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Geraldine Mead
Feb/March 2012

Selling more…

outdoor products

“Geraldine is a warm, friendly and genuine person and her personality simply draws people into conversation. Most consumers that walk into a store and see her, are somehow naturally drawn to her and she is able to engage with them in conversation, discover more about their needs and planned activities, and is well-positioned to offer them the best advice and product suggestions to meet their needs. She is also thoroughly professional and if she says that she’ll call you in the morning with a price or product information, she does! People trust her and they like dealing with her.” These are the words of Evan Torrance, Head of Group Services for Cape Union Mart, when describing Geraldine Mead, who has been working with them for 50 years.

Communicate, communicate, communicate — that is the secret of the success that Geraldine Mead has enjoyed as a top salesperson for Cape Union Mart for the past fifty years.

In order to be able to fully assist the customer, you have to work out what they will need, is her philosophy. This you will only find out by taking an interest and talking to the customer about their trip — where they will be going, who will be going with them, etc.

After Mead asks some questions to understand the basics of the trip or intended activity, she will start walking the consumer through various selections of products; showing a few different items while explaining the benefits and features about each and making recommendations based on what the customer has told her.

She will make a point of highlighting practical bonuses (e.g. if a product has several layers that can be worn individually, which means you are in fact buying more than just the one product) or make suggestions that could make things more comfortable for the customer (for example, if you are going on a leisurely camping holiday, buy a tent with more space than the amount of people who will be sleeping in it — this way you will have space for your luggage and extra storage space).

After you’ve spoken to them about their options, don’t be scared to recommend that they go home first and make sure what they already have, before they commit to buying an item that they might not need and therefore never use, she recommends. More often than not the customer will return to your store with a better idea of what they might need and then buy from you.

It is your job as a salesperson to think for the consumer and recommend items that the customer might not have thought of, but might need. Ask about their interests and sometimes pointing out a handy item will trigger the consumer’s memory and remind them that they actually need that. For example, showing a handy range of camping cutlery might remind them that they are short of plates.

“Some people like bird watching, others are interested in monitoring the weather, and some like to sit and watch the stars,” she adds.

Think of practical things. If they are going to cold areas, remind them that it is very important to cover the hands, feet and head — the areas of the body where the most heat escapes from. Small things, such as pointing out that you will need rubber soles for icy/snowy areas will earn appreciation. She is also ready with useful reminders, such as the fact that it is best to wear several thinner layers when going to a cold area, rather than one very thick item.

Just keep in mind, however, that if you get it wrong and recommend the wrong product, it could be hazardous for the consumer. This is why it is so important to know what the consumer might need in all weather and terrain situations.

More about Geraldine Mead

"GERALDINE MEAD was nineteen years old when she started working at Cape Union Mart fifty years ago in December 1961. She joined their first, then only, store on the corner of Corporation and Mostert Streets in Cape Town. With her approachable smile and extensive product knowledge, she soon became a customer favourite.

“The sailors from the big ships would wait in a queue that went outside the door and around the block to get their uniforms and supplies,” she remembers. “It was a whole different place then.”

She was one of the first Cape Union Mart staff members and many years worked side by side with (current chairman) Philip Krawitz’ father, Arthur Krawitz, adds Evan Torrance, Cape Union Mart Head of Group Services. “She thus understood his approach of offering exceptional customer service,”

This consumer service is still part of her approach to selling and has earned her the love of many returning consumers.

Mead can relate several stories of customers, whose parents had been regulars at her store when they were youngsters, returning to the store as adults with their own children and continuing the same relationship that their parents had enjoyed. For example, the young boy whose parents moved: when he went to say goodbye to Mead, he promised to return to take her out for coffee – a promise he kept several years later when he surprised her, with his own young daughter in tow.

No wonder everyone calls her “aunty”.

One of the longest relationships with a customer was with the hard-hat diver from England who became her husband. “He was teaching diving at the Marine Diamond Company in Newlands and came to the store with a South African friend and they were looking at shirts and tees and jeans.”

The company has seen Mead through major milestones including her 21st birthday, her wedding, the birth of her daughter and the arrival of grandchildren. She is currently based in the Cape Union Mart store in Bayside Shopping Centre, Tableview.

“I’m fantastically happy here and I have enjoyed every minute of my career; I simply cannot imagine being anywhere else. And,” she declares before rushing off to assist another customer, “I would do it all over again.”

Tips for selling outdoor products

Hotter climate

  • Warmer climates tend to have their own share of nasty bugs, some of which can cause you to become quite ill if they bite you. Therefore it is useful to remind your customer to buy insect repellent to take with them. Recommend to the customer that they not only cover their exposed skin, but to also spray on their clothing. Not wearing perfume or aftershave will help the repellent work longer.

  • A rectangular sleeping bag is more suited to warm conditions, because it has a lot of space around the head and feet and therefore the air has more room to circulate. The rectangular sleeping bag tends to be bulky and heavier and as such it is not ideal for hikers.

  • Similar to sleeping bags, make sure the tent will be able to suit your customer’s needs. If they will be in a warmer climate, they do not need the same protection they would have needed in a cold, wintery climate.

  • Cold/wet climate

  • The best way to combat the cold is by layering instead of wearing one or two big items of clothing. For this, a jacket that consists of different layers is ideal. Because the jacket consists of an outer (repels water and wind) and mid-layer (insulates) that can all be zipped together, it is often referred to as an interactive jacket (or IA). Point out to the customer that these jackets are great value for money as they are suitable for various conditions and the different parts can be worn separately, or together, depending on the customer’s needs. Remember to recommend one that has good breathability qualities.

  • The type of headlamp that you should recommend to the customer will depend on various things. For example if it’s really cold, the customer would be wearing gloves. Therefore the buttons should be big and not too close to each other so that they are easily operated with the gloves on. Additionally, make sure the straps are adjustable so that they can be made longer to fit over a warm hat.

  • When suggesting sleeping bags for a specific climate you should ask your customer about how they sleep – specifically if their body tends to get warmer or colder during the night. In general, older people and those with a thinner body build tend to feel the cold more than younger people, or those who are built bigger, while infrequent campers are more susceptible than those who regularly camp out in the cold. In addition to your own body affecting how you experience the temperatures, wind chills in the open air will also affect how cold you feel.

  • A practical approach to choosing a sleeping bag when your customer is going to be in a mixture of hot and cold climates, is to recommend that your customer buys a sleeping bag that is more suited to warmer nights, but to buy an additional sleeping bag liner. The liner is useful for several reasons. For one, it will help keep the sleeping bag clean. But the biggest advantage is that it will increase the temperature inside the bag, so you can use the hot weather sleeping bag with the liner in colder temperatures as well.

  • If your customer will be in an environment where the sleeping bag could get wet, rather recommend one with a synthetic insulation, as opposed to down insulation. Down retains heat better than insulation, but has to be kept dry.

  • Camping accessories

  • There is a fine balance between having your creature comforts when camping and being able to actually carry them there. Advise the customer to take what they need whilst comfortably being able to handle what they packed.

  • Use pan lids as plates or bowls. Suggest to the customer that they look for pans that can stack inside each other. This saves a lot of space.

  • A problem that can occur is that pots and pans can get rather heavy if you’re carrying them around yourself – and not transporting with a car, for example. Aluminium is a nice lightweight material, but it is easily dented. Stainless steel and titanium cookware sets are tougher, but stainless steel is heavier and titanium is more expensive. In the end, you have to listen to what your customer is telling you and take their circumstances into account.

  • The spork, a fork/spoon hybrid, is great for reducing the amount of cutlery that they will have to take with. Fewer cutleries also mean that the customer has to wash up less.

  • Backpacks

  • In general, the size of the backpack will depend on the activity as well as the time frame – even the weather could play an influence. Short walks in good weather will need a smaller pack than longer walks, or even the shorter walks in bad weather. Similarly, the customer based in hostels, etc. will need a smaller pack than the camper/hiker having to carry everything on their back.

  • No matter the type of pack, remind the customer that when packing they should keep items that they will need first at the top of the pile. This includes rainwear, for example, or food items that they might need during the course of the day.

  • Recommend the customer invests in a backpack with a splash/rain cover if they will be in wet conditions.

  • Travelling

  • If your customer is looking for outdoor clothing to wear while travelling, suggest wrinkle-resistant, or no iron, clothes that do not need to be ironed after washing. Talk about washing — they might not have the time either to allow the clothing a long time to dry. Therefore, recommend fast drying items. Try to steer clear of cotton as it does not have the wicking or breathability qualities that quick drying materials have.

  • If your customer will be travelling and have a room (hotel, B&B, backpacker, etc.) a travel pack with a detachable daypack is ideal since they can detach the smaller day pack and leave the rest of the pack in their room. Additionally, the larger pack can be booked into the hold when travelling by plane and the customer can keep the smaller daypack with them as hand luggage. It would be wise to suggest to your customer that if they will be booking the pack in, that they remember to wrap it in the plastic wrap at the airport – airport staff are likely to cut loops, etc. on the pack if they hook somewhere.

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