Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Invisible Shopper

Wow, I really touched a nerve with my post yesterday.  I've long felt like I "didn't belong" in many quilting related venues but didn't realize that I wasn't the only one.

I wanted to respond to all of your comments but Nancy's really hit home for me.  For many years I had very little money to spend on fabric.  I would squirrel away small amounts and look forward to Christmas and my birthday when my folks were always great about giving me cash gifts.  Even now, when it isn't as much of a problem, I still like cash for my birthday so I can go out and buy what I want without it bending my budget out of whack.

There were many times I felt like the purple bra and panty gal above, if it wasn't that I took up a little space and maybe shut off some of the glow from their more treasured customers I'd never get waited on.  Or, I'd feel so intimidated by all of the personal chatter that I felt like I was intruding on a private conversation. Of course these were the days before cell phones so I wasn't used to hearing people's private converstions, (the other morning I was forced to overhear all the details of a stranger's visit to the the checkout line!).  Still, I was often made to feel like I wasn't welcome and when I say "made" to feel that way I mean it.  It seemed like there were some shopkeepers, (or their employees), who didn't care if I shopped in their store or not.

Of course not all quilt stores are like that.  I know a couple in my area that aren't, but whenever I travel I encounter the "unwelcome" vibe and it really bugs me.  Whenever I hear or read of quilt shop owners complaining about us quilters buying online or from the chains it makes me see red.  Don't they realize that they are their own worst enemy?  Their lack of customer service is what drives people away, and once they've lost someone it's hard to get them back again.  I know I don't go into stores where I feel unwelcome, and I'm sure you don't either.

I worked for many years as a Customer Service Manager and was responsible for training many Customer Service Reps.  The main thing I told them is that every customer is valuable, no matter how small the purchase or how annoying they might be.  You never know who they know or how much damage treating that one customer badly can do to your business.

Nowadays with sites like Yelp, and bloggers like me it's even more important to provide great service.  Some stores seem to think that if they wait on you and cut your fabric evenly that they've done their job.  Maybe so, but no one forgets waiting around while you fuss over one customer without even recognizing that you're waiting.  Or how you engage in conversation with one of your "faves" while you're waiting on them. 

Now, I understand how the "special" customers become special.  They attend classes, they're active guild members, and they spend a lot of money in the shop.  I get why the shop owners cater to them.  However, it is possible to cater to them and to your other customers as well.  I know it can happen because I know shops where it does happen; where I'm always recognized, when if there's a conversation going on at the cutting table I'm included, where my small purchase is handled as well as if it was a large one.  I think that's all any of us want. 

My hope is that if there are any quilt shop owners out there reading this post that they take my feelings, and Nancy's, to heart.  It's easy to blame others for falling sales but perhaps if you did a better job on your end and made sure that every customer was made to feel welcome your business would improve.  You might honestly believe that you are, but hang around and observe how your employees interact with the customers, you might be surprised to find out that they're the ones driving your customer's away.  It takes a lot for someone who loves fabric as much as I do to turn my back on a great selection of quilt fabric.  But, I do it all the time.  I have several shops within a short distance from me that I never go into ... because I'm not welcome.

I'd love to read your comments.  You guys inspire me and make me feel less like a quilting freak.

Quilt on!

Happy Stitching,



Katrina said...

I think the first few seconds you walk into a shop is crucial, I usually know if i will be back or not. I usually don't buy much since prices in Canada are insanely expensive and Is usually cheaper to buy online from the USA, or go there to shop myself. There are many shops that I don't go to since they are lacking in personality. But when you find a couple good ones, I don't mind spending a little here and there for things i need right away. You are not alone! :)

Sewing Junkie said...

I worked retail fabric sales for 18 years. Knowing your customers and getting into a conversation with them is a gift many sales clerks haven't learned. Some people would wait until I was free to purchase their fabric. When you work on a commision for total sales it made for an un easy relationship with other clerks. I have quit going to several shops because you are treated rudely or ignored completely. If you don't make a sale the first time they come in only 20% will return. Not a good turn around for repeat customers. Customer Service first priority. Chris

Hand Quilting Nana said...

I agree with the comments. Our LQS put a note in her newsletter asking where was customer loyalty and how you should support your LQS. I very much wanted to tell her that if her attitude was different she might get more repeat customers. I only go there when absolutely necessary. Not only because of attitude but because there are very seldom any sales and the same old fabric is there forever. Put it on sale and bring in some new stuff. I feel better now that I've vented. Thank you.

quiltytherapy said...

I moved back to Indianapolis in December and began my hunt for a new quilt shop. I was super spoiled in Florida having a shop right around the corner. When I worked there it was vital to talk to every customer no matter what.

I visited a store in the Indy area and was horrified that they treated me like I was bothering them. I'm young and yes I quilt. I think the ladies thought I wasn't going to purchase anything, so why waist their time. Little did they know that I DO have money to spend in their store. Since then I have been back once, but still wasn't impressed. Dear shop owner, I will tell all of the my quilting/sewing friends too.

The shop that I did find in the area is very welcoming. I even told the shop owner they are the only LQS I'll shop at.

Staci said...

There is a local quilt shop about 20 minutes from my house, the only store in town. It is huge and has thousands of bolts of fabric. And I won't walk in the place for any reason. I've been treated like dirt in there every single time I ever went in. I took a sewing machine in there for repair and cleaning, and after 6 weeks of calling every week to see if it was fixed, and being told they hadn't "gotten to it" yet, I finally went to the store and asked for my machine back. You would have thought I was asking them to cut off an arm or leg! These people were so nasty that I came to pick up my machine! They literally tossed it at me! A sewing machine! I stopped and opened up the case. "What do you think you are doing?", the woman demanded? Just checking to make sure it is all here, I said. "Well, of course it is ALL THERE", said the woman, getting louder and nastier. Well, it wasn't. The power cord was not in the case. When I said so, she got louder and said, "That's because you didn't bring it in!!" Yes, I had. And I pulled out my ticket and showed her where it said the power cord was in the case and where SHE HAD SIGNED THE TICKET showing she had received my machine. She went in the back room, came out with the cord and literally threw it at me. I never raised my voice, never even sounded sarcastic. I was not going to stoop to her level. I walked out of the store, and have never gone back, and never will. The next closest quilt shops are a 3 hour round trip from my house. I either make that trip or order online. I will never spend my precious fabric money where customers are treated like that.