I was fortunate to have had two Grandmas. Both loved their grandchildren unconditionally, both are gone now and both taught me many wonderful life lessons. You’ve heard about two lessons I learned from my Grandma Bertha, so now it’s time you met my Grandma Rose.
Grandma Rose was larger than life. A striking blonde with a great sense of humor and a zest for life, she emigrated from Odessa when she was about 4 years old. I remember she brought with her the Russian custom of complimenting your dinner host by loudly belching at the end of a great meal, although she Americanized it by adding “Pardon me” immediately thereafter.
As a child, my Grandpa Sam would sometimes pick me up after school on Friday, so I could spend the weekend at their apartment in Brooklyn (providing much-needed relief to my parents). On the way, we’d stop and pick up Grandma when she got off work. She worked at a retail store on 34th Street, across the street from the Empire State Building. And here starts the lesson.
G+G was a corset shop, or so they were called back in the day. Think of it as an unsexy Victoria’s Secret, which sold various women’s undergarments, stockings and the like, which were more necessity (non-surgical nip and tuck) than fashion items. In that kind of store in those days, customers wouldn’t browse as they do today, but would ask a salesperson for assistance. So, the salespeople drove the business.
As the business changed, so did G+G. With the advent of pantyhose, corset shops needed to diversify. So, the owners of G+G, who hired my Grandma, began adding clothing to the store. First, women’s clothing, then younger women’s (juniors) clothing. These decisions proved successful, as they opened many new stores across the Greater NY Metro area.
Grandma used to tell me stories about working with customers. Some were very difficult and demanding. She told me how she would deal with difficult customers – she listened to them. Through their bluster, they told you what they wanted if you listened. Think about customer complaints and how you handle them. This was a great lesson she taught me. First, you listen. This is not only effective for complaints, but also for objections. Listening is a seller’s secret weapon. Clients feel empowered when they tell you their needs and wants, and you learn valuable information along the way that helps you guide them to an effective solution (or the right size brassiere).
I also heard stories about customers that didn’t know what they want, or were tourists who spoke other languages. Though she claimed to speak several, Grandma was fluent in English and Yiddish. But, these customers were steered to her. She told me she would ask them questions, to try to understand what they were looking for. Despite occasional language barriers, her empathy, patience and engaging, warm personality won these customers over time and again. Asking questions is an under-utilized sales skill, and Grandma Rose taught me how important it is, especially with reticent customers. Ask appropriate questions, engage your customer, listen to their answers, then offer targeted solutions and your cash register will ring, too.
The store and its customer base changed many times during Grandma Rose’s tenure there. The ownership changed too, with the original owner passing the business on to his sons. But Grandma Rose remained at 34th Street until she chose to hang it up.