Friday, April 4, 2014

Hello! (Tradecraft)

Why do I say hello when you walk into my store? It's because I'm enthusiastic that you've taken a moment from your busy day to visit me. I'm honestly excited. It's a miracle to me, even after ten years, that people continue to visit. A miracle and a mystery. Think about it, where is it written that I would lease some place for years, a quarter million dollar investment (liability to some) and you would know to come to this place to consider buying my wares? Where is it even written that a store is a thing?

It's custom. It's thousands of years of tradition. You need a thing, and you just know to find a merchant, knowledge handed down through the generations, parent to child. You are visiting my store. I am honored. I wish to know more. I wish you to be comfortable. I say hello.

There are other reasons to say hello, but that was the big one. Other reasons include people who don't belong. It has been shown shoplifters are less likely to steal from you if you engage in this way. "Hello there! (I see you)." After a decade of doing this, I can also tell if you're a bit off by how you respond to that greeting. If you're evasive, perhaps you have ulterior motives. Perhaps you wish to steal, you're casing the joint, or you're just a sociopathic bastard in need of supervision.  Or perhaps you're twelve and you haven't learned to say hello yet. Dammit people, teach your kids to do this once they can walk.

There is the 80-10-10 rule of shoplifting. 10% of the people will never steal, regardless of the circumstances. 10% of people will always attempt to steal, even with cameras and alert staff. 80% of people may steal, under the right conditions. Store security is about discouraging that 80%. That's what the security expert told me.

Besides those with criminal intent, saying hello helps me ferret out the, well, the batshit crazy customer. Here's the thing about retail, eventually every person imaginable will walk through that door. And you will say hello to them. If they are off their meds, they might be dangerous to myself and others, and I would like to know that as soon as possible. They might walk in with a fuming gas can of gasoline  and slam it on the counter, with a glint in their eye (this has happened). They might be selling religion, which, let me tell you, on a slow day, can be a heck of a lot of fun for me.

So what else do we know about hello? Well, you certainly don't say hello when they first walk in the door. The first ten feet inside the store is the Decompression Zone. Paco Underhill, in his must read classic, Why We Buy, describes it. Customers are disoriented from their time in the outside and need to transition to the inside. The sounds, the change in lighting, and a moment to make sure they haven't made some huge mistake and walked into some sort of Pulp Fiction gimp situation. Let them be. They're not here yet, at least consciously.

The Decompression Zone is where I put things that don't matter, because this part of the store is invisible when you enter. It's also where things that aren't that stealable go, like chess boards and Heroclix and dollar junk toys from China, when I had them. Put something important in the Decompression Zone and you will forever be pointing them out to everyone who just passed through it. Everyone who buys a chess set from me, walks into the store past the chess sets, gets greeted, wanders around for a bit, and asks me if we have chess sets. It's alright. I know.

Customer also turn to the right about 75% of the time upon entering a store, another Paco Underhill gem. So we make sure the stuff to the right is muggle friendly, stuff that doesn't trigger so much cognitive dissonance; think Hasbro. On that right side wall is also where we keep our jigsaw puzzles, the crown jewel of muggle gaming, and an area of regular speculation as to what we should put there to replace them. One day I want to make a store in retirement that is a kind of geek anti store, throwing out everything I know about retail. To the right, up front, will be a twelve foot tall statue of Asmodeus surrounded by our Dungeons & Dragons section. No, I could never do that, but the exercise is fun.

So then you say hello, after they stop blinking and looking confused, emerging from the Decompression Zone. You do it every time. You do it for regulars. You take a moment when you're with another customer to say hello upon pain of a severe brow beating by me. If you can't say hello, a wave, a nod (for regulars) or some sort of acknowledgment is acceptable in a pinch. Something must be done to greet them, or they may leave and never come back.

Oh, and get outside the castle, for the love of the gods! Standing behind the counter and saying hello works in a pinch, or when you're crazy busy, but given the opportunity, and really, I wish we had staff to do this for every customer (we do during the holidays), lower the drawbridge and go out there. I'm not the crazy steward sending you out from Minas Tirith to your death against an army of bloodthirsty orcs who just sacked Osgiliath, you need to engage. You will come back. Minas Tirith means "watch tower," so you're watching for customers so you can engage. Alright, I'll stop that now.

What is there after hello? There is the follow up. Seek out the customer in their shopping environment. Ask them a question. And here, I want to say, don't ask them a question with your hello, especially in the Decompression Zone. Let them settle, even if it's for a few seconds. Also make your follow up question one that doesn't have a yes or no answer.

Are you doing alright? Are you finding everything alright? Those are bad, but good efforts. If you're lucky, you'll get a reflexive no, followed by a question. If you're not lucky, they'll turtle and you'll never know what they're looking for. Is there an age you're looking for? Are you looking for a good strategy game or a lighter game? What edition are you playing? I personally find this hard, but it's rewarding.

What else? Be friendly. Smile. Stop talking to your customer-buddy about your army. We have a lot of cusotmer-buddies, but to the uninitiated, they're just our friends, or regulars, and they're an outsider looking in. They find it disconcerting, especially when a customer interaction with a regular, if unimpeded, might last ten minutes. If you're a muggle, that certainly doesn't happen at Target, so you must be good friends. This is the biggest, single complaint customers write about our store, and it's a game trade hazard. Be welcoming.

Finally, thank you! Thank you every time. Thanks for coming. Thanks for buying. Thanks for just looking. Thank you! A friend of mine came in to talk and I thanked him as he left. He came back at me: "I'm your friend. You don't need to say thank you." I apologized of course, and as he went to leave again, I couldn't help thanking him once again. Thank you!


  1. "If you're a muggle, that certainly doesn't happen at Target, so you must be good friends."

    Strangely enough, I've had 10 minute conversations about gaming with employees at Target, but that's probably just the exception that proves the rule ;)

  2. Wow, good for you. Remember the crazy lady with the gas can?

  3. Stop talking to your customer-buddy. This was my number one issue with my employees. #1 by far. By really far. How do you coach around that? Would love to read that tradecraft article.

  4. LOL, I never said that I was the one that started the conversation...

  5. Customer-side: Customer buddy discussions are an important part of that back-room gaming environment. It's half of what brings your FNM, PFS, and other regular people back. These people may not be your #1 income source, but they're an income source and they are part of your store's atmosphere. If you like your store's atmosphere, keep them happy. If you want to change your store's atmosphere, drive them off. Choice is yours.

    That being said, training your employees /and their customer buddies/ to drop conversations whenever there's another normal customer who needs service is probably essential. Most of the "regulars" understand the need for your business to be active and will shut up if the employee interrupts to get sales done.

  6. Great post Gary. Insightful. You make me want to open my own gaming store more and more.

  7. Ugh, reflexive thanking... I realised I had to do something about it when I said "thank you" to a bus driver as I debussed, and immediately added "for calling Xbox customer support" without even thinking.

    Also, they go right? Has anyone ever corrected for people who know the Rule of Doom? I go left by default, unless I spot what I'm looking for straight away, but there might be more at work for me there.

  8. We train something along the lines of what Ryan talks about. Our regulars are an important part of our store model and our community, but we need to train and hammer our employees to defer focus to the RIGHT NOW customers, which is most of our non regulars. About 60% of the people we see in a given day fall into the RIGHT NOW category.

  9. One of the best ways to utilize the "Go Right" Rule is to make sure it's a funnel. All of our aisle in the store slant sideways and lead from lower left to upper right, it will eventually deposit all customers at the checkout without feeling like a contrived queue.

  10. Layout will vary...but my store is laid out such that it's a natural loop around the right ending at the cash register at the left on the way back towards the door. It's absolutely fine if someone wanders straight up to the register with a question or something, but most people make the loop first. The decompression area is structured such that people notice it on the way back out, and is used primarily for promoting future events.

    I am very grateful that shoplifting has turned out to not be a concern at all. Still, being friendly is always essential.

  11. Oh, that's clever using the Decompression Zone for the way out.