Salespersons can be good readers of people’s minds. After all it’s they who face customers day in day out on the sales floor. A seasoned salesperson can pick up instant cues from the manner a customer walks in and goes about the purpose of his visit. The face, the body language, the attire, the carriage, why even the language present abundant cues for the astute salesperson. Will she or won’t she buy? Consider this: What happens when a salesperson unwittingly either fobs off a customer by that deadly killer of a line — “Ma’am/Sir, this perhaps may not suit your budget’! Well, this is what happens in this real-life story — The Jewellery Store Showdown. No, it was no jewellery store heist!
This is one very interesting and intriguing story.
And it goes back some 35 years, when we had been married for just over a year. We lived in Ahmedabad then. The wife, a native of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, expressed a desire to visit Madras, as the beautiful city was known those days. She always wanted to get a good feel of my home town, thanks to her early initiation into Bharatanatyam and Tamil films. She also wanted to meet up with many of my uncles, aunts and cousins, many of whom lived in Madras then, before the IT explosion and the Silicon Valley dream lured many a South Indian to cross the seas and get a card the colour of green.
The trip to Madras, was full of beaches, temples, idlis and dosais, and the occasional musical concert, since it wasn’t bang in the middle of the Music Season, and we didn’t have too many options in terms of kutcheris to attend. The mandatory shopping trips to saree shops, utensil stores, and sweets and savouries shops also happened.
And as my (bad) luck would have it, the wife decided to walk into one of the better known jewellery showrooms of the city. Mind you, and I am sure you know, many of the jewellery stores in the south of India are run by Marwari and Gujarati owners. This was one of them, I think. I trailed my wife, with trepidation in my heart and a prayer on my lips, because I know how women have a penchant for identifying and digging out the most expensive corners of jewellery stores. And sure, she did…
She walked nonchalantly towards the section which had on display platinum and diamond jewellery. Within minutes she had sniffed out, beneath the very clean glass counter and inside a glass container, a magnificent piece of art, a diamond necklace. I felt neckless. Fortunately for me, the consoling fact in my mind was that I had exactly Rs. 14.70, the kind of money that gets you some roasted peanuts sold on the pavements in Madras. I had plans to recreate our courtship days, those days when there were no Baristas or Starbucks or the CCDs.
In her own cavalier manner, the wife asked the handsome, well-attired young salesperson at the necklace counter what the price of the necklace was. I was trembling like a leaf and I could feel a light-headedness, almost very close to a feeling of giddiness, at the same time hoping against hope that he would tell her that it was only a piece of art, made for creating curiosity and awareness, and that it was just on display and wasn’t for sale.
What happened after this was truly intriguing. The young man cleared his throat gently, and with great deference, and truly respectfully he spoke in a soft tone and said, “Ma’am, I fear that this diamond necklace would be beyond your budget, I am sorry”.
The wife acted as if she hadn’t heard the young man at all. She repeated her request. She wanted to know the price. And the young man repeated his reply, a bit more firmly but with the polite countenance intact. I noticed his name on the badge that he wore on his company shirt. The surname was Thakur. My wife asked once more, this time with a certain impatience. I almost heard her say, “Yeh haar mujhe de de,Thakur”.
I had had enough. Pulling her by the elbow, I guided her out of the showroom, hissing away that she was making a perfect scene, and that she had no business to be shopping for such an expensive jewellery item. As we walked out on the pavement outside the showroom, she turned around, looked at the expensive shop board that had been lit up. I could almost hear her saying, “Main aaoongi, main wapis zuroor aaoongi…”
I ensured that after this fiasco, we steered clear of any expensive showroom, or luxury goods stores. We made it back to Ahmedabad in a few days. And life came back to normal.
That was the mistake I had made. I had thought that life had come back to normal. It hadn’t. For whenever I would come home from work, and raid the kitchen and the storage tins for some crispy, spicy snacks to devour since it wasn’t yet dinner time, I would hardly get anything to eat, but there would be currency notes tucked away in each of these containers. Something was brewing. I was sure of that.
My dear reader, something happened just a couple of years ago. And this means a good thirty three years after that tumultuous visit to that jewellery showroom in Madras, now called Chennai. We were in Chennai on a holiday, and we were walking into the same showroom. As usual, the wife led the three member contingent, and I was the person bringing up the rear, apprehensive as ever.
Drawing herself to her full height, she asked no one in particular but the whole staff of the showroom in general, “Where is that salesperson? I have come to pick up that diamond necklace.” The showroom staff looked puzzled. She looked determined.
I was the only one who had the answer. I whispered into her ear. “Ma’am, he won’t be here now. He must be running a gold souk in Dubai”.
Dear reader, I leave you to tell me what must have happened between the first visit and this one. What had the salesperson done? What made him tell her what he told her?
And what happened to the lady after that showdown? And if the sale did happen, when did it actually happen?
Then or Now?
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(Achal Rangaswamy, a former President, Marketing, Bell Ceramics Ltd, and Strategic Business Unit Head, EIPL, is an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College and a TedX speaker. Rangaswamy, who is a much sought-after CxO Corporate Coach, specialises in training business executives in leadership and transformation, empowerment, sales and marketing, and time management. He says sales is life itself.)