I was in my mid-twenties. I had left teaching and had an executive job in downtown Chicago. I was a young professional with a disposable income, who needed some business suits. My mother had taught me the value of investment dressing–now that I’d finally quit growing. She had said it was worth buying classic, expensive clothing that fit well, because the investment never went out of fashion. A 36-inch inseam meant off-the-rack clothing wasn’t an option for me anyway.
It was a Saturday afternoon when I arrived at the storefront on Wabash Avenue. This was the kind of place where CEOs sat on embroidered couches reading Forbes magazine, while a wife or current affair of the heart decided which 7 or 8 suits and dresses she simply could not live without. Then he paid and, they both left happy.
Three women, all at least 10 years older than my mother who was 30 years older than me, were standing at the elegant counter when I walked in. I was wearing my baby blue, down-filled ski jacket with the torn pocket, a bright red ski sweater with a bicycle tire embroidered on the front, and my blue jeans that came complete with frayed bell bottoms, a patch on each back pocket–have a good day/have a nice night–and a drawing in ink up the inside right thigh that I had made while talking on the phone the night before.
All three ladies, who worked on commission, looked up when I came in. I was the only other person in the store.
I wasn’t the usual vision that walked through the door.
Hoity Hoity Meet Saloonkeeper’s Daughter
Two of the ladies–hoity toity is the only word to describe them–frowned and immediately went back to talking. They had tried to intimidate me right out the door. It was sort of like that scene in the movie, “Pretty Woman.” That didn’t bother me. I was a saloonkeeper’s daughter. Obviously they’d never seen one of me.
The third lady, who probably was there to make a living, came over as if I were a customer. We talked for five minutes. I went to a fitting room. She brought me six suits. I bought three of them. She made a $1000 sale in a half hour. I so enjoyed the looks on the faces of the hoity and toity as my new friend, Mary, rung up the sale, and we spoke of when I’d be back again. I said a cheerful good-bye to all three–Mary and the two with their jaws at their knees.
Mary became my personal shopper. I returned to that shop every two or three months for about five years. I tried to wear those same blue jeans whenever I went there. Just for the fun of it. Naturally, I updated the artwork each time for the occasion.
Who’s a Customer?
I was a customer. I might not have been, if Mary had not come over. I would have looked around. If nothing caught my heart in a beat, I would have taken my money next door. I expect they would have thought I had figured out their store was too good for me.
They would have been wrong, lost a customer, and lost five years of sales without ever knowing it. Blame the artwork on my blue jeans. It couldn’t have been them or how they looked at me. Could it?
How do you know a customer? Why in the heck am I telling you this?
Brand you and me.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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