Have you been encouraged to buy recently?

Can a very good employee make you money and bring in repeat customers?

The answer should be obvious – yes they can – and they do! In my opinion the problem is not so much finding these “rainmaker employees.” Rather it is coaching them to “go the extra mile” and to develop their own personal style.

Last Friday evening, I found such an employee. No, actually he found me!

Here’s the scene: I was killing a few minutes while waiting for my connecting flight home. Dead time! I had just completed an intense two-day training session. I was wandering in the in Portland, OR terminal. Then the sign for “Powell’s Bookstore” caught my eye. Perhaps you have heard of Powell’s – the legendary “street block of books” in downtown Portland. It was refreshing to see them here in the terminal; I perked up and walked inside.

From all outward appearances, it looked similar to the usual Hudson News and Booksor CNBC Newstands that you find in most major city airport terminals. And then… he appeared!

“Hello!, My name is … (I forgot his name) and I see that you are interested in our business books. This is “my” specialty area of the store. I am quite familiar with all of the selections. In fact, I’ve read most of them.”

WOW – this was unusual! It is rare enough to encounter this level of dedicated and knowledgeable retail employee in a high-end shop located in a destination shopping center. But this was an airport terminal – full of “transients” – like me!

What was his motivation? Pride – and the joy of connecting with his customers!

“I personally select the books for this section and I am always interested in finding out what my customers like to read and are looking for.”


We chatted for just another 30 seconds. And then he had to return to the checkout counter to take care of the paying customers. During those 30 seconds, he showed me a few “out of the ordinary” business titles. He had asked if I was interested in the “best sellers” or in his favorites. I wanted to know his choices – and he (briefly) told me why they stood out.

During this short encounter, I also pointed out a few of my “unusual” favorites and shared my comments with him. He thanked me for that – more information to share with a future customer.

After he left to help out at checkout, I noticed several “handwritten” mini-reviews of selected titles. His reviews. His insights. His suggestions for customers to pick up the book and give it a preview.

The bottom line: I had no intention of purchasing another book – God knows I have piles of (soon-to-be-read) books in my home office. However, the “law of reciprocity”was now in play. He had given me “something.” He had earned my trust. I, in turn felt obligated – compelled – to give something back in return. I made a purchase. And… I told him why I chose that particular book – so that he could use it as an insight to pass on to a future customer.

I’ll tell you more about the book that I purchased in a future post.

Is there a reason why Powell’s Bookshas been able to survive – even thrive – in a highly competitive, commoditized field. What is their secret? What makes them stand out from Barnes & Noble or Border’s Books and Records?

Their secret is their people – their staff – their “family” of dedicated employees. Like this young gentleman in the small location in the Portland, OR airport. They love what they do and they enjoy helping their customers.

Will I return to purchase? You bet! If at all possible, I will plan my connecting flights through Portland. And I look forward to a “delayed” flight so that I can go back to see what else I can learn. Iwill no longer be an “in-transit” passenger. I now have a “destination” to shop at – thanks to this one exceptional employee. He cared and… I will return the favor!

If you own or manage a retail establishment, you can get similar results. If… you invest in your employees. And… if you develop a culture of caring and sharing in your store. And… if you start to think like your customers – and see your store from their perspective.

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