June 2006                 Volume 45,  Issue 5

      Secret Shopper

Knowing Your Stuff
A Company Employee Demonstrates Product Knowledge
by Samantha Carpenter

As I drove into the spacious parking lot of a lumber company in Conway, Ark., I noticed there were a lot of cars and thought to myself that this must be a good-size company. In the store, I noticed that it had a bigger selection than some of the other lumber companies I had shopped secretly in the past. This store had just about everything a builder, contractor or do-it-yourselfer would need: tile, wood flooring, plumbing materials, etc. Not finding what I was looking for immediately, I asked a woman in the flooring section where I could go to look for the exterior doors. She said, “You’ll want to speak with John, but if you go to the front desk then any employee can help you.” 

“Do you have a display of doors?”

“Yes,” she said, motioning toward the back of the store, “but I’ll try to find John to help you.”

She walked me to the door display section, and proceeded to search for John. As I was browsing the door displays, I saw an Alpine Collection door by MAi, Jeld-Wen doors and Therma-Tru doors. 

The helpful woman came back through, saying that she would look for John one more place, but returned to say she couldn’t find him and to go to the front desk.

So toward the front desk I went. I found one employee in the floor stocking the shelves and asked which way the front desk was.

“Right around the corner,” he said.

As I approached the desk, the young man asked if he could help me.

“I want to look at some exterior doors, but I need someone to help me,” I said.

As we came to the section, I asked, “Which kind of exterior door do you recommend—wood or fiberglass?”

“Most of our business is with steel doors, but the price points usually increase from steel to fiberglass to wood as you can see,” he explained. (I noticed the price on the wood doors and how it was far above the fiberglass ones I was looking at; however, the same wood doors were much bigger than the standard opening my exterior door would fit.)

He asked me if this was to replace an existing door, and I said that it was. I told him that I was looking for a door with doorlites.

“You’ll have to measure from the top of the door to the keyhole, from the keyhole to the knob, from the knob to the bottom of the door to know exactly the size that you need, plus the dimensions of the door,” he explained.

He took me back to the front desk to retrieve a Therma-Tru catalog, and I asked if I could take it with me, which he said I could. He went through the pages with me showing me different options and the types of doors and whether they were a style that was cheaper or more costly.

“Our door supplier is sometimes two weeks out, so I would pick out several styles you like to insure that you can get a door quickly,” he said.

“I’m not looking to buy a door tomorrow, I just want to know my options,” I replied.

“If you are willing to wait, you can pick whichever door you like.” he said.

“Do I have to do the measurements from the top and bottom of the door to the hardware, or do you have someone that can come out and do that for me?” I asked.

At that moment, another employee chimed in saying, “We have outside sales reps that can come measure for you, but it just depends on if they have time.”

The young man helping me said, “I could draw on a piece of paper exactly how you have to measure it, but if you want an outside sales rep to do it, it’s hit or miss. He may or may not be in your area.”

“I think I’ve got it,” I said.

“Do you work on commission?” I asked, “I want to make sure I ask for you, if I should buy the door from here.” I said.

“No, we are hourly,” he said. “Anyone in the store can help you.”

“Thanks for your time,” I said, and walked to my vehicle.

I have a few recommendations for this lumber company. I would put literature displays with brochures or catalogs next to the products being shown in the showroom. I would also add some more space to the door display section, so it doesn’t have such a cramped feel. 

I would suggest that the salespeople either wear nametags or for them to introduce themselves to their customers. For all I know, I could have been talking to John, for whom the helpful employee was searching. Plus, people tend to buy more products when they can identify with their salesperson.

I would also suggest for their outside sales people to go the extra mile and do measurements for customers. Servicing customers by doing measurements on an exterior door is what sets a lumber retailer apart from the big boxes. 

Samantha Carpenter is editor of SHELTER magazine.


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