I admit to having a bit of a fetish for blue jackets. You’ll find at least 10, maybe more, in my wardrobe. Last week, my wife, my mother and I went on an outing to our local David Jones department store to buy me a pullover. I didn't tell them but I decided to also keep a sneaky eye out for a jacket to add to my collection. A few days earlier, I spotted a TV announcer wearing a smart blue jacket with a woven pattern which had taken my fancy.
As is often the case in department stores, we couldn’t find anyone to serve us. After weaving our way to what seemed to be the Menswear section, we approached a younger and older woman talking to each other behind a counter.
“Are you an expert in menswear?” I asked.
“No, I’m new” she responded with a downcast expression.
“Do you sell pullovers?”
She glanced at the older woman who was staring into space. “Do we sell pullovers?”
“Yes, over there” she mumbled, pointing to a wall in the middle of the store.
“Over there” the younger woman repeated, pointing to the wall.
At this point, I think I saw steam coming out of my mother’s ears. “I can’t believe this!” she growled. You see, my mother grew up in a time when friendly customer service was the norm, as she regularly reminds us.
“Shhhh, we don’t need to create a scene” I whispered, then smiled at the young shop assistant. “Do you think you could show us what pullovers you have? I’m after a blue one.”
With a sigh, she sauntered behind us as we made our way, single file, towards a wall of pullovers. It turns out they had just one blue pullover in my size. I tried it on, and it fitted fine. “This is great, how much is it?” I was hoping this might go down as a win for the young retail assistant. She shrugged. “It’s $90. Do you want it?”
“Yes thanks, it's exactly what I was looking for.”
No response. We filed our way in silence back to the counter. The older woman was still there staring into space. This was my opportunity. “Hey while we are here, do you have any blue sports jackets?”
“What it is with you and blue coats?” grumbled my mother. “You’ve got enough to open your own department store!” My wife was a little more kind. “Maybe we can see what they have.” The younger woman again glanced at the older woman. “Do we have blue sports jackets?”
“Nope. Only suits and outdoor coats.” When she noticed that I clearly seemed disappointed, she added dryly, “Sorry, we only have a limited range.”
I wasn't surprised as the David Jones business was recently in a controversial sale, and staff morale was probably low. “Let’s get out of here” sighed my mother.
At this moment we experienced what can only be described as a Mary Poppins moment. A small woman wearing slacks, comfortable walking shoes and a friendly smile approached us with a bounce in her step. “Hello, is there something I can help you with?”
We looked at her slightly stunned. Where had she come from? She clearly didn’t belong here.
“I was wondering if you had any blue sports jackets” I tentatively asked.
Her eyes lit up. “Absolutely. Please let me show you.” She stood back courteously and escorted the three of us to a rack of coats that was less than 10 metres from the counter.
Not only was there an assortment of sports coats, but they also had exactly the blue woven style that had caught my fancy on TV. Mary Poppins stood back, looked me up and down, and carefully chose a coat for me to try on. It felt great.
“Hmm, I think you need a slightly bigger size. Let’s swap it for this one.” I tried on the second coat and my wife nodded in approval. “Yes, that actually looks pretty good.”
Mary Poppins smiled. “Yes, that’s a better fit. We have a nice white shirt that goes with this.”
She showed us a stylish white shirt with blue buttons. “Yes, that's good” I replied.
“Why don’t you try it on so we get the right size? Would you like to try on a pair of these dark trousers that have been designed to go with this particular jacket?”
“How are you off for shoes? I think a pair of simple black shoes would go well with this outfit. Let’s see how it looks and then I can show you some shoes if you like?”
I had a wonderful time trying on different types of shoes and responding to her questions about my work. I explained how I was heading over to the USA to conduct some workshops, and how I hadn’t done this for some time, which is why I was interested in a new outfit.
Fifteen minutes later back at the counter, where the other two women we still staring into space, Mary Poppins meticulously wrapped my new woven blue coat, white shirt with blue buttons, dark trousers, shiny black shoes, and three pairs of socks. Plus, of course, the original $90 pullover.
“That will be $895.” I didn’t even flinch. I was in retail heaven. And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? This woman hadn't sold me anything. She had delivered an experience.
“Now that’s more like it,” said my very impressed mum. Then under her breath, "You should offer her a job.”
I actually did ask if she was interested in applying for a role as my business manager, but she politely explained that while she was fascinated with the work I did, she was happy looking after “her” customers in “her” store. Don’t you just love that? If David Jones can cultivate people like this who understand that business is about delivering pleasant human experiences, maybe they do have a bright future after all.
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