Loyalty by Larry

Discussion
Nov 14, 2005
Avatar

By John Hennessy, Vice President, Concept Shopping, Inc.

(www.conceptshopping.com)



  • I never bothered to see how much the shirt cost.

  • It was lots more than I ever paid for a shirt.

  • Somehow I didn’t mind.


The above three items are from Chicago Tribune Perspective Editor Charles Madigan as he relates his quest for a new dress shirt.


Despite admitting that he loves the efficiency of buying stuff on the internet, Mr. Madigan enjoyed a terrific buying experience in the hands of a sales professional named Larry
– an experience that Mr. Madigan says has changed him.


Mr. Madigan relates how some believe the era of service is now just about dead. “But every once in a while you run into someone who recognizes what it’s all about and plays his
role like a Barrymore.”


When Mr. Madigan asked Larry what people should expect of their sales folks this Christmas season, Larry responded without even a second’s pause – “The moon! And what they should
get should be beyond the moon!”


Mr. Madigan adds, “If you are fortunate this season, you will run into someone like Larry while you are shopping. You should thank him, first, for being so engaging. Then you
should write a note to his employer and tell the company what a pro he is and keep that happy thought as you climb into your new lavendink shirt.”


Moderator’s Comment: Has the desire for automation and the challenge of hiring and keeping “Larrys” caused many retailers to abandon the search? What
has been the cost to their businesses?


Larry is not a card or a program, but he is all about shopper loyalty.


Larry doesn’t expect shoppers to be loyal. He demonstrates loyalty to his shoppers by listening to them. He earns their loyalty by satisfying each shopper’s
needs. He improves his business by satisfying these needs with savvy, with sales and margin-enhancing item recommendations and complementary item suggestions. He even mixes in
some entertainment. Shoppers respond by rewarding Larry with raves, such as Mr. Madigan’s, and business they had been doing elsewhere.


Not every retailer can afford to hire and keep a few Larrys. Or can they afford not to?


Larry actively sells. He uses skills and experience to identify and satisfy needs. He connects with customers and creates a lasting, favorable impression.
As Mr. Madigan suggests, that kind of service sticks with you and can motivate a change in behavior.


Larry substitutes service and relevance for price. Without Larry and his skills, price looms large.
John Hennessy – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Loyalty by Larry"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 3 months ago

Our research over many years seems to suggest that training, hiring, and incentives actually have very little to do with what produces a Larry. Businesses that want more Larrys because their business model demands it will not get significantly more Larrys by modifying their hiring systems, training systems, or incentives. This is demonstrated over and over by how exceedingly difficult it is to increase the number of Larrys businesses actually have. Businesses that would like Larrys but whose business models don’t DEMAND Larrys can have Larrys much more easily than they realize.

It seems, from my view, that we have come to assume what actually produces Larrys and, unfortunately, our assumptions appear to be, based on the volumes of data our firm as gathered, completely in error. This is why Larrys are so rare.

Mary O'Grady
Guest
Mary O'Grady
15 years 3 months ago

I have been lucky enough to find Larry all over the place. Yes, I have found Larry at a high-end boutique, just where he might be expected. However, yesterday I found his delightful twin sister selling cosmetics at Walgreens. Unfortunately, Larry is likely to be making way more money than his sister and probably enjoys better working conditions; I somehow doubt that Walgreens realizes what an asset “Larriette” is to them. I think I’d better tell the store manager about her.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

It costs just as much to hire Larry as to hire Leon, so why not get Larry? And when you hire Larry, it helps to recognize and reward him appropriately. When I ran across a female Larry named Jackie, who devoted her own time after hours to successfully getting $21,000 back that was stolen from my Citibank checking account, I tried to send a letter to the president of the bank telling her about Jackie. Citibank won’t give out the president’s address. Citibank has no easy communications channel to receive positive comments about their employees. Every retailer should have a place on their web site and a box in the store for comments (positive and negative) about their people’s performance. And when it is outstanding, it should be recognized. Or do you want Larry to work for someone else?

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
I think that one thing is important to recognize about ‘Larry.’ First, Larry didn’t become ‘Larry’ overnight. Someone taught ‘Larry.’ Second, he was allowed to be ‘Larry.’ That’s the difference. It’s all a matter of choice. In your shopping experiences, you all know where ‘Larry’ works. In fact, he’s not all that hard to find. I’ve found him at Costco, Nordstrom, Jos. A. Bank, Trader Joe’s, the local ACE Hardware, and the list goes on. These types of retailers both hire ‘Larrys’ and develop ‘Larrys’ on their own. And, they have made a conscious choice to do so. Others have not. Why haven’t they? Well, they have either done so by choice or they have found that it doesn’t fit their model. I have come to understand that is what is really at the core of the differences between retailers that have ‘Larry’ and those that don’t. They do so by choice; conscious or otherwise. Those that do, stake their reputation on it and pursue it with relentless passion. Folks don’t expect ‘Larry’ to be… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

There is a definite, albeit small, need for the Larrys of this world. Retailing has niche shops in all categories which cater to customers who prefer service first and price second. This is clearly not the majority of the market, but their presence is mandatory in any retailing environment. From specialty food and wine stores, to electronics, clothing, and furniture, the demands of knowledgeable sales support personnel are evident. Each of these businesses require a personal relationship with their customer, and their success is based upon this. Go into any 5-star hotel or restaurant and the difference is obvious between this and a McDonald’s. The same is true for a Best Buy and a specialized retail electronics dealer. As a society, we have needs for Larrys to keep us informed and updated. They will always be around to service and assist that segment of the retail public who needs their information.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
15 years 3 months ago
Today’s poll question asks if retailers properly screen personnel for customer service aptitude. Even if they do, it does little good if the company doesn’t provide proper training in terms of product knowledge to take full advantage of this aptitude. Even sadder than salespersons who just restate the notes on the tags or cartons of high-end products to answer customer questions are those who don’t understand what these few phrases mean. Several times, when I have approached sales associates with straight forward questions on the differences between specific brands and models of video equipment or digital cameras, I was dismayed to see they lacked an understanding of what these items were capable of, even basic features which were clearly stated on the packaging. As my questions were based on a refinement of these functions, I realized I could not expect any sort of a knowledgeable answer and [the chain] forfeited sales opportunities, as well as future visits. Even more disheartening; when I took the time to explain these basic features and their significance, I received… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
What a great article. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m a consumer who shops online because there aren’t enough Larrys in the retail world. I seem to meet his evil twin, Leon. Leon adds no value to my shopping experience. He either hovers near me to make sure he can ring up the sale, although he doesn’t do anything to deserve it, or totally ignores me and is of no help when I do need help. My own shopping experience Saturday was indicative of the way the Leons rub me out of the stores. I was in an office superstore to pick up two packages of labels. First, I had to listen to a Leon talk to another Leon about going out the night before and chasing down some guy to kick his $%# to get some money the guy owed him. Nice conversation for my 6-year old to hear. Then the cashier rang up the sale wrong, rang up the exchange wrong, and wasted 15 minutes of my… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 3 months ago
Great comments today, so here’s a different spin on the topic. In today’s Sacramento Bee business section, the featured article by Rachel Osterman is “Hiring True Believers – Stores turn to good customers for holiday help.” Rachel quotes Kevin Tate, Senior Marketing Director for Unicru: “If someone already has an affinity for a brand, that comes across in how they present it.” Of course, the story is about hiring good customers as temporary holiday help. Rachel writes, “It’s part of a growing recognition that shoppers who know and love a store can be its best sales force. They’re already familiar with its products and layout.” Research by Unicru indicates that “people who shop at a store four or more times a year have stronger sales success when hired as employees than those who don’t.” Conversely, we learn from Unicru that those who sell products they do not use personally are far less successful. To add to the serendipity, many customers hire on as temporary holiday help mainly to get the employee discount. They reason that… Read more »
John Rand
Guest
John Rand
15 years 3 months ago

We have stores carefully engineered not to need Larry.
And we have websites that try to present what Larry knows (though few succeed).
We will never, ever find a better form of overall retail performance than what Larry can give us.

Too many Larrys are dying off, and too few of them can make a living anymore. I have met many Larrys, and respect them for the professionals they are.

The retailers that find a way to replicate Larry will never lack for business.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
It has to be lonely being a Larry. I just found a Larry at the Sears in Lebanon, NH. Bought two garage door openers from him, and he took enormous interest in handling the order, and even called the installation contractor for me. This took considerable time, and he insisted on helping me carry the items out to my car. I vowed to be a Sears customer again, big-time. Turns out the openers weren’t going to work for me, after the contractor arrived. A miscommunication, perhaps on my part, on expectations. I bought a bottle of wine and went back to the store, figuring to give “Larry” the bottle and thanks for his help, but sorry, I have to return these. Larry had the day off, but Larry’s co-worker was incredulous that they were being returned. “How could anybody be so stupid to think the openers would do that?,” he asked, and then laughed. (I’d thought the system worked without those huge springs.) I told him that his customer was that stupid, and he just… Read more »
Bob Bridwell
Guest
Bob Bridwell
15 years 3 months ago

Larrys are delightful but few and far between. A lot of consumers will approach a Larry and suck his brains dry as to the pros and cons of an item and then go to a discounter and make the purchase.

Many retailers today don’t have any Larrys; they don’t seem to have anyone who wants to ring up the sale. This applies to the old line department stores and to the long lines at Wally World.

As for me, I don’t buy shirts that often, but I don’t mind spending extra to get first class service and quality.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 3 months ago

Sadly, Larry is an anomaly in today’s retail world. Only the highest-end shops can afford a Larry and seem to go to the trouble to motivate them (with a few notable exceptions: TJ’s, Pier One). That is largely because so few shoppers can afford to not care about the price of the shirt.

However, the retailers who surprise me with their lack of service are those – such as Home Depot – who sell both high-end and low-end items. If I’m spending $500-$2,000 on a gas grill, I want a salesperson who can do more than read me the tag. The challenge, of course, for those outlets is that the average ring is lower – so do you hire for the person buying five screws or an entire kitchen?

I long for the day when Larry is not so unusual that so many people devote so much time to talking about him.

Matt Werhner
Guest
Matt Werhner
15 years 3 months ago

With the surge in e-commerce over the past few years, it is more important for retailers to employ customer service representatives that will go above and beyond what is required in order to satisfy the customer’s needs. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find a customer service rep with Larry’s enthusiasm. It is easy to make the argument that customer service is dead, but there are still many retailers who pride their business on service. Helpful, friendly employees will increase store traffic and provide positive word-of-mouth advertising which some retailers regard as priceless. It is not hard to realize the ultimate winning combination is low or competitive price and great customer service, but this is not a common reality in today’s world. I think, for the vast majority of Americans, low price is the ultimate customer service.

Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
15 years 3 months ago

There are few things more emotionally powerful than really connecting with another person, and Larry seems to have honed that skill to a fine edge–probably by doing a great job of active listening.

I don’t buy the idea that most successful retailers have abandoned the search to hire “Larrys.” The Container Store is a good example, and there are actually many more.

It has been well documented that “willingness to recommend” is one of the most powerful indicators of loyalty, and what’s easier to recommend than a “Larry”?

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Do most retailers properly screen potential hires for customer service aptitude prior to hiring?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...