Jim Boscov, 66, who now leads the 44-store Boscov's Department Stores LLC, grew up in retailing. As a youngster, his grandfather, Solomon Boscov, who founded the business in 1914, put young Jim to work in the shoe department. The lessons he learned there lasted a lifetime, he told me during our Executive Q&A interview published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Question: What did you learn by selling shoes?
Answer: My grandfather said, `The harder you work, the more you sell.' The stockroom, in those days, was down a wooden flight of steps, rickety steps to the basement. He said the more you bring up, the more you're going to sell. If you don't have the black, you have the brown. She may want that. If you don't have the size 71/2, try the 8. It may work. Don't ever sell things people don't want. The harder you work, the more you will sell. I liked it. It was social. Today, people don't want to sit down on a shoe bench in front of you and put your shoe on. There was a certain relationship that you developed with people that's just plain nice, if you like people. I like people.
Q: That's really interesting. I never thought about the personal service aspect of that. If you could run a sales training for retail, would you place people in the shoe department for that reason?
A: Absolutely, absolutely. The shoe department has a number of things. The back room has to be well organized so you can find what you want. I forget [what we call] the shoes that go back into stock, but you've got to put them back in the right place so you can find them the next time.
Q: What's the lesson there?
A: There's teamwork involved, because there are a lot of people who you are working with, and some organizational skills. But more than anything, really, is you're helping people find what they want. That's a pretty nice thing, whether you're in the house wares department or the shoe department.
Next: Bowling for millennials -- keeping young customers and employees happy.