Sandy was a friend of my parents. He ran a dress store in Jackson for several years. I was an impressionable teenager when he spoke these words, but they have stuck with me for over three decades.
“If you want to sell a $500 dress, you have to show an $800 dress.” -Sandy Pelham
In my 24 years full time at Toy House I always tried to have an $800 dress somewhere on the floor. We once had a $1,500 round crib with canopy at a time when the average cribs we were selling were about $250 each. More recently we had a 32,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that was over six feet tall and 18 feet wide when finished. It came in a giant box that weighed 42 pounds and even had its own handcart!
We never expected to sell these items. We used them in the same way Sandy did to sell lesser items. It worked! It always works because it works on many different levels.
Yes, the obvious level is that the really expensive item makes everything else look more affordable.
The more important level, however, is the talk value of the item.
A $1,5000 crib isn’t necessarily that special. A $1,500 round crib with a canopy and $1,200 worth of fancy bedding is something you have to drag your friends over to see. A $300 jigsaw puzzle isn’t that impressive. A jigsaw puzzle that comes with its own handcart to move the forty-two pound box up to the register is something you have to drag you friends over to see.
Years ago I was doing a workshop in a small, tourist town along Lake Michigan. I met a jewelry store owner there who was concerned how her traffic had fallen off. She used to be the “it” store on their little downtown strip. People would stop by in droves to see the $34,000 diamond ring she inherited when she bought the store. She had a special chair where women could sit to try on that ring. Thirty-four thousand dollars might not seem like a lot if you live in a big city, but in this sleepy little lake town, that was worth dragging your friends over to see.
Much to the store owner’s delight, she sold the ring one afternoon. I asked her if she had replaced the ring.
“When did your traffic and sales start to decline?”
“After we sold the ring.”
“Do you see the connection?”
The ring, like our round cribs and ginormous jigsaw puzzle, was the attraction, was the draw, was the WOW factor that people had to drag their friends over to see. The ring was her $800 dress. I told her that her advertising budget for the year better be around $34,000 (well, okay, maybe a little less taking into account her markup, but you get the idea.)
Do you have a product in your store people are dragging their friends over to see? If not, you should get one. Not only will you eventually sell it (we sold 12 of those round cribs and 3 puzzles), it will pay for itself in word-of-mouth advertising and drawing traffic many times over.
What is your $800 dress?
PS It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you can sell. We once had a giant Tripp Trapp chair scaled to make an adult feel like he was two years old. People dragged their friends over to see it and it helped us sell hundreds of the regular Tripp Trapp chairs. It just has to have that WOW factor that makes people want to show their friends. My favorite thing I loved to overhear in the store was, “Come over here. You have to see this!”
PPS The one downside people often worry about when putting something incredibly expensive on the sales floor is the “image” it might give customers that your store is the expensive store. Get over yourself. First, customers already believe you are the expensive store because your store isn’t named Walmart, so don’t disappoint them. Second, it is more likely they will think of you as the fun store because you know how to surprise and delight them with products they couldn’t even imagine. Put it in your advertising budget instead of COGS if you want to justify the expense. Just make sure it has the WOW factor for your market.