It's far better to be interested than interesting


The “Most Interesting Man In The World” is becoming a pretty well-known figure. Suave, debonair, infinitely sophisticated — or so the beer commercials would have you believe. In a way, he reminds me of many primping and preening dealerships — the ones trying too hard to become physically attractive to their customers while avoiding any real interaction. Honestly, I like the guy, because he is distinguished and older, like me. But on the other hand, he personifies an unrealistic and contrived way of thinking.

The irony is that Mr. MIMITW is more about how he appeals to others rather than being truly interested in them. Hell, the 20-something girls on each shoulder are merely props to make him look more interesting. Real life isn’t this egocentric, so perhaps dealers should consider a reversal in their thinking, too.

After five recent dealership visits in Reno and Carson City, Nev., I can say that most dealers, like Mr. MIMITW, are more about appearing interesting rather than actually being interested in their customers. They seem to subscribe to the “build-it-and-they-will-come” philosophy. These Nevada stores were excellent examples of what worked in the 1990s — large retail palaces showing off their peacock feathers and products with great regalia. Beautiful displays, perfectly executed product placement, along with nice lighting, clean floors and, oops, nobody to talk to!

Face it: If you have ever tried to meet women in a bar or truly solicit more customers for your store, you know that you have to ask questions about them rather than brag about yourself. You have to be interested in them and base your interaction on what they are interested in.

Customers will still go out of their way to seek more information when considering a vehicle purchase. But if it’s a simple part or accessory, we don’t have the time any longer — Google is faster and cheaper. The days of hanging up a product and hoping it sells used to work; but now, a destination dealership is too far out of our normal route when you likely aren’t stocking exactly what we want, anyway. Add to that the special-order Texas Two-Step requiring a return visit to pick up the package, and it simply becomes too complicated, too time-consuming and too bothersome when compared to online ordering. That is, unless you become more interested in your customers.

Trust me, it’s depressing to walk into any large retail store and have nothing happen. I was only greeted and recognized in one out of the five dealerships, and that was by a receptionist/cashier who never moved out of her chair or looked up from her fingernails. Admittedly, it was Tuesday afternoon, so there were only a few customers walking around, quietly reminding me of an early morning visit to the Smithsonian.

This is what I call “garage sale syndrome.” It’s when there are no cars parked in front and no people milling around in the driveway. However, as soon as I request that my neighbors park their cars askew in front of my house and have them hanging around, drinking coffee, the entire event magically springs to life! Every stranger driving past had to know what the heck was going on and stopped to buy something. The merchandise or shopping atmosphere wasn’t interesting enough by itself, so I had to change the rules.

Notice that when you walk into a large department store during off-hours, the clerks and cashiers are all moving? Human movement is key to establishing the atmosphere of a retail environment, otherwise you have a retail museum. Adding my neighbors to the garage sale added bustle and interest to my otherwise drab exhibit on the street corner.

We’ve all heard the statement, “If you want to get anything done, ask a busy man.” This also applies to a retail customer’s point of view and his or her first impression when standing on a store’s welcome mat. Sure, it helps if the store is pretty, but if it’s dead — literally not moving — then the inclination is to head where the action is. If there are no people and no movement in the store, our assumption as customers is the dealership subscribes to the build-it-and-they-will-come, self-service, hang-and-hope philosophy of appearing interesting. Modern customers always can get better customer service and personalized attention using chat functions on retail websites.

You can no longer simply look the part of a successful retail powersports store. You also have to create the feel of one. This entails movement — employees who at least look busy restocking shelves, rebuilding displays, stuffing mannequins and outwardly talking to customers (even if they aren’t). Figure out how to get more customers onto your dance floor, so others feel more comfortable coming out to join them. Busy creates busy. Quit waiting for it and make it happen.

My wife likes the “Most Interesting Man” campaign, too, but she is quick to advise me that being interested in people is much more effective when making friends rather than trying to be interesting to them. Being good-looking and interesting are pluses, but being interested closes the deal. Finally, the light bulb turned on for me: Quit telling so many stories and ask people to tell theirs. More friends (and customers) will begin flocking around when you learn to be interested in addition to simply being interesting.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews October 2011 issue.