Secrets to Success
Gold Medal Service Award winning stores share some of their top customer service tips.
“Selling is a science… I encourage our salespeople to try on the product, just like the restaurant’s waiter samples the dishes so they know what to tell their clients. Next, unless it’s a repeat, regular customer, I firmly believe in the art of schmoozing. Open the sale with personal talk about nothing to do with business, then hit them with the Magic question: ‘What brought you in the store today?’ This question will get the customer to open up 90% of the time, and tell you what the real purpose for them coming in the store was. We never approach a new customer by saying ‘Can I help you?’
We also teach probing skills. Who? Why? When? Where? What? How? Get the customer to open up and talk. The best salespeople are good listeners!
Finally, we teach team selling. We meet monthly as a team on zoom calls. Some meetings are product meetings. Some meetings are about new promos and events. Everyone knows that the customer is King or Queen in our store. Just like in basketball, we put the full court press on when necessary. Post the numbers and goals so the entire team knows what we need to do. Also post the individual sales reports monthly showing their commissions. The team is looking at the numbers like it’s the NFL standings. It creates a good fight to the top.”
— Bruce Wesley, Wesley’s Shoes
“As we all well know, you can run a shoe store many different ways even within the comfort shoe game. Chiappetta Shoes has been in business for 101 years with Pedorthics at the heart of our offering. Being able to solve a foot problem with proper mechanics and the right product has kept our business going strong for over a century. Whether we are in a recession or an economic boom, foot pain doesn’t stop so building a shoe business as a combination of retail and healthcare is a great proposition. It’s a fine line to walk but playing both sides of the field is a proven model.”
— Tony Chiappetta, Chiappetta Shoes
“Our secret is to have the knowledge and understanding to ascertain what is going on with the client and what their true goal is even if they cannot. The other secret is really the foundation of a good retail store and that is the ability to communicate and have empathy with our clients. Our goal is to develop rapport so we can be their trusted advisor as to the proper footwear and accessories to meet whatever needs that they have.
We in the brick-and-mortar retail business lots of times miss our true strength which is our personal interface with our clients. Human beings are very social creatures, and we crave human interaction. The internet can never replicate that face-to-face human interaction. ”
— Thomas & Laurie Peterson, Foot Savvy
“I tell my staff all the time, the customer is ‘everything to us.’ Every part of every day is all about the customer. If they do not come in our door to purchase shoes and other products, everything else we do means nothing. They are the whole reason we open the doors every day. We are dependent on them to pay our bills, being able to purchase new products and especially to pay my employees paychecks. Every customer needs to be treated as who they are — #1 for us.”
— Melissa Walker, Walker’s Shoe Center
“It is really about the basics. We continually coach and work with our staff to give our best to our customers. That can be from the way we greet them to going above and beyond to get them a great fit in their new shoes. I believe your staff will rarely treat your customers better than they are treated by their managers. So, while 2022 has been challenging when it comes to recruiting great staff, we have been very focused on honoring and valuing our staff that we do have.”
— Loren Martin, ELM Shoes
“We want our customers to view us as their advocates. Our approach is simple: 1) Be friendly and make shopping with us fun! 2) Be a great listener. 3) Provide solutions. 4) Offer ideas for their next visit. 5) Reiterate our appreciation for their business and invite them back.”
— Justin Kehrwald, Tradehome Shoes
“There are so many different things that go into quality customer service. At the top of the list is the employees themselves. A must have, find the right personality for service. An employee’s attitude makes all the difference with the customers and the experiences they have. We need to make every effort to keep and develop good staff. Service is what will set brick-and-mortar apart from the internet and direct sales from manufacturers.”
— Brian Ferguson, The Foot Performance Center
“Always aim to build rapport and establish credibility. Building rapport starts with giving people a warm greeting, making a formal introduction to learn each other’s names, and asking open ended questions. Establishing credibility happens by going through the proper fitting procedures, (measure, assist with try-ons, checking the fit, etc.) and responding to the customer’s feedback by providing sincere suggestions or comments.
I still love this approach, and we aim to coach it to all of our staff. I also recently had a sales coach teach me a new way of thinking about sales/customer service that we hadn’t coached to our staff before. He asked, ‘Who is the number one salesperson in your organization?” and offered the solution ‘the number one salesperson in your organization is a happy customer.’
Although it might sound plain and obvious, I do think the secret to customer service can be boiled down to just that. Doing whatever you can to ensure that your customers are leaving happy. Happy customers consistently share their experience with others and maintain lasting relationships with the organizations that they love!”
— Dillon Dardano, Dardano’s Shoes
“We ask a lot of questions about our customers’ needs, their wants and activity levels. Then we try to guide them to the shoes that will give them the most comfort. Many customers comment that it is an education on feet and shoes that they have never heard before.
We all understand that the biggest challenge is earning the customer’s trust. It’s not always possible, at least not right away. But keeping the focus on their best interest is key.”
— Michael Jones, A Proper Fit Reno
“If you ask any Esmond’s Shoes customer about our secret to customer service success, they will tell you something like, ‘Esmond’s treats me like family.’ After all, Esmond’s is a family business… Some of our favorite stories include when a parent or grandparent comes into our store and says, ‘I got my first walking shoes here and now it’s my turn to keep the tradition alive with my children.’
The other secret to our success is our commitment to being hyper-focused on listening to our customer’s challenges and aspirations. We don’t rush our customers just to make a sale. We listen to understand first and then we advise on the best way forward. In fact, we rarely mention brands or pricing during our customer interactions because the conversation is primarily spent getting a grasp on their issues and recommending personalized solutions.”
— Rodger Sieb, Esmond’s Shoes
“We address our customer as a whole person, we listen to their goals, needs, limitations and expectations. Fitting for lifestyle is very different than fitting for athletics. I remind ‘misfitted’ people of that daily — you don’t need to go longer to get more space, we want the shoe to actually fit you in the arch.
Know your stock. This way you can specialty fit the special person in front of you quickly and effectively. Wouldn’t it be a nightmare to suggest a shoe on the floor that you know would work but then you get back to the stock room only to find it’s gone already?
Educate and be honest. People come in all day asking for the ‘wrongest’ shoe for them. I’m willing to lose the sale in order to protect the health of the customer and this seems to result in a longer relationship.
Hugs and handshakes to all the salespeople on the floor that have customers use their time, expertise and energy only for the ‘deadbeat showroomer’ to walk out on you. Don’t let this make you rude or mediocre. Leave that to big box and multi door chains.”
— Alex Maltezos, Tenni-Moc’s Shoe Store
“We are all about old fashioned customer service. We take our time with each and every customer. We show the customer what we think is the best combination of shoes and orthotics for them, their feet and their lifestyle. If we get push-back on the fit (“slips in my heel”), we do our best to educate the customer on the normality of this in a new shoe and that what is integral to a comfortable shoe is getting key parts of the foot lined up properly in the shoe.
We really try to convey that we are professionals (pedorthists, certified therapeutic shoe fitters) and that we are a trusted voice. We will often find that the customers are at ease and much of their shoe buying anxiety is alleviated once we begin listening to them, their aches/pains and they see that we know what we’re doing. I can’t count how many times I have heard a customer express relief that they found a shoe store that measures their feet, puts the shoes on them and educates them along the way. People have become so accustomed to self-serve big box stores that they find considerable relief in simply finding a store that will ‘fit’ them.”
— Matthew Gold, Comfort Plus Shoes
“What’s the secret to customer service? The secret is that there isn’t one. We just treat everyone the way we’d want to be treated.
Imagine you’re in pain and you’ve gone through countless pairs of shoes trying to find a solution. Any time you’ve brought your problem to a big box store in the past, you’ve watched the associate’s eyes gloss over, and you’re pointed in the direction of the Dr. Scholl’s inserts, which only provide temporary relief. We know how hard (and expensive) it can be to sort through all the options until you find the right one. So, we bring empathy to the sales floor, and we listen to you to try to work through the problem together. We’re honest about what we can and can’t accomplish, and we give as much time as it takes so that when you walk out of the store, you know you have the best fit for your feet.
We try to live up to our mission — to improve people’s walk through life, and we believe that it starts with compassion.”
— Lauren Klapper, Shoe Fly
“Our customer service secret is very simple — listen to the customer’s wants and needs, be patient and friendly. Be honest, tell them if a shoe is good for them or not. We also strive to build a relationship with our customers. Do not forget the basics.”
— Rick Baggett, Cartan’s Shoes
“Our success in customer service comes from sticking to our roots. Murray’s has been in business since 1875, and we have seen changes in customer service across the industry; it’s more important than ever that we continue to offer excellent customer service. We take the time to train every employee to ensure they have the knowledge to help our customers. In turn our incredible staff is empowered to work with every customer to ensure they walk out with a pair of shoes they love. Our customers know the quality of service we offer, and it keeps them coming back for more.”
— Alicia Murray, Murray’s Shoes
“A customer service secret? Empathy! We need our customers to truly believe we are guiding them towards the best products possible for their comfort and lifestyle needs, and they feel the difference when they know we are doing our best to put ourselves in their shoes.”
— David Casamassa, Sole Provisions Family of Stores (including InStep, Alan’s Shoes, Allen’s Shoes, Pegasus Footwear)
“Our secret sauce is developing an in-depth relationship with our clients to determine the needs, the wants and the best products and services to solve their foot, knee, hip and back problems. We don’t just sell gorgeous shoes and orthotics, we change lives one foot at a time”
— Sue Orischak, Foot Solutions Scottsdale
“Our philosophy has always been ‘knowledge-based selling.’ Our goal is to assess the needs of each customer that walks into our store with the correct questions to find out what their needs/challenges are in footwear. When you ask the correct questions, you dig deeper into issues or pains that they might have, and we can solve those with our knowledge of all our products in the store. We explain how each product can benefit their own situation and how to use each product to empower the customer.”
— Chris Bentvelzen, SHOES-n-FEET
“Our sit-and-fit philosophy has been working for decades. Each employee is taught to use the Brannock device, and we have our customers take a seat to get their feet measured so that they’re fit properly. As a store that specializes in sizes and widths, it’s much easier to bring out a selection of shoes once we have the correct size. One thing that we’re very proud of is that we take our time and have patience with each of our customers. We also have wonderful associates with a plethora of knowledge, most of which have been here for years — that might be our most well-kept secret.”
— Skyler Courtney, Mar-Lou Shoes
“There are no real secrets to great customer service. It’s all about dedication and focus on the customer and their immediate needs. Our team of salespeople are fantastic at providing individualized and personalized attention to the customer in front of them, treating them with the respect and the attention that they deserve. We also believe in fostering a group environment focused on teamwork. If we’re ever stumped by a customer’s shoe fitting needs, we’re not afraid to use each other’s experiences on the fitting stool to ultimately help customers and give them the best customer service possible. And since our employees are key to customer satisfaction and ultimately to the store’s success, we also work hard to focus on employee needs too, so that they can be fully present when working with customers.”
— PJ Calhoun, The Shoe Market
“The basic tenet of Reyers’ umbrella of customer service is from our father, Harry. He taught his sons early on ‘Take care of the customer and everything else takes care of itself.’ As simple as the precept sounds, taking care of customers is not so easy. Overachieving is what sets one store apart from others. Sure, you have your team greet and smile and welcome those customers. And you measure their feet. And you solve problems because your staff has so much experience in doing so.
But you also have to do some big things yourself. As an owner, you must make sure that your troops have the ammunition to fight the battles. For many years Harry maintained an inventory of 175,000 pairs of shoes for men, women, and children. From soup to nuts, Reyers staff could please customers no matter what they wanted. Those days are gone of course; no shoe stores aim to do that anymore.
We don’t have to insist on a smile and happy greeting from our staff; they do that automatically, because they’re all such good people. As owners, my brother Steven and I endeavor to make their lives as comfortable and productive as we can. In our new storeroom of only 14,000 square feet, we feel a bit crowded and no longer stock everything soup to nuts. But we still serve meat and potatoes.”
— Mark Jubelirer, Reyers Shoe Store
“Preach and teach sit-and-fit. Be constantly on the lookout for people who love the shoe business when it comes to hiring — such as people who are running experts. And look at resumes on Indeed almost daily. Offer a great rewards program and find the ways that customers want to hear about new product by offering text messaging, email, direct mail and social media.”
— Greg Augustine, Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. Ft. Collins
“We are a sit-and-fit shoe store, measuring or scanning customers to find the best fit and product. We try our best to give that individual attention to each customer, paying attention to find out exactly what they might need or want.”
— Karly Trease, Hudson’s Shoes
“Hire people who love people and encourage them to have authentic conversations with customers. We always do our best to avoid the phrase ‘Can I help you?’ or ‘Let me know if I can help you.’ We try to really engage customers so that their guard doesn’t come up and we can find out what they really need and suggest products to them.”
— Adam Griggs, Soft Shoe