A tale of two retail careers
Long before they were directors at Willow Marketing, Sue Richardson and Lauren Littlefield both worked in retail, at the mall to be precise. And while they both know how to fold a three-quarter sleeve top and can remove a security tag like it’s nobody’s business, they never really considered how their time with The Limited Corp. set them up for success in a career so greatly influenced by client service. Read a transcript from their recent conversation on their “mall days” below.
Lauren: It seems like it was so long ago. I think I was 18 when I first started working at The Limited as a sales associate. It was a no brainer for me: get a paycheck and get a discount at my favorite store in the mall.
Sue: Same. I worked at Express in college and I pretty much lived in everything we sold. It was a solid job.
Lauren: What did you like the least about working retail?
Sue: The endless amount of folding clothes—in very specific ways. Do you remember the folding board?
Lauren: Yeah, I hated closing [the store]—especially on the weekend. In my mind, I had someplace better to be. Not to mention, it was like customers lost their minds on Saturdays. The tables were always a mess and getting the store organized and ready for the next morning took so much longer than during the week. I had friends who worked at other stores who had to stay past one or two o’clock in the morning! I guess I was pretty lucky.
Sue: But what did you like the most about retail? Other than the discount, of course.
Lauren: Helping people solve a problem or discover something new. I always loved it when I asked someone if they needed help and they actually said, “Yes.” They would share their excitement over a job interview or first date with me. I loved being helpful and having a hand in making them feel more confident. The right clothes can make all the difference in the world, you know!
Sue: Absolutely. I really enjoyed the exposure to new trends and styles, and getting the opportunity to share them with other people. You know, making a recommendation or suggestion for something that either the customer or even I wouldn’t pick right off the rack but trying something new and seeing something come together was always fun.
Lauren: I guess that’s one thing that hasn’t changed, I still love celebrating exciting moments with our clients and coming up with creative ideas for them. Especially if we’re problem-solving or providing solutions to pretty serious challenges, it’s similar to finding someone the perfect outfit for their situation.
Sue: You know, I see exactly what you mean. And I think retail really helped me deal with people who were unhappy, too. Nothing’s worse than standing in line for a long amount of time or finding out something isn’t available in your size. Being the bearer of bad news is a rotten job. Learning how to deliver bad news and provide alternatives or at least a smile has really gotten me through some tough times with clients!
Lauren: Totally. Having to tell someone you don’t have what they want, or you don’t recommend what they asked for is tough. I definitely developed a thick skin when it came to dealing with disgruntled shoppers. You either sink or swim.
Sue: At the end of the day, it really comes down to being helpful. “I’m sorry, we don’t have those jeans in your size, but we have a different cut that I think you’ll like even better,” has never rung more true than when we have to let clients know the logo they have currently doesn’t fit their brand but we have some other options that they’ll like even more. It’s providing solutions. We don’t have this, so try that. The difference is now we have decades of design, digital and marketing experience to back up our claims instead of a few months on the floor.
Lauren: Yes, and not just being helpful in offering solutions but in also making it happen and cleaning it up. Not only can I show you these better jeans, but here is a great t-shirt, belt and necklace that make the whole look. Oh, and those other jeans, I’ll just take those and hang them back up where you found them.
Sue: Ha! Exactly! We present the final look without filling the dressing room with so many options the client can’t move. A good account manager provides just a couple of options, with explanation, knowing that at least one will be the winner. It takes listening to really understand the clients’ needs but also a great sense of intuition to know what’s going to work.
Lauren: Yes, we know the client and their audience, so the advice we’re providing is coming from a deeper understanding of the brand not just what we think is pretty.
The Willow approach to client service is simple: we focus on our core values of being helpful, humble and open (OHH!) and it guides our relationships, decisions and recommendations. Our client service team thrives on opportunities to do some heavy lifting for clients. From manning tradeshow booths to managing social media, the goal remains the same: to make the client better.