It really is amazing what we can learn from the people around us. From those close to us, those who teach, mentor and mold us. From family and friends, associates and co-workers, supervisors and subordinates, peers and colleagues. And yes, sometimes from those random strangers who briefly pass through our life and leave us better for the time and wisdom they shared. Met a guy the other day who did just that…it was 15 minutes of wisdom and the reminder of fundamentals I needed to hear.
Though I am a pretty loyal DIY sort, one thing on which I do splurge is a shoe shine. If there are two things I took from my Naval Service, it is a strong aversion to cruise ships and a healthy bias against shining my own dress shoes. I do shine my shoes, but I know a professional blows away my feeble skills. While between meetings, I spied the shoe shine stand and decided to stroll by. I was a potential customer, but I was not necessarily going specifically to get a shine. I would see what happened.
What happened was I got one heck of a shoe shine and one hell of a reminder of what really matters in business and in life. All this from a 15 minute chat with the shoe shine guy. What seemed to be general banter was really great insight and wisdom.
Here are a few things the shoe shine guy taught me about business:
1 – Ask for the Business. He asked for my business. He saw me in a suit, with shoes that needed attention. I was a potential client. He made the pitch. Business 101…cannot make a sale without asking the question.
1A – Identify the need…to the client. He saw my shoes needed attention and he pointed it out to me. Did I want to hear the message – no. I did however need to hear the message. I had a deficiency that needed addressed.
2 – The initial “no” might not be the final answer. He acknowledged my decline of service, but then he politely reminded me again that in fact I had a need that should be addressed. No one likes to hear bad news, but sometimes we have to hear it.
3 – Close the deal. Gaining interest is not closing the deal. He ensured I did not slip away. He quickly and skillfully built what we had rapidly established: an identified need and the prospects acknowledgement that the need requied action. He then gained my committment to buy.
4 – Service after the sale. Not only did he do good work, he did it with pride and enthusiasm. He made me feel special, as if I was the only reason his business existed.
Then there were the Life Lessons courtesy of the shoe shine guy:
1 – The Little Things Matter. It is the little things that set us apart. They are the differentiator.
2 – Attention to Detail…it tells you a lot about a person.
3 – Take Care of Things…they last longer.
4 – Appearances Matter. It is not about being attractive, it is about wearing clean clothes, brushing your teeth, combing your hair and yes, shining your shoes.
5 – Values. People will spend hundreds if not thousands on suits and ties, time pieces and jewelry yet will not take the time to polish their shoes? As the man said, “what are they thinking? If I notice it, what do their clients think? Their boss?” Guy was right.
I failed to get the gentleman’s name, but I will never forget him. What really stuck with me is that he was not particularly old. Actually he was 34, married with a young daughter. He was clearly proud of his family and is striving to provide for them on a material level. Shining shoes is a tough way to make a go of things. Especially so in a city like Chicago. However tight it might be for them on the material front, I am absolutely positive his family has an abundance of wisdom, pride and love.
Though he taught me so much, it was the fundamentals that really linger. Strip all the above away, and the man was nice, warm and engaging. On the business front, he was a professional. He took pride in his work and he treated his craft, his clients and himself with respect and dignity. I saw a ton of business people around me those two days in Chicago, most of whom I am sure are making much more than the guy at the shoe shine stand. However, precious few were as polished and professional, or took the pride in their work, as the guy working the shoe shine stand at the Palmer House.