May 2006                                Volume 45,  Issue 4


      Secret Shopper

What’s the Rush?
Lumber Retailer Scores High With Customer Service

by Sarah Batcheler

A small, local lumber and hardware company tucked away in Pensacola, Fla., was the recipient of this month’s secret shopper visit. I was shopping for a new exterior door, but I found much more. 

As I pulled into the parking lot, I immediately noticed the store’s appearance: small, humble and non-descript. 

When I entered through the front door in the mid-morning hours of a weekday, I saw six employees, ranging from approximately 45 to 60 years old, working hard to equip customers with what they needed. The customers, also, seemed to be of an older generation, as they milled through the aisles and received assistance.

“How can I help you?” asked a gentleman, neatly groomed in a shirt sporting the company’s logo. 

“I am here to buy a door today,” I responded with a smile, noticing that I was the only young woman in the establishment.

The nice man pointed to his co-worker and told me he would be right with me. As I waited to be helped, I strolled through the small store. I noticed it was well-organized and tidy, posing no visible dangers to customers.

In the five minutes I waited, I noticed four men looking through the store, probably gathering essential items for their latest project, and another man and woman receiving attention from employees of the store.

The sales representative displayed a warm demeanor when he presented himself to me and asked in what type of door I was interested. I was led through an aisle to a back area that featured about eight doors varying in shape and features. Only when I asked for his input did he advise me against metal or wood doors.

“I have only been in the area for three years, but I’ve been in the business for a long time. I would suggest fiberglass, because it doesn’t warp, rot or need painting,” he said.

He then took out a 4-inch-thick binder where he began to flip through the selections. 

Cutting to the chase, he said, “I can show you anything from $4,000 all the way down, but I need to know how much you are looking to spend.”

“I will probably be looking for something on the lower-end of the price spectrum,” I responded. “No need to waste your time showing me the expensive stuff,” I said, adding that I was on a budget.

“Oh, that is no problem,” he emphasized. “I didn’t want to insult you by assuming you would be looking for something cheap, if in fact, you were looking for something high-end,” he said. 

After flipping through the binder together, we found two attractive doors at a reasonable price. The man made a photo-copy of the doors and then excused himself to a nearby desk to place a call to the door company. 

He occasionally raised his head from what appeared to be a phone call wrought with long waits to ask me specifics of the door: dimensions, if I wanted the door to swing inside or outside and if the house was constructed with traditional 2-by-4’s or steel studs. As I waited for about ten minutes, I noticed that surprisingly, I wasn’t agitated or put out with the wait.

Maybe it was because I knew that my sales associate also was waiting, but with a calm smile on his face. Or was it was because I had just received honest, genuine and un-rushed service by a pleasant gentleman who was doing his job cheerfully? Maybe it was the overall atmosphere found in the store. It wasn’t filled with bright displays, flashy salespeople or promises of rock-bottom prices. No one in sight was excited, impatient, irritated or rushed.

When finished with his phone conversation, the nice man told me exactly what the two doors would cost and how long the wait for delivery would be. He wished me luck on deciding between the two doors and sent me on my way, adding that he would see me back in the store when I had reached a decision.

My experience was pleasantly smooth. The subtle, comfortable ambience in the store was exactly what put me at ease. 

Maybe we could all take a lesson or two from those with years of experience. Sometimes it’s just nice to go somewhere where you can get what you need from a sales associate who speaks from experience, looks you straight in the eye and knows the simple phrase: what’s the rush?

Sarah Batcheler is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.


© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.