I love making people happy. That’s probably why through college I found retail a fulfilling day job. As many of you readers here are musicians with day jobs (some in retail), I thought I’d show you the different skills these non-musical-gigs require, that you might not even know can help you sell your music, your merch, and brand.
Treating customers like they’re special.
Despite what a 40-something year old screaming for the manager because their coupon expired thinks, the customer is not always right. However, all customers (especially the polite ones) should be treated with not just respect, but interest. It can be as simple as knowing their name. Becoming “friends” with the customer by asking about their life and needs separates you from every competitor who’s pushing to sell! sell! sell! They might not buy today, but guess which store is going to get positive reviews and good word of mouth?
Asking fans to buy.
I can’t stand pushy selling (especially when I’m on the receiving end) to this day, but at the same time, I know that in order to stay in business, one needs to close sales. While very few stores (Walmart comes to mind) attract paying customers solely by having the lowest prices no matter what, the rest of us sell on quality and value first, then introduce the price. The focus on investing money wisely into a product that lasts builds real fans of the brand, one who are less likely to leave you for a cheaper but lesser quality competitor.
Yes, retail profiling is usually in the news alongside racism. Billionaire Oprah Winfrey has multiple stories of sales associates refusing her service because they didn’t think she could afford their designer products! However, profiling in a gentler sense is something all sales people need to be able to do. For example, referring to two older women in a clothing store as “you guys” and trying to sell them sheer crop tops doesn’t usually make sense. It all comes down to guessing what people would like, then gauging their reactions and adjusting, kind of like when playing a cover show. It goes hand in hand with defining your genre: some demographics respond better to your sound than others. For example, Taylor Swift doesn’t aim her music directly at your dad. Know your target market, and be amazing to them.
Displaying the merchandise nicely.
I used to work in a clothing store where one of the top jobs was keeping it looking nice (sales were secondary). It taught me a lot about sizes for mannequins and hanging up swimsuits. The company’s reasoning was that if the clothes were laid out or hung up in an attractive manner, they would be tried on and bought (which worked pretty successfully, I must say). I’ve been to a show where the band t-shirts were literally stuffed into garbage bags. I was like, “nope, I’ve worked in retail too long,” and proceeded to fold them by size and colour. They then sold five. The super secret tip to selling more merch? Organizing it!
Having multiple pay options.
The other super secret tip to selling more merch? Don’t just accept cash! So many regular folks out there (myself included) don’t carry much more than bus change on them, and instead make all their purchases on debit or credit cards. Sure, there are ATMs in bars and pubs, but it’s only super fans who’ll take the $2-$3 banking fee hit in order to take out cash to buy your album. What I recommend you do is get yourself a square card reader – you know, the ones that go in the headphone jack of your smartphone? They’re free to rent but take a 2.65% commission, however, it’s going to be totally worth it. For more information, this is their website
Being the expert.
Another way to build a relationship with a customer is to be the dominant “expert” in the conversation. You know what style of jeans would look good on them, or the best face-washing routine for their skin type. Unconsciously establishing that fact that you know more than them, and that they should listen to you creates trust, which leads to sales when you tell them that what they chose is the perfect option. In music, the equivalent is being able to sell your brand. Knowing how to describe your genre, for example.
Being honest if you don’t have what they’re looking for.
Last summer, I was on a mission to find a plain, white t-shirt that isn’t see-through. Easier said than done, as everything the mall carried was sheer, even in the men’s section (it’s just my personal preference that when I lift up a piece of clothing from its hanger, I can’t see the display next to me through it). Anyways, it got to the point where I would just walk into a store and ask “Hi there, do you sell white t-shirts that aren’t completely see-through?” In the first place I tried this, the young sales associate turned back to me and asked “are you sure you’re not looking for something sheer? They’re really trendy this season, and we have so many colours…” Bam! She clearly had no respect for me, and I had no respect for her. I walked out. The second place I tried this approach, the sales associate replied softly “I’m so sorry, we didn’t stock them this year for some reason. I recommend you try [other store in the mall I hadn’t been to yet].” While I didn’t buy anything there that day, I remember her kindness enough to recount this story, and will surely shop there next time I’m looking for something. The same holds true in the music world. You’re a ballad singer-songwriter, and these people are looking for something upbeat they can dance to? Don’t try to convince them that they actually want what you’re offering. Instead, explain what you do, and then point them towards someone who can give them what they’re looking for. Someday, they’ll return the favour, and people seeking ballads will come to you.
Wearing the product yourself.
I once had someone in retail tell me “customers have very little imagination, if they see you wearing the product they want, they’re much more likely to buy it.” Harsh, but true. They can see how the clothing fits, what the lipstick colour looks like on you, or how comfortable the shoes are, and make a decision from there. Wear your merch.
Going the extra mile.
Perhaps saving the best for last. If a customer really likes you and is going to spend money, don’t ever be afraid to go the extra mile (within reason) for them. Wrap their purchase nicely, throw in a free sample, give them extra care instructions for their investment. It’s not much different than adding in a sticker or guitar pick with the purchase of a band t-shirt, or hugging fans after they take a picture of the two of you together. It’ll about showing that you care, and comes back to the first point, about treating the customers like they’re special.
All in all, until you’re able to quit your day job to pursue music fully, learn everything you can from working retail, and apply it to the music world. If you treat yourself like a store, the sales just might come easier.