Industry consultant Gordon Hecht asks why there’s so little recognition for the hard-working and multi-talented retail salespeople of the furniture industry …

Pick any day on the calendar, and you’ll probably find that it’s dedicated to some event or cause. These national days celebrate everything from pizza to ‘talk like a pirate’, to ice cream. Some of those days spill into the workplace too – in the US, we have National Bosses Day, and National Administrative Assistants Day. 

I’m not sure if there is a day to recognise the service of our frontline sales teams, but there should be. We need a National Commissioned Salesperson Day. 

Having invested a lot of the early days of my career as a commissioned salesperson, I can relate to the many tasks that retail sales associates (RSAs) need to be proficient at to walk the tightrope of performance-based pay – often without a safety net below. 

Really good commissioned salespeople ensure a good or great customer experience, because their paycheck depends on it. For them, it’s a case of take care of your customers and you’ll eat steak. Fail and you’ll eat beans. We could probably solve a lot of the world’s problems if we put our governments on commission! 

Last century (OK, 25 years ago) I took my kid to my store on National Take Your Child to Work Day. He experienced my entire 12-and-a-half-hour retail day – store hours of 10am to 9pm, that started an hour before unlocking the doors and 30 minutes after the last shopper left the building. 

His eyes got to see all the jobs that a retail salesperson must do. After the work day, he commented: “Wow, I thought all you did was sit around and drink coffee all day.” (Not true, sometimes we drink tea.) 

Sure, RSAs are expected to greet shoppers and convert them to buying customers. But here are some of the roles of the retail salesperson not mentioned in the job description …

Merchandise locator

Showing and selling is difficult enough. During and after the sale, a good RSA needs to be an inventory control expert too! They have to know what’s in stock, what’s on the road, and sometimes help shift merchandise from customers wanting delayed delivery to other customers needing immediate gratification. Most RSAs are paid on delivered sales, and they want merchandise delivered asap. 

Credit counsellor

Consumer financing has played a role in retail for a long time. Today, it’s everything from credit and debit cards to promotional terms, second-tier credit, no credit check leasing, and borrowing from relatives. RSAs need to know when to start the credit check process, how to introduce alternative financing, and how to build sales tickets with free promotional terms. 

Some retailers pay their RSAs based on the finance discount rate, meaning sales written with 60-month terms pay less commission than sales with 12-month terms. Top RSAs know how to downgrade and upgrade the terms to make the most sense to their shopper. 

Customer service associate

Whether your organisation has five members or 5000, when there’s a problem with an order, the first point of contact is the salesperson. After all, that’s the fella or gal that sold them the stuff! RSAs must juggle valuable selling time with issue resolution time. Often, the issues that appear are out of the control of the RSA, and still they figure a way to resolve the problems and still save the sale. RSAs not only need to be able to sell merchandise, they need to be adept at selling solutions to problems as well.

Psychologists

You don’t have to be crazy to work in sales, but it helps! Every shopper that walks into your store carries a full set of Louis Vuitton baggage in quirks, defects, and personality dysfunctions. RSAs work through shoppers’ self-imposed boundaries and hang-ups. They solve issues for 45-year olds who still need their mum’s approval to buy something, to imaginary doctor recommendations on comfort levels, to helping shoppers who haven’t purchased since Madonna’s last hit record adjust to sticker shock. Even if your store doesn’t sell upholstery, your RSAs are still providing complimentary couch time. 

IT department specialist

When I started selling, PoS systems included a four-part carbon paper sales order and a 19 cent Bic pen. We wrote sales by hand and counted out the cash or rubber stamped the check. Even if you’re still writing out sales slips, chances are good that your salespeople are entering it into some sort of computer, or the RSA is entering a credit application or utilising a bank card terminal. Some RSAs record their guest log into a terminal. Others do all the above. 

Electronic sales processing is great. You couldn’t build your empire without them. But BTW, those same systems break! On almost every RSA team, there is that one special salesperson who knows how to get things back online or knows a better workaround. They are either fixing the system for themselves or someone else to quickly process an order. 

Housekeeping department

When I was a knee-high sprout and left a mess in the house, my mum would remind me that “it’s the cleaning lady’s day off”. Most of the stores I visit these days don’t have a housekeeping department. Shoppers haven’t gotten that news, and still leave displays a mess, not to mention leaving coffee cups, gum wrappers and other flotsam on floors, tables, and other sample merchandise. That stacks another duty on the sales team. It’s up to them to clean and straighten the showroom to return it to A1 condition. 

We’ll never see everything that RSAs do on a job description, and it’s not likely we’ll ever celebrate National Commissioned Salesperson Day. That doesn’t prevent you from honouring the efforts of your sales team today. You can never tell someone that they do a good job too many times.

And while you’re applauding, don’t forget that your factory reps, advertising salespeople and most outside suppliers are your own personal psychologists, cleaning crew, merchandise locators, credit counsellors and IT specialists, putting in extra effort to keep your business relevant and successful. 

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. He can be reached at Gordon.hecht@aol.com.