Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shedding Skins

One of the first things a new sales person learns is the heart of selling. No matter how much one loves what they are selling or who they work for, at the end of the day, selling is all about selling yourself. Sometimes that means wearing hot jeans, or booty shorts. Sometimes it means telling a little white lie, like talking about the time you had five giant Rudolph pimples, and how the "Divine" spot treatment made them all disappear in three hours. When customer service is the key ingredient to getting someone to "present their plastic", aka my best friend, Visa, the most critical thing is that they trust you to guide them in the right direction. The key word in that last sentence is trust. TRUST. In a world of bad skin and dry, cracked hair, it is most important to sell yourself in order to sell product. After all, no pizza-face wants to go from pepperoni to meat lovers! Sometimes, I felt like a chameleon, watching as one customer left the store smiling with a full bag of product, and another customer, with entirely different needs, simultaneously walked in, now attracting my attention. At the critical moment when they both crossed the threshold in opposite directions, another more important transition happened, invisible to all but me. I stood in place shedding skins, from one persona to another, carefully editing as I listened to each customer and tried to pay attention to their whole being, their body language, their words, their voices, and where their eyes went. If I was selling to someone loud, I became boisterous. If the customer was timid, I hushed up, trying to create an intimate space. It was always drawn from somewhere within me, but it was also often an exaggeration of myself. However, what has jumped out as the most interesting aspect of this portion of my experience is the way in which certain aspects of my life, which are normally considered disadvantages, were actually helpful in my professional pursuits, sometimes leading to the moment that, as I like to call-it, brought out the plastic. Time and time again.

Scenario One: Take the black woman that came into the store. Typically educated, professional, and financially stable. She was somewhat of a rarity in suburban Cleveland, especially when compared to the coastal cities of this great nation. Nevertheless, the coastal movements towards natural hair, natural and organic afro-centric body products were making their way inland, and this woman was not oblivious. Her hair was probably tightly wound in dread-locks that were meticulously maintained, and expensively so, in Cleveland. I was most likely the only black associate on the floor, so naturally, I was left to approach her, whether I felt like having a brother/sister conversation or not. The other associates probably looked away or busied themselves with soap cutting and wrapping, unconsciously unaware as to how to approach black customers. This was in spite of their increased presence in our high-end mall. We appreciated each other's natural hair, and in that moment of shared experience, I gained her trust. By laughing at her whispered comments that we couldn't possibly have good hair care for black people, and mentioning all our products with cocoa butter, I became her reference point every time I visited. Let me ask this: Is it Uncle-Tom-foolery if the person you do the jig for is the same color as you? A couple, "Girrl, you now it's" and I was good to go, had them picking out multiple moisturizers (because, you know, we black people are always dry- seriously, though).
Not only was I uniquely able to gain their trust, which usually translated to a pretty decent sale, but this became a common thing; it was understood that the black person on staff was there to bring in a more diverse customer demographic. And if I swore up and down that "Divine" products were great for my hair, supremely healthy in all its natural-ness, it made a huge difference in our ability to sell hair care products to black people. All it took was some feigned extra attitude, a hand on the hip, and me making a funny face. All of a sudden, my minority status became an advantage.

Scenario Two: This one is even more straightforward, ironically enough. My obvious gayness was an enormous advantage to my position as a seller of body products. Please, women only want to buy from gays (it's because they are so often in competition with each other; they accept that gay men are hotter, no contest). DNA. Anyway, this worked in a couple of ways. While I adore my former co-workers... if I were asked if there was ever any racial tension in our store, I would have to answer in the affirmative. These were women, and they took me under their wing. The young, cute, perky, gay guy who was probably too flaming to fight his own battles, I easily became a cause. They could become tigers at the drop of a hat, and I suspect that for the white women, I was gay first, black second. TRUMP CARD!!! I was harmless, as incapable of being forceful as the baby seals "Divine" fights so hard to protect every year during the Canadian Seal Hunt. So I was well-liked as a coworker and employee.

It was also this persona that allowed me to attract so many regulars, middle aged white women who'd loved Will and Grace, and who, somewhere down the line, eventually realized that their favorite uncle, dead now, was probably a closeted homosexual. Being that this is Ohio we're talking about, they were likely republicans who'd supported DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), or who would have voted for Prop 8 had they been living in Cali at the time. These were often the same women who, if I dressed and carried myself differently, lowered my voice, and didn't sell bath products with names like Think Pink and Bumble Bee, would walk by me in this high-end mall, wondering if I were casing the joint and clutching their purses a little tighter. But in this space, I could play up the gay and take them for all they were worth. A smile, a gay joke, a flip of the wrist, and a compliment to a last-season handbag was all it took. "Divine" is a middle-aged women's wet dream, and they became puddy in my hands, especially when I proved knowledgeable about what I was selling. And boy was I selling. In retail, the bottom line is always the dollar, and lest we forget, that much like prostitutes, we retail workers get paid hourly. Only our pimps are nowhere to be found.
I actually remember a moment that shocked me above all others. It involves touching.
Me: "What do you think about 'Drop in the bath?"
Custie: "Ohhh, it smells great. Oh honey, come check out this bubble bath!"
Honey: "Hey babe, what's that? Oh yeah, makes you smell sexy. Wanna use it in the Jacuzzi?"
Me (turning away):
Custie: "Yeah, we can try it while your wife's away, Saturday."
Honey and Custie start making out. She puts down the bubble bath and they begin to back out of the store.
Me (wanting to keep our sales high enough) :"OMG, I LOVE your jeans!!"
They're hideous: dark wash covered in gold glitter, and random silver studs, making continuous circles on her butt-pockets. EW!!
Custie: "Thank youuuu!!!! My favorite part is the flower."
I nod: ME TOO!!!
Custie: "Yours are great, too!!!" --- and then it came, like an air-raid from nowhere and everywhere.

She slapped my ass.
The. B****. Slapped. My. Ass. I kid you not. Just because I know how to wear a pair of jeans.

But she bought the bubble bar, and a lip balm at the till. And at the end of the day, we'd made goal.

All in a days' work- And remember the next time you go shopping, guard your purse-strings carefully because we have bills to pay too. But even better, go on. Give in. Buy that extra bath bomb, lip balm, or larger cut of soap. You might make someone's day!


  1. Hahaha there are so many amazing parts to this post that I would practically be rewriting it to fit them all in. Bravo! Only at Beachwood.

  2. O.M.G. That post is hilarious. I love the touching story - I think you told me, but it's so much better in blog form. Putty is spelled with two "t"'s by the way - you know I'm neurotic when it comes to spelling.

    Loving the blog from the room next to yours!