Mikhail Petersen was nominated as a top salesman by Jax Snyman, owner of The Sweat Shop, who didn’t hesitate before immediately recommending him (also see Tips for selling running clothing).

Petersen is the manager of the Claremont The Sweat Shop store and has been with the retailer for just over 8 months. He has, however, worked in retail for the past seven years, focusing on the footwear market. Specifically, he has worked in the running specialty industry for just over four of those years.

The Sweat Shop is a specialist running shop with a wide range of running products for kids and adults, which has been in business for over four decades.

“At The Sweat Shop, we pride ourselves on our service which we feel begins the moment the customer walks into the store,” says Mikhail Petersen, manager of The Sweat Shop in Claremont. “A simple, good morning/afternoon, how can we assist you today? with a friendly smile is always good. I think many sales assistants make the mistake of not striking a balance between being readily available to help and not intruding in the customer’s personal space.”

It’s important to gauge the type of customer you’re dealing with, he adds. “The key is to offer assistance, but you should also know when to give them time to browse. You do not want to create an uncomfortable shopping experience for the customer.”

If your customer is willing to engage and is looking for assistance, introduce yourself, he recommends: “My name is Mikhail and your name is?” “Lovely to meet you.” This is a tip that he himself has picked up from Nicholas Rupanga, “our most experienced salesperson and a very respected person in the running community”.

By doing this, you immediately create a more personal relationship with the customer. At The Sweat Shop they tend to spend a lot of time engaging with customers so creating this relationship works very well for them. It’s also a great way to build a relationship beyond the first sale.

This approach doesn’t work in all retail environments though, he points out.

“The relationship you create will vary from person to person,” he warns. “It is always healthy to stay tentative and aware of your customer’s particular demeanour and behaviour. Not everyone is the same, so don’t expect every customer to be interested in engaging the way you’d like them to.”

When your customer has shown interest in assistance, you then need to establish whether he wants help with selecting shoes or clothing, or simply wants advice. “This is why, good morning/afternoon, how can we assist you today? is so important. Establish the needs of your customer. Once you know why they’re there, you can start asking questions which would allow you to better assist them.”

Asking the right questions helps you as a salesperson steer the sale in the right direction and narrow down the recommendations to a handful of items. “It also makes the customers feel that you actually care about their needs.”

Knowledge makes you more confident

“Product knowledge is extremely important,” Petersen points out. “This shows your customer you are an expert and it gives them peace of mind in your ability to assist them correctly.”

Having sound product knowledge also allows you to be more confident in your recommendations and to express yourself well to the customer. The salesperson is then able to talk normally with the customer, instead of being unsure about himself, and creates an easier shopping experience for the customer, he explains.

“Customers can pick up very easily if your product knowledge is shaky and you are clutching at straws. When your product knowledge becomes second nature, it allows you the freedom to create a good rapport with the customer.”

Similarly, personal experience of the sporting activity will also help you to confidently discuss options with your customer, and it also builds his confidence in what you’re saying. “It creates relatability and allows the customer to know that you are not just trying to sell something, but you actually know why you are making certain recommendations. Personal experience in a sport also goes a long way in gaining customers’ trust in your ability to assist them. So many customers want to know are you a runner?”.

Having a passion for what you do and sell is something a customer can see in you, he points out. “It will affect how you engage, the amount of care you put into assisting them and also the way you express yourself talking about a product and the field of expertise.

“Passion also allows you to do your job with a smile. In a service industry, that is so important.”

Store layout

The layout of the store also plays a role in selling to the customer, as it can contribute to a more comfortable shopping experience.

“A cluttered and disorganized store can leave a customer feeling overwhelmed and confused. The less the customer has to struggle to navigate through the store, the more likely they are to find what they are looking for and also continue to shop.”