Would you like some soap to go with your artwork?

Version 2

I was walking by one of my favorite local shops, Boys Fort, just before Christmas when an art print in the window caught my eye. It proclaimed, “Only a poor craftsman blames his tools.” I thought that this would be a perfect housewarming gift for my upcoming visit to my brother, a weekend craftsman.

Heading into the store, I quickly found the print I saw in the window. My immediate needs being met, I now had the chance to browse the store at my leisure. After wandering the floor for a few minutes and examining some interesting items, I eventually ended up standing in front of a display of locally produced soaps.

As I was checking the selection, one of the sales staff approached the display and selected a bar of soap labeled Wood & Smoke. Without greeting me, he handed me the soap and said, “Here, smell this” as if he had found a new treasure he was excited to share.

Now, I don’t know about you but when I was growing up if some one said, “Here, smell this” you would only go ahead with the utmost caution. But I figured that only a foolish shopkeeper would attack the olfactory senses of a potential customer. I took a deep sniff.

“What do you think?”

“It reminds me of all my years working at camp.”

“Did you enjoy the work?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“Buy a bar for yourself so you can have fond memories when you wash up.”

“And this one,” passing me a bar labeled Walk of Shame, “is made with goat’s milk. I have used it and it leaves my skin feeling great. It’s the holidays; treat yourself.” With that he walked away to see to other customers; leaving the soap in my hands.

Considering his advice, I picked up yet another bar that contained “bentonite clay and activated charcoal.” While I am not sure if these ingredients make superior soap, I figured it warranted checking out. When I took a deep whiff of the patchouli and tobacco scented bar; the smell brought back many fond memories of Grateful Dead concerts.

Moments later, I was happily on my way with the house-warming art print, several greeting cards and three bars of soap.


When you read retail sales books, one of the areas of focus is on add-on sales. Those additional items sold to accessorize a customer’s primary purchase. Offering these accessorizing items is not bad service. After all you would not want to leave the store without the batteries the flashlight needs or a tie to match the shirt for the job interview.

But this can be such a limiting mindset. In my case, I don’t think the clerk spotted the print and thought, “What add-on sales can I suggest to accessorize the art print this customer has selected?” He thought, “What products might this customer be interested in looking at and possibly purchasing?” He moved beyond add-on sales to suggestive selling.

There are several other subtle lessons a new or less savvy salesperson can take from this brief encounter.

  • Recognizing the tactile nature of in-store shopping, he got the product in my hands.
  • Recognizing the power of memory linked to smells, he had me smell the product and then asked if it reminded me of anything.
  • He gave me permission and encouragement to select and smell other bars of soap.
  • He gave me permission to buy something for myself.
  • He did not hover around me but gave me room to check out the other soaps on my own. (While he saw to the needs of other customers in the store.)

All of these subtle acts made for a more enjoyable shopping experience for myself and a more successful selling experience for the store.


The difference between bad and good retail customer service is usually very plain to see. But the difference between good and great customer service is much more subtle as anyone witnessing this interaction may have noticed.

After all, he did not ask, “Would you like some soap to go with your artwork?”


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