Footwear That Fits - Lesson Three

Have you ever wondered how shoe stores work? Let's take a look at a recent example. Last night I walked into the store where I had purchased my Birkenstock sandals. The store was very busy, the employees were frazzled, overwhelmed, and in my opinion, not really feeling it if the woman who took the last sips of her drink very slowly as she stood near the stock room. The last time I had been there I tried on a pair of black Mary Janes, and hindsight being what it is, now I realize I should have gone ahead with the purchase, but I wasn't sold on them so I thanked the sales people for their time, and left. Nobody familiar was working, I held up the shoe that I wanted, and asked for the mate. Rather than go in back to check if they had the size I was requesting, the young man checked his computer. This is a poor system because as a woman who had waited on me earlier in the evening remarked, the computer can only be so accurate as real time transactions may be affecting inventory before a computer gets updated.

I walked out and went two doors down to the store were I used to work. The carpeting was newer and cleaner, unlike its nearby neighbor this store was empty except for me and the very bored sales person waiting behind the desk. I had passed by this store on my way to the other one, I well remember being super bored on Friday nights. Management frowns on people doing anything like reading so for the most part you're just standing there hoping someone will come along even if they don't buy anything. I was greeted unenthusiastically although he did walk around from behind the desk to ask if I needed help with anything. When I asked what he had in a 35 he gave me an irritated look and told me that there was nothing in that size. When I asked what they had in a 36 he made a disparaging comment and wandered away. To my surprise he came back with two pairs for me to try. He never offered to measure my feet, he set the boxes down as if he couldn't believe he was having to go through such a tremendous effort and then told me where the mirrors were in case I needed to admire my feet in the potential purchases.

Since I had worked there previously, I knew that this man had not given me what was called 'The Ultimate Store Experience' back then. The Ultimate Store Experience is an eight step process that actually works, but so few people follow it that it seems as if it doesn't. The videos are scripted and cheesy, but once you get comfortable enough with the material and have a knowledge base to use the steps with greater confidence, you will sell more than if you try to reinvent that particular wheel. A lot of sales tactics are the same, stripped of corporate schmooze you're basically trying to earn trust so even if the customer doesn't buy today, you will remain firmly in their memory bank. What's supposed to happen is the customer is greeted in a manner that generates conversation. Ask people what brings them in today rather than if they're looking for something in a particular size or color, open ended questions help your sale. Had this guy done that, he would have found out that I was shopping for shoes I needed for a job interview the next day.

Every person is supposed to be scanned and measured every single time. Apart from this being glaringly obvious since many are wearing shoes that are wrong in some manner or another, it gives the sales person a chance to discuss support, and an opportunity to present orthotics when the time comes. Every customer should be presented with a minimum of four pairs of shoes; dress, casual, athletic, and a clearance item. Never come back from the stock room empty handed is hammered into the sales person's head, and even though the rule sounds silly, I actually agree with it; you want your customer to think and see that you made an effort to find something for them. One evening I had an extremely tall gentleman come in for a size we didn't carry. I stood back there trying to drum up something that didn't exist, grabbed the closest thing we did have to his size, and he ended up trying them just in case. They didn't fit, but he said that he appreciated my efforts on his behalf. You never know what might trigger a sale, even if the customer walks out without trying anything on, you have done your job to the extent you were able.

The right socks can be critical to a good fit. Rather than talk to me about socks, or better yet, grab a pair or two for me to try when he passed the display while carrying my shoes, he skipped this step entirely. When I worked at that store, approximately 10% of my sales were hosiery. To give you an idea of where I ranked, the next highest person had a 6% rate. Employees constantly complained that socks were hard to sell, and for a long time I believed this since I heard it repeated so frequently. Comfort can only be felt, therefore the smart way to sell socks is to put them onto people's feet. Even if they don't end up buying them, you going out of your way to get them socks will increase their perception of you as a sales person who goes out of your way for them, and you are honestly not worth a spot on the payroll if you work at a shoe store and you don't know how to sell socks. Feet take enormous abuse during the day, socks are a fitting tool, and you are doing yourself, the company, and your customer a great disservice if you skip the sock step. It doesn't always work, but this habit coupled with your efforts eventually pays off.

Shoe sales is service oriented, or it should be. One of the treats ought to be having someone else bend over, stoop, and help you get into and out of your footwear. Outside of this being a nice experience for a guest, from a more practical standpoint it allows the fitter to get a closer look at how easily a foot glides into footwear. This is where your shoe horn is handy, every sales person needs to be carrying one, or have immediate access to one at all times. A foot that does not glide almost effortlessly into a particular style is a red warning flag. If it is hard to get into, it will be hard to get out of, and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that very few are sitting down, unlacing their tie shoes, and removing them properly. Donning is the industry term for putting an item of apparel on, doffing is the term for removing it from someone (or yourself). Doff and don are not commonly used on the sales floor of shoe stores, you are more likely to hear them on the medical or therapeutic side where companies design, manufacture, and sell donning stands for those in need of help donning their hosiery (typically compression products).

August is a good time of year to start shopping for summer clearance deals. Locations may vary, but in Wisconsin, winter inventory begins to hit stores sometime in July. People look at you like you're downright crazy (and you wonder if you are) as you unpack warm boots and thick wool socks when the humidity is high and the temperatures are scorching, but you want those items out for back to school shoppers since boot season is right around the corner. Waiting until the cold weather is actually here is foolish, your regulars should be seeing new styles, this keeps a sales floor fresher, stale rows and tired displays drive the shoe whores away, it keeps employees up on the latest trends, and you need to be in sync with what other stores are doing, or risk missing out on current, or future potential sales. Once warm weather gear starts arriving, employees really need to ramp up sales on their clearance merchandise. Footwear ages, materials break down, and after a while boxes get dusty, banged around, and their contents are unlikely to demand a full price no matter what the shoes inside may be like.

My sales person could have looked at the sandals I was wearing, seen that they are not new, and brought out a selection of clearance items for me to peruse. This is how I shop so he missed a major opportunity there, especially after he learned that I had just been at the nearby store. Seeing that I already wear Birkenstocks he could have brought out some of the covered clogs for me to try. I have some pretty significant tan lines from those sandals, that would have been a conversation starter, but he wasn't there to sell anything. You know a sales person needs to go when someone who is ready to buy that night practically has to force someone to take their money. Rather than make any effort to learn more about me, my footwear needs, or anything that would help him sell me more, he chose to inform me of the name of the style I was trying as if I couldn't read it off of the box by myself. Those shoes are going back, I shouldn't have bought them in the first place, but I wanted something to wear to my interview, and that was a mistake I made.

A considerable number of shoppers avoid sales people out of the fear that they will be pressured into buying something that they didn't really intend to buy, can't afford, or actually really want, but don't feel as if they deserve. I remember working with one woman who stood up, gave me an odd look, and told me that her back didn't hurt when she was wearing the sandals I had brought from the back. She told me that she wore a seven, but when I measure her she was much closer to an eight, so I brought both sizes out and asked her to tell me which felt better to her. She was astonished to learn that she was wearing a size eight sandal, but the more she walked around in them, the happier she was. An older woman who had been lured in by a granddaughter, she had tears in her eyes when she told me that she had been contemplating back surgery the pain had gotten so bad. While not every ache and pain is a result of wearing improperly fitted footwear, it's pretty amazing how what you put on your feet impacts the rest of your body.

This is why I refuse to sell anything that I do not believe is a good fit. If a customer wants to buy something, that is their choice, I can't really stop people from making poor decisions, and I'm not infallible either. But I will always tell the truth even if it ends up costing me, or someone else, a sale. I once worked with someone who shall remain nameless. He had twenty-some boxes strewn around a bewildered looking woman who was wearing a really neat pair of black crocodile clogs. I loved them, but when she turned to me and asked what I thought, I had to tell her that I wouldn't buy them if I was her. When she asked why, I told her that I thought she could find a better fit. I broke a cardinal rule, never interfere in someone else's sale, and do what you can to get shoes out the door regardless of whether they were a good fit or not. I almost lost my job that day. My manager raged at me, he couldn't believe I had done that, but everyone is owed the truth, and I would much rather lose a job than jeopardize the future health and welfare of another.

Your attitude, effort, and integrity are everything. Once you compromise yourself, you are done. People I trusted led me astray, out of ignorance, apathy, greed, or a combination of factors, I don't really know. But since I have had those experiences, and hurt my back wearing footwear that was shot, I am extremely sensitive to the role that footwear plays in our lives. Ultimately it isn't about feet, your spine, or how cute or sexy you are in something. Footwear can impact your ability to comfortably inhale and exhale. Almost nobody thinks about it this way, but it is absolutely a true statement, and all you have to do is start wearing shoes that you know are too small to see how they impact your balance, posture, and lung capacity. Even while seated, you rely on your feet to keep you stable and upright. Cramming your feet into short, tight, narrow footwear is criminal and unethical without being illegal. The only way to shop for footwear is to focus on fit. Everything else pales by comparison. Footwear that fits is simultaneously energizing and relaxing. It allows you to stand up straighter, breathe easier, and benefits the wearer to the extent it is able while worn.


Wear footwear that fits, train your body to breathe easier. Relax, enjoy life more while knowing you are taking better care of yourself. It really is that simple. 

Footwear That Fits - Lesson Five

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