I was the head sales lady, it’s what I wanted to do after I got diagnosed and medicated- I wanted to hop back into the cycling industry and I wanted to be on the sales floor, upfront and center. I came in with my personal approach that was a combination of tests done on the psychology behind consumerism and by my #1 rule- shut up and listen. There’s nothing worse than a sales person who talks without listening to you. I’m a natural pro at talking, too much too often, and too loud. I went into this position with it being my first job with the public since being diagnosed and medicated. I went in knowing a bit more who I was and what my limitations and gifts are.
My bipolar brain’s default mode: Talk a lot and think ahead of what people are going to say. I’m 4 steps ahead in a conversation that hasn't happened yet.
Gwyn’s revised mode of operation: Listen. Listen and understand them, not just from your point of view. Understand and sort out what they’re saying, what they’re trying to communicate, what they want, and where my knowledge can help them.
Someone comes in and is looking for a bike and they have no knowledge about anything cycling related- a used $10 Walmart tricycle with only one wheel left dangling in a ditch and a $7,800 carbon road bike look the same to this person. Here’s a rundown on how that usually goes:
- 8 minutes telling me how their bike got stolen from underneath their porch when they were a child in the 1970s.
- 5 minutes telling me they aren’t a racer (because being half blind in your 60s with one leg missing wasn’t hint enough.)
- 3 minutes about how difficult it was to get into the parking lot.
- 2 minutes talking about the pictures their friend posted about her riding her brand new bike.
- 4 minutes to once again reassure me that they aren’t ready for the lycra fairy to anoint them with a full head to toe kit.
- 30 seconds about the bike trail they give close to.
- 5 minutes on how they bought a canoe from the bike shop that use to be in the building before this one.
- 17 minutes about the time their grandkid/niece/nephew/godchild/neighbor’s dog did something really talented and they got to be a part of it.
- the final 5 minutes are to make sure I’m not going to sign them up for the Tour De France because they’re not interested in going professional.
What do I get out of that situation? I spent more time listening to what looks like scattered rambling than answering questions or trying to interrupt them. How have I not been completely bored out of my mind and irritated by this person yet? What’s my pay off?
They just handed me one giant and glorious puzzle. I love challenges. Big, sticky, psychological, bike related puzzles. I love trying to figure people out, but not all the way. Just enough so I can get you what you need in the bike world. I get to psychoanalyze you for your benefit. I’m the bike lady, I know bike stuff. I have to roll through all of my knowledge and match up what you said, implied, and fill the gaps you didn’t know you even had. I have to ask the right questions and those only come from that beautiful word I said earlier. Listening.
I get to figure out where you want to be and pilot us both to that destination.
That’s what I get out of it. A challenge. And the challenge never gets old if you play your cards right. Hundreds of the same type of rider might come into the store and pretty much be looking for the exact same bike but a small hint pop up while they’re talking about little Jimmy’s drag show at the elementary school he attends. They could use a word they made up to describe something, like “long, fancy, connected candy cane bars,” and yes, that was actually said to me when referring a drop bars. You have to decipher what they want vs what they have the knowledge to express to you. Listening. It’s a sales person’s most useful tool.
I loved steering the ship and when they purchased anything it was because they felt confident in the decision they were making.
I learned my best selling skills by shutting the fuck up.
I have to talk, of course, but my time spent talking was to inform, direct, and help the person come to a conclusion they felt good about. Don’t let me misrepresent myself, I was 80% bad jokes, 15% listening, and 5% asking the right questions. Making the first higher dollar bike sale doesn’t mean shit if that person doesn’t come back. If they’re unsure or feel bamboozled, it’s a loss of business. There are more than enough bike shops for them to wander into and another shop could easily scoop them up because of how they’re treated. Acceptable customer service isn’t hard. Being nice to “customers” isn’t hard. Having someone’s best and long term interests as top priority while making money and making them a continual source of revenue is a goddamn art.
3 months before being fired I was told that I was the best head sales person he had had in 26 years of running a bicycle shop. I made him money, I was good for business. He appreciated that and I appreciated the opportunity to do it. It was my job, even if it exceeded expectations I was going to operate at that level no matter what. It was fun and I enjoyed seeing people enthusiastic to ride. That was my purpose, make him money while I get people pumped about riding.
I couldn’t apply my approach to anything else, cycling is the only applicable industry I would go the psychological distance for. I couldn’t sell you medication that would save your life, even if it was under $1, but I’ll have you on a bike with every piece of gear needed in no time plus a couple of high fives. I might even sign you up for a race or two since you never expressed that you weren’t into that sort of thing.
Every person and every situation was different. Cycling is a sport that covers such a huge variety of people and capabilities. I can talk to that same old lady falling apart at the hips about riding a bike just as easily as my friends that are professional.
Bikes unite people.
It stings looking back at my job performance and knowing that it was completely negated because of what a doctor wrote down on a piece of paper 4 years ago. I’m one of the ones who busts ass to manage my disorder. I’m one of the “harmless” bipolar people, right? All he had to do was see that I’m not a threat and then I won’t be seen just as my diagnosis, right?
I had blown expectations out of the water, my former boss said. He was impressed by my sales approach and what I was able to sell and accomplish.
I hate knowing that if I had put in 1/10th of the effort, but never said a word about my disorder, that I would still have my job.