me to stay out in the sales arena if I wanted to make any "real" money. I guess I didn't care enough and I also had a bit of antipathy for picky brides who became unglued if lacey bridesmaids' hats didn't perfectly match the flower in the dresses (especially when the flowers had a range of the color). I'd be thinking "little girl, just you wait - you'll be faced with some real quandaries soon!" Of course - the attitude didn't help my sales. And again - I was probably in the wrong job.

      Well after another career which had nothing to do with selling but lots to do with working with people - especially men-people in a building company's engineering department, I learned to better adjust to their peculiarities & I lost my shyness. After about 8 years there, I made a major decision to go into Mary Kay Cosmetics as a Beauty Consultant with a plan to become a Sales Director and make it a career. I did - in two years I was a Director and had a pink car. The sales education was phenomenal, plus my arty bent had a good place to shine. I guess I found my truest nature, which is dual, both arty and technical.

      Sales is a most honorable profession, especially when practiced as you outline it, cheerfully serving the honest needs of the customers and giving them something more than their purchses in a feeling of satisfaction and joy that radiates from the salesperson's attitude. Even on the phone, one's smile comes across!

      Working in sales might be a good "required" experience for any profession! Unless one can respond creatively to people's ups and downs (wrong sides of beds are almost epidemic and people seem to regard the sales person as the perfect sponge to absorb their vibes) - one cannot perform best in any capacity.

      I applaud you for this hub! It's very good and worthy of my up vote and praise!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Wow freta, great advice. I too worked in retail for many years, but it was when I was very young (20s and 30s), before I started teaching, and could take the pressure. Besides working in a lot of small independent stores, I worked for J L Hudson's (Detroit), Neiman Marcus (Dallas) and Saks 5th Ave. (Chicago). I was also very involved working in the mercandise Mart in Dallas for five years.

      You are so right when you said "not everyone wakes up on the right side of the bed" and how a sales person should present a cheery and helpful persona, despite how they feel. Too bad that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. I do most of my shopping online, so I don't have to deal with some of today's sales force attitudes.

    • profile image

      productforall 7 years ago

      Great tips for success in sales thank you very much!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      You really gave some very good tips to be a successful salesperson. It is very appreciated.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Hi creativeone, thank you for reading so quickly. Good to see you again, see you soon.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you fastfreta, for very informative advice and pointers. Thanks for sharing. Godspeed. creativeone59


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