Working in customer-facing sales, I find myself repeating myself a lot. Not necessarily repeating myself to one customer (though that certainly can happen), but repeating myself throughout the day with various different customers and repeating myself.
It’s a huge part of our line of work to be able to answer questions, and after a while you start to pick up on the ones that people ask a lot. Aside from the annoying ones like ‘is that the best price you can do?’ and ‘why don’t you make these in white?’, most of our frequently-asked-questions (or FAQs if you want to be twice as efficient with your syllables) are to do with the fitting of the shoe itself.
More often than not, people will comment on the fit of the heel and the toe. These are 2 places that, in any Goodyear-welted shoe, you do not want pressure, as they are reinforced and therefore will never ‘give’. However, through years of poor advice, there is the common misconception that you should buy your shoes incredibly tight and go through a few weeks of genuine pain before being happy with your purchase.
I found myself having to tell people that there should be space in front of your toes and a bit of slip at the heel so often, that I now actually tell customers this before they’ve even put the shoes on. Ultimately, I know that if there is breathing room in a shoe, there is a lot less left to chance. The leather will soften without resistance, and your shoes won’t look like an overstuffed sausage.
Another FAQ normally relates to the ‘stiffness’ that comes with new shoes. This I see as a blessing in disguise, as it gives me the perfect segue into explaining the Goodyear welt construction and how, after a few wears, it will work around your foot and give you support exactly where you need it.
The choice of leather will also have an effect on a shoe’s stiffness. Grain leather, suede and deerskin are naturally softer than smooth calf leathers, and I will always tell people that black leather takes a little longer to break in because it contains more dyes than other colours. The more you know.
Word to the wise, this is one of the primary reasons why you shouldn’t buy cheap tat for your work shoes. Poor quality black leather is one of the most uncomfortable things on this planet, along with liking your ex’s Instagram picture from 3 years ago, or anything involving Piers Morgan.
Once we start selling frequently, we begin having go-to words and phrases that you can’t help but recycle in other conversations, which is almost unavoidable when you’ve done fittings with hundreds of people.
‘A shoe is almost always uncomfortable because it’s too small, not the other way round’ is one such statement that I have paraphrased from my previous manager, along with ‘only rich people can afford cheap shoes’, itself a justification that buying a new pair every time they wear through is as far from cost-effective as you can get.
However, outside of the fitting stage, the questions that people ask us in store are actually incredibly varied and are the best form of training. I can train staff in the technicalities of lasts and names, the different leathers, soles, repairs, production, and everything else the factory can do; it is only when we meet customers and gauge their interests and queries that we really start to learn.
We’re coming to the end of our 4th week of the 3rd reopening (sounds crazy to say that), and the one overarching theme is that people are genuinely happy to see us back. There is far less of the trepidation that I felt from customers on the first 2 reopenings – maybe it’s down to the nice weather, or the fact pubs or open, or maybe just that everyone is a bit sick of staying in.
We’re not being asked how long the sale is on for, or whether there’s more discounts; instead, people are asking how we are and how good it is to see us. So we must be doing something right.
Words by Alex Pardey, Cheaney Covent Garden Store Manager