Although many believe that women control the footwear market some of the costliest shoes in the world have been designed with men in mind. When I sold shoes in a retail environment I came to appreciate the differences in the way that men and women approach footwear. Many who walk into a store are guarded. They fear that an aggressive sales person is going to chat them up so they can chalk up another sale. Suppose that is true. You are at the store for a reason. Wouldn’t you be better off utilizing the free resources at your disposal?
My experience is that people who work at shoe stores are often ill-treated so I figure that they deserve kindness since they’re on their feet working an unenviable job for not as much money as they’d like to be earning. Irrational empathy may not be your style, however consider that shoe stores are expected to be the miracle workers who can heal foot problems experts haven’t been able to correct. They should also be able produce the perfect pair of correctly priced shoes that can be worn to a business conference, the golf course, and out to the theater while their owner travels.
Typically shoppers walk into shoe stores with little understanding of what they need. They lack the education and skill set required to make informed footwear decisions so they get swept up in the price or brand name game. Shoe store employees are generally not allowed to think for themselves so customer and clerk are adversaries in a primitive relationship. Sales associates are so used to shopper abuse that a genuine greeting will confuse them. Try smiling before you explain that you aren’t planning on purchasing anything, you’re gathering information to determine which shoes will work best for you.
Dress shoes are wardrobe builders. A great pair of dress shoes that fits well can take you through the airport, and attend a business luncheon. The same shoes can speak at a board meeting and kiss a lover later. They can be worn with dressier trousers or a nice pair of jeans. Your partner, parents, or significant other won’t argue about your choice since this one pair of shoes is insanely comfortable, and seems to go with practically everything apart from your tuxedo and your bathing suit.
Fit is the most important aspect of any shoe. Shoe store employees may not always know what fits, but they will know what doesn’t if they’ve had the proper training. Understanding what shape your foot is, and how a shoe is supposed to fit is crucial to a good shopping experience. This is where product knowledge becomes important because the features of a shoe are useless to you unless the shoe fits the way that the manufacturer intended it to fit.
Black is the obvious choice for dress shoes, however much can be said for branching out into other colors once you’ve resolved fit. What you wear makes an immediate statement about you. It shouldn’t be that way, but since people are going to judge you based on your appearance it makes sense to present the best of you to everyone since you never know who you might meet where. A confident well shod person who minds their own business is going to attract a lot of attention regardless of where they go.
Overall, people who shop for fit will be more satisfied than people who head into a shoe store searching for any other specific. Try asking for comfort when you walk into a store. How does anyone else know what you will find comfortable? What if the shoes an employee can wear for hours are too supportive for your low arch? Many people who work in shoes get paid on commission. Stores want to be profitable, and they want to sell a lot of shoes. Discriminating stores will understand how to differentiate between people who are there to shop and people who are there to buy.
A manager I once worked for used to say that a trained monkey could sell shoes if they worked at a shoe store. When I sold shoes, I didn’t want people walking out the door with just anything because if what you sold comes back as a return, the commission that you thought you earned will be reversed when the next payroll cycle runs. There should be two types of experts at shoe stores; well-trained footwear experts, and individual experts. You should be an expert on what feels good to you, and the footwear expert should be able to guide you through the sales cycle in a manner that makes you feel as if your time and money were invested rather than just spent.
You should walk out of a shoe store confident that your decision making skills were honed and respected. Selling shoes is not a glamorous or particularly profitable line of work. It’s a lot of up and down, it’s people who walk in without a clue about their feet, and as you go up in the footwear world, the types of people you see don’t really change. I should have walked out after a new manager who had never sold shoes before threatened to slap me. We were standing in back when she told me that I was insubordinate and she wanted to slap the smile right off of my face, but I didn’t believe in myself back then so I let her talk to me that way.
As a fitter, as a customer, you have the right to treat yourself with respect and dignity. The easiest way to earn respect is to give it to every jackass, fool, moron, and inconsiderate bitch that you meet because that’s the only way you’re going to find out what they do with your respect. Once you discover that they don’t respect you, you can still respect their right to shop at a store that you work at, however you can flip on the disconnect switch so you stop taking their behavior personally. A lot of people have been burned at shoe stores. Your job as a fitter is to understand that people are defensive, and sometimes they’re really intimidated by someone seeing their feet as there is a perception that feet are ugly.
Feet aren’t ugly, people are ugly. Behavior makes people attractive. Lack of common sense and courtesy robs people who may have the bone structure that society at large calls beautiful. Learn to look beyond that, and once you start reclassifying and defining people, you will find that the world is full of people like the veteran who took his prosthetic leg off and told me that it was our country that he served after I thanked him for protecting my country. As a fitter, it should be an honor and your pleasure to work with the people who are responsible for your paycheck. Love what you do, and the love will come back to you in the most unexpected and thrilling ways.
Everyone who works at a shoe store knows something that you don’t. It may have nothing to do with shoes, but as a fitter, I’m listening for the hungry learners. Those people who don’t care if I’ve worked there for a day, or made a career out of kneeling down in front of others with the goal of a good fit in mind. Jerks are out there, but so are kinder hearts. You can learn from these people, or you can allow their narrow mindedness to warp and distort you. It’s a choice, and it’s up to you to be silky smooth right until someone runs into the steel hard core of character that defines you.
To close, there’s someone I’d like you to meet. We’ll call him Joe. It was almost closing time when Joe came in with his girlfriend. Never assume that half of a couple is there to buy. That’s prejudice, and more than any other intangible prejudice has the power to affect your ability to reach others. Joe was there to get information so that’s what he got that evening. After trying on what he said were the ugliest pair of shoes that he had ever seen, he said that he would consider going to a podiatrist to address his pedorthic issues.
That was Wednesday evening. People come and go so I forgot about Joe’s promise to return for a while. Saturday I was in back when a fellow employee told me that someone was there to see me. Thinking it was my family, I grabbed the four pairs of shoes I needed for the customer I was assisting, and went out to see Joe standing next to a group of people. The family that was waiting for me was on the left side of the store while Joe and his family were on the right. When I had a moment Joe introduced me to his parents, his sister, his girlfriend, and his grandmother.
A comfortable pair of dress shoes that fits well is attainable, desirable, and affordable. They can be yours when you have the ability to communicate your needs and desires to someone who works at a shoe store. Think of yourself as a goodwill ambassador whose sole mission here on this earth is to recognize that everyone wants to do their best, and you don’t know what their best is unless you have the patience, integrity, and commitment to bring it out in embittered employees. Being your best can lead you into uncharted territory. You’re not good when you can sell more shoes than anyone else, anyone who works in a shoe store will sell shoes. You are great when people you’ve told uncomfortable truths to seek you out after they’ve left your presence.
If you work in sales and your customers are not selling for you, then I question whether you’ve chosen the right vocation. Selling to one person at a time is inefficient. Sell to the family, the friends, the neighbors, the homeless, the security guards that are on their feet all day. Befriend and champion the unkind because a lot of times, these people are acting the way that they are because they expect to get ripped off at a shoe store. Market and sell yourself as a brand, and you may get the calls that people want to open their own shoe stores, however it’s the hushed conversation where a woman who complained about a pair of shoes tells you about having to run in them after her son pulled a gun on her and her husband that will forever change how you view a career in footwear.
Saberfeet: How much life is in your shoes?