Peter Smith, author of “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” has spent 30 years building retail sales teams and has worked in wholesale as well. He can be reached at Dublinsmith@yahoo.com
A retailer friend of mine contacted me yesterday and asked for my advice on a hiring dilemma. He, like most people in our business, is faced with the need to hire a salesperson for his jewelry store. He lamented the challenges of finding suitable talent in his small town and he asked, quite specifically, what I thought about him reaching out to his own customers to seek sales candidates. 

There are, of course, myriad questions that such a practice raises and, while the subject has occasionally come up, I don’t actually know anyone who has done it successfully or otherwise. 

I imagined what the communication might look like.

Dear (insert customer name), 

We’re desperate for help here. You look like you live a charmed life, do you fancy working for a living? No? 

Or how about this one?

Dear (insert customer name), 

As a regular customer of XYZ, we have long appreciated your business and your sound judgement. You know how we value our customers and how much pride we take in delivering the very best experience to each and every one. 

Our ability to deliver that experience rests entirely upon the quality of the XYZ team. From our support team in back-of-house to the sales professionals on the floor, we strive to set the highest possible standards of care and service to all of our customers.

At this time, we find ourselves in the enviable position of needing to expand our sales team. As you are all too aware, we want our people to have fun working for XYZ. We want them to efficiently and effectively cater to our clients and to contribute, through the force of their attitude, their work ethic, their integrity and their personality, to the environment and the culture of our store.

We have always been impressed by your demeanor and the manner in which you have engaged our team and, on occasion, other customers. We love how you respond to the quality of our products and, of course, we love how you look when your wear the beautiful jewelry pieces that you have acquired from us through the years.

With respect, and at the risk of being forward, have you ever considered working in a retail jewelry store? If you have any interest in discussing such a possibility, let me know when you have some time to grab a cup of coffee. 

If you are not interested, we will continue to value the relationship we have enjoyed through the years and look forward to seeing you on your next and future visits.

Wow. That felt strange. And, I suppose, it should feel strange.

Asking one of your better customers if they would like to work for you is risky. On the positive side, you might get someone who has a very good sense of what your culture is about. He or she may know many of your current employees and they may have a great feeling for your product and for your target demographic. I have to believe that there are many examples of good employees who started out as customers of the store they now work in.

Another positive is that your customer may have no interest in working for you but he or she may recommend someone else who would love such an opportunity. 

The biggest downside is that you might lose a good customer and acquire a lousy sales person if you make the hire and it does not work out. It might be possible to have a situation that goes from good customer to bad employee, then back to good customer, but I don’t like the odds.

Hiring a customer is a calculated risk. If I were to take such a risk (and I would not rule it out), I would be very careful about which customers I targeted. There are clearly big differences in hiring what I have heard referred to (and it is not very flattering) as a “whale” and hiring someone who has periodically bought from you but who would not have a significantly negative impact on your business if things didn’t work out.

I would assume that every business has a good supply of customers who meet that definition. That might be a good place to cast your exploratory line. 

Peter Smith, author of Hiring Squirrels, has spent 30 years building sales teams at retail and working with independent retailers to offer counsel and advice. He also has worked in both retail and wholesale with companies such as Tiffany & Co. and Hearts On Fire. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and on LinkedIn.


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