I’ve been talking lately about the Marshall Field & Company department store in the 1920s–what it was like to work there both behind the scenes (Emily) and on the sales floor (Marjorie). So I thought you might get a kick out of this excerpt from a 1931 textbook, The Elements of Business Training, about how to be a good salesperson:
“Standing behind a counter and waiting on customers may be real salesmanship or it may be mere order-taking. Almost anybody can wrap up two bars of soap, a can of corn, and five pounds of sugar–all articles that have been definitely asked for. . . . A true sales person endeavors to make sales that will benefit the buyer as well as the seller. Such a sales person bends his energies toward selling an article which will so please the customer that he will wish to return to the same store or do business with the same establishment. A business can have no better advertisers than the customers who are pleased.
“The girl who sells handkerchiefs, or the woman at the stationery counter, or the shoe clerk, or even the soda clerk, has an opportunity to do some real selling. The soda clerk who suggests to a hesitating customer, ‘We have a tasty sundae that we call Chocolate Delight. It is made of vanilla cream with chocolate sirup, ground nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry. It is very popular,’ is showing some real sales ability. . . .
“The girl who chews gum as if that were her real occupation and waiting on customers were a mere incident, is not likely to be singled out by discriminating buyers. Carrying on a conversation with another clerk while waiting on a customer also displays very bad manners. A lady trying to decide just what draperies are best suited to her rooms is not interested in such conversation as ‘Wherejago lassnight? Oh, dijja? Hooja gowith?’
“Sales people should never comment unfavorably on customers in the presence of other customers. Expressions like the following are always out of place: ‘Did you glimpse the swell dame that was just here? You’d think she owned the whole joint. All she bought was a yard of ribbon.’ The impression the listener obtains is ‘She will be saying the same sort of thing about me when I am out of hearing.'”
Seems to me that this advice applies just as well in 2013 as in 1931. Don’t let the swell dames get you down. And now I’m off to find me some of that Chocolate Delight!