My wife Hannah asked me to stop at a pharmacy on Lexington Avenue and 62nd Street in Manhattan to pick up a prescription. It was a pleasant May morning, a good day for a walk. When I arrived at 10:00AM, the pharmacist told me that the prescription would not be ready until noon. I had planned to stop at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, but that wouldn’t have taken me more than about 30 minutes.
With the remaining time I decided that rather than order a needed pair of shoes online, I would visit a bricks and mortar shoe store, something I hadn’t done for several years.
My first stop was at Johnston & Murphy’s on Madison Avenue. Beautiful, spacious store. Lots from which to choose. I wandered around for 10 minutes or so. There appeared to be just 5 other customers in the store, yet no one asked if they could help me.
I should point out that I’m not much of a shopper. And as for being a fashion plate, well… I recall a conversation about a half-dozen years ago between my daughter Orly, about 17 at the time, and my wife. Hannah was telling Orly that she thought one of the boys in her class was very cute. “Mom”, Orly replied, with a hint of exasperation, “he dresses like Dad.” That was not intended as a compliment to the young man in question.
So, given the opportunity to avoid shopping for shoes, I welcomed the chance to leave Johnston & Murphy without making a purchase. But, I still had at least an hour to kill. I ambled down Madison for another 10 blocks and spied the tiny Allen Edmonds shoe store on East 44th Street. After giving me a few minutes to look around, one of the two saleswomen politely asked if she could be of any help.
I have shoes both by Allen Edmonds and by Johnston & Murphy. They both make quality products. On average, I’d say Allen Edmonds shoes cost about 20 percent more than those made by Johnston & Murphy.
As I looked over the shoes on display, I had the urge to leave. When it comes to shopping, I am a procrastinator. I glanced at my watch. Still too early to return to the pharmacy. So, I asked the saleswoman a question about a pair of shoes. Over the course of the next 10 minutes or so, I learned a lot about shoes. She explained the benefits of certain leathers, soles and shoe shapes. I learned that she had worked at that particular Allen Edmonds store for 10 years, that Allen Edmonds sales people have access to Mr. Grangaard, the company president (of whom she spoke glowingly). She reminded me that their shoes can be “recrafted” and explained the process (I have a pair of their shoes that I sent back to their factory for refurbishing – they came back like new).
The upshot was that I decided to purchase a pair of shoes. “Nine-and-half D”, I said. Now, if I ordered from Zappos, I would get the shoes, try them on and if they felt good, great. If not, I simply returned them. As I recall, in those instances where I went into a store to purchase shoes, the experience was much the same. I would try the shoes, walk around the store and either purchase them or ask to try another size.
Here the experience was different. The saleswoman insisted on measuring both of my feet – turns out they are slightly different in size. I was trying on two different styles. Because of the shoes’ shape and the stitching, she suggested that one pair should be a nine-and-a-half E and the other, 10D.
How different my experience was at the two shoe stores I visited. The differentiator wasn’t so much the product, but the person serving me. By the time I left the Allen Edmonds store I felt like part of the “extended family” to which Paul Grangaard refers in his open letter in the company’s 2013 catalog.
Whatever it is you sell, YOU can be the differentiator between your organization and the competition.
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