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Marketing messages may broadcast a beauty brand’s carefully crafted image, but the real magic happens at the counter. It can be a make-or-break experience. When the job is done artfully, beauty advisers provide a mood-altering service with a very personal touch. For these five women — Shiseido’s Sandy Ratsachak, Dior’s Massiel Cofino, Clarins’ Michelle Johnson, Clinique’s Virginia Lee and Lancôme’s Yvette Mosquera — selling comes naturally. Case in point: Johnson ended a conversation with, “Have you tried UV Plus? It’s an excellent product. I’ll send you a sample.” True to her word, she did. Here, a look at life on the selling front lines.
This story first appeared in the April 13, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Beauty Inc: What makes a great salesperson?
SANDY RATSACHAK: Someone who is outgoing, willing to introduce herself to new customers and build new relationships. I always take the time to get to know my customers on a personal level.
MASSIEL COFINO: Someone who can anticipate a client’s needs and wants even when they aren’t always expressed. You need to love working with people and your brand. When you’re excited, it’s expressed through your actions, and your clients get excited, too.
MICHELLE JOHNSON: A great salesperson listens and puts the customer first. Sales come when you’re listening to her needs. I’m not pushy. It’s all about the customer and then things fall into place.
VIRGINIA LEE: It’s being a great listener, and the ability to ask smart questions, to engage the consumer in an open conversation. The more information you get about her needs, lifestyle and expectations, the easier. It’s about creating an experience for that client.
YVETTE MOSQUERA: A great salesperson shows the customer the product she is looking for and asks questions to find out what she really needs.
How would you describe your average customer?
SR: She’s a fashion-forward woman, well-informed, usually in her 30s. She has an active lifestyle, particularly on the weekends. She works and usually comes in once or twice a month on her lunch break or after work.
MC: They’re tourists. We’re located in a luxury hotel, so the guests here are out of state and usually out of country.
MJ: We have a lot of people who are traveling from all over the world, but we also attract a lot of locals.
VL: She’s savvy. She’s intelligent and more educated than ever. She’s reading magazines and blogs and has high expectations not just about product, but for service, too.
YM: Our mall is 60 to 70 percent tourists, so I get a variety of Latin people. The Latina women come in for the trends and the newest colors.
What is the number-one beauty concern you hear?
SR: Hyper-pigmentation, like age spots and sunspots. They want to know how to get rid of them, prevent more in the future or prevent them from getting darker.
MC: Las Vegas is a desert, so we always hear, “My skin looks dry and tired.” I always ask, “Where are you visiting from?” and try to find them something that is going to be suitable for their skin once they get back home.
MJ: Maintaining skin and increasing firmness. I hear all the time from clients that they feel like they are aging and they don’t want to look old.
VL: Discoloration, or uneven skin tone.
YM: Wrinkles. Everybody wants something to get rid of wrinkles, even customers as young as their early 20s. Sometimes I look at them and think, “You’re so young and you can hardly see it!” But they can already see that fine line that is coming out.
How have you seen shopping patterns change in the last year or so?
SR: More people are coming to visit San Francisco from out of town or out of the country. They’re coming into the store and purchasing more.
MC: There’s always going to be that class that is never really affected by what’s going on in the world. But for everyone else — the working-class — people started to go a little longer before replenishing their products. They would use every last drop. Within the last six months or so, times are improving and those clients aren’t as hesitant to spend a little bit more. They’re open to us showing them more products.
MJ: They are buying the same amount of product, but they want to sample them ahead of time. They want to be taught about the product and how it will work.
VL: Clients today know what they want. They do their research. They expect results. They are looking at product reviews to make educated choices. They want to see what consumers like themselves are saying.
YM: Customers hear so much from all the different brands that people are hesitant if the product doesn’t work right away. Whatever you tell them, it has to be the truth. If it says it is going to lighten spots, they want that to be delivered.
Do you think the recession is over?
SR: We are coming out of the recession. We are in a better place now than we were a year ago. More customers are coming in and they are buying a little bit more. A few years ago, if I recommended three products for a customer she would say, “Let me take this one and I’ll come back after my next paycheck, or in about a month or so, to purchase the other products.” Now, they’re not as hesitant to buy the products all at once. That’s a big change.
MC: The worst is over. It’s obvious that we are still struggling to overcome that initial downfall, but that will pass. We are moving forward.
MJ: People are still spending, just more cautiously. I don’t know if there was a recession when it comes to women wanting to feel beautiful. But my situation is unique because of the store and the location.
VL: No. I meet clients who share with me that they are unemployed nearly everyday. In conversation, they’ll say they have had to take a pay cut and are now working in a different industry. Things have improved, but clients are not shopping like they used to. They are not spending above their means.
YM: I wouldn’t say it’s completely over, but we are starting to see local people coming in more and more.
What’s the most common request you get from clients?
SR: Sampling. We make our clients any sample that they want. They aren’t limited to the packettes that we have. We have sample cups that we can fill with products.
MC: “Do you do makeup?” We love to fulfill that request. Once we get them in that chair, it captures their attention and they always walk out with something.
MJ: For a sample, so they can try a product.
VL: Clients are looking for the best value for their money, so many want to try a product first, either in store or at home. YM: To look better. Everybody wants to look prettier. We all want to look 10 years younger, if possible.
What excites your clients more — new products or promotional offers?
SR: They are equally excited about both. They love bonus time, but they also love trying out new products. Whenever I get a new launch I usually sell through it very quickly. Customers will hear about it through word of mouth or friends.
MC: Launches. I always let clients know when we are getting launches and I have waiting lists for certain products.
MJ: Promotional offers. Women still love a little freebie.
VL: Promotional, value-oriented offers, because they want the best value for their money. I don’t mean gift-with-purchase necessarily, but clients will gravitate to- ward value sets. It gives them an opportunity to try other products.
YM: It’s probably split. The tourists like the gift, because in South America they don’t have gwp and the product is a lot more expensive. For the locals, we do three gwps a year, as do other stores. If she doesn’t get it with me, she’ll get it elsewhere.
What’s the most effective way to communicate with your client when she’s not in the store?
SR: I send thank-you cards, and I’ll usually follow up after a purchase. Reaching out to them ties into our culture and belief at Shiseido of omotenashi, which is welcoming our customers with the best hospitality possible. I like to keep in touch with my clients once a month, but for the clients I have a better relationship with I may contact them once a week just to see how they are doing.
MC: I use e-mail a lot. I make newsletters to send to my clients about new launches and tips and tricks and events. The best all-around communication tool is the phone. It’s the best way to convey excitement.
MJ: I use e-mail and send handwritten notes. I give clients my card and they can text me, and I have quite a few who set up appointments through e-mail. I send out a monthly e-mail blast also to let them know about upcoming events.
VL: A phone call. Even on a voice-mail message, you can share the personal details that you know about a client.
YM: Over the phone, because it’s immediate. Technology also gives us a great opportunity. You can reach more people at once, and they can respond if they want.
What’s most effective when it comes to engaging shoppers in the store?
SR: It’s breaking the barrier and saying, “Hey, would you like to try out our new lipstick?” Or offering them a free facial. It gives them an opportunity to try out products, and it gives me an opportunity to build a relationship with a new client.
MC: It’s amazing how powerful a simple smile is. I always ask open-ended questions. Yes or no questions lead to a dead-end conversation. Sometimes a nice compliment about her handbag or shoes does the trick. You have to make them feel relaxed.
MJ: We approach them with a sample of our favorite product. The main goal of the sample is to open up dialogue and then we invite them to sit in our chair for a mini facial.
VL: It’s me, the consultant. Nothing quite replaces the human touch. We have so many different tools — the iPad, colored bracelets to indicate the level of service you want — but the best way to engage the client is through the consultant. When she’s in my chair, I may put a brush in her hand and have her hold the mirror. That’s engaging and it stops other shoppers in their tracks, as well.
YM: You have to read a person. Some people like to be left alone. If you give them a little bit of space, they appreciate it. After a couple of minutes, I’ll go back. I never just leave them — you want to help them find what they’re looking for.
What do you love about your job?
SR: I love meeting new people. The more people you meet the more you learn.
MC: It’s not the same thing every single day. Beauty is constantly changing, so there is something to look forward to. Makeup is fun, it’s artistic and it’s expressive.
MJ: I love my customers and fulfilling their needs however I can. I have met people from all over the world.
VL: The opportunity to connect with people, and having the power to make people feel good. It’s not just about selling lipsticks. It’s about giving women confidence.
YM: I love to have a customer in the chair and to see the difference — the before and after. I love when they see the results and their eyes light up in the mirror.
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?
SR: Rejection. When I ask, “Would you like to try out our new eye cream?” and I hear “No.” That is difficult. You just have to try it again. You could ask 10 times and if you’ve got one customer who is willing to try the product, it will make your day.
MC: It’s challenging to get local clientele in our store.
MJ: The long hours. Beauty events are a lot of fun, but you are there at 5 a.m. until midnight and then back again the next morning at 7 a.m. to clean up.
VL: Earning client loyalty. It doesn’t come easy. It’s earned by building trust and establishing credibility.
YM: Making sure that the whole team makes its goal. When people are happy, they’re going to work harder. I’ve been at this counter for a few years, and we’ve had increases of 18 to 20 percent every year, so the goals get higher and higher every year.
What would help you do your job better?
SR: The more information I get on a product the better able I am to sell it. It’s knowing if our products receive any awards or if anyone wore one on the red carpet.
MC: More clients. I am constantly on the phone with my clients to work business that way. But if we had more walk-in clients, those are people I can easily put in my book and introduce them to all the new products that we have. MJ: I feel the tools I need have been provided.
VL: Education in different aspects: understanding shopping behaviors, trends, influences and what’s enticing.
YM: Better technology — those tools keep us in tune to continue to be able to compete and grow and service the consumer better.
Can you share your most memorable client story?
SR: I have a customer named Charlie. She lives in Seattle but she travels to San Francisco about three times a year. I keep in touch with her over the year and send her cards to see how she is doing and for the holidays. We do [facial] massages here and it’s a serious service and also very relaxing. But Charlie is always cracking jokes, so it makes it superhard for me to do a facial that might normally take 30 minutes. We’ll spend about an hour and a half together.
MC: An out-of-state client of mine was about seven months pregnant when our fall collection launched. I called her and said, “I have the collection set aside for you. Just give me a call whenever you are ready.” When she called me back, I could hear all this commotion in the background — people talking, machines beeping. She was in the hospital getting prepped for a C-section. I laugh about it to this very day.
VL: A nicely dressed gentleman walked up to the counter and said he was looking for a gift for his wife, who was a fan of Clinique lipsticks. While I was talking he began roll- ing up his sleeves. I thought he was distracted. When he finished, he showed me swatches of lipstick across his arm with Scotch tape over each one so they wouldn’t smear. He made my job easy: We didn’t have to guess the shades.
YM: I had a customer who was over 80 and didn’t want to get her makeup done. Her family brought her in before her birthday party. About halfway through, she said, “I can’t believe I waited my whole life to get this done.” That was priceless. It makes you feel good about your job.
How do you handle a difficult client?
SR: I stay calm and always smile. I listen closely to what the client needs and let her know I want her to be a happy customer.
MC: With patience. A lot of clients have an idea of what they want in their head but cannot express it. I listen to what they are asking for and repeat it back to them. The worst thing that you can do is get aggravated. It makes a difficult situation worse.
MJ: With empathy and trying to be kind and to listen.
VL: You have to show empathy and listen. She needs to know that she is under- stood. Never be argumentative. The client’s opinions are more important than ever because they are communicating via Facebook and Twitter. It’s not just one client who you are talking to — it can go viral.
YM: I remain nice and polite. Most people get the message and calm down. Do you remember your biggest sale?
SR: I recently had a customer named Susanne, who used Shiseido years ago and during the recession started using drugstore products. Her husband is a lawyer and now that he is finding more work she came back into the store. She said she was not seeing the same results from the drugstore brands. I introduced to her to all our new products. She left with over $1,000 in sales that day and sent me a card thanking me and telling me how much she loves the products.
MC: The biggest sales involve our L’Or de Vie skin care. We’ve had sales in the $2,000 range. One was from a client whom I have yet to meet. She phoned asking about skin care. I sent her samples and literature. She called a week later and purchased the full set of L’Or de Vie. When I sent the package, I included makeup samples. And she placed a big order again — foundation, mascara, eye shadow — the works. She’s been a loyal client for three years and I still haven’t met her.
MJ: We easily have $600 to $700 sales, especially during trunk shows. The women who sit down in our chair are generally open to spending, particularly those with a Nordstrom card.
VL: The most memorable one happened early in my career. A client came in for a new look. When she sat down I noticed her eyes were a little puffy and red. I engaged her in conversation about her style and the colors she likes. She shared with me that she’d just left her attorney’s office where she signed her divorce papers. That sale amounted to about $300. It’s not the biggest sale, but it was the biggest emotional paycheck I got.
YM: About six months ago, a customer came in and by the way she was looking around, she didn’t seem that interested. I did her makeup, and when I was done, she said, “Give me everything you used on me. I want every single thing.” And she wanted products for her mother, too. I couldn’t believe it. It teaches you a lesson: that if you do your job correctly, the customer is going to reward you.