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Five Tips for Successful Vendors

This is the age of “customer service.” Don’t like your hamburger? Post a bad review on Facebook. Didn’t like the look of your new Nikes when you put them on? Take them back, no questions asked!

Businesses and corporations are really trying to gain our loyalty – and dollars. I don’t recall a time when a “letter to CEO” got the attention that it does these days. I have to admit, I am becoming a small master at sending off the brief email to someone’s attention, only to receive a LOT of attention for whatever petty concern it might be: Silly banter on morning news shows, shoddy sewing on a new pair of pants, or tap beers that are served too foamy. You name a gripe, and I bet there is a CEO who will drop whatever he or she is doing to address it. This is a crazy, desperate time in business, but the customers are benefiting from it!

So, when I here complaints from militaria collectors who have received bad service from vendors, I just have to shake my head and ask, “Are these guys really in business?


“You greet everyone who comes in…no matter what kind of day you are having,” was my dad’s admonition to each of his kids who worked our grocery store. “You can always mutter, ‘you S.O.B.’ under your breath after they leave,” always got a chuckle from us when he was teaching us how to behave at work.

He impressed upon us that every person who came through the door of our store was a potential "good customer." And who was a "good customer?" Anyone who chose to spend their money — no matter the amount— at our store as opposed to spending it at the competition's.

I suppose there are “consultants” out there who charge thousands of dollars to teach businesses how to interact with customers. That isn’t in the cards for most of us in the militaria business. But, we don’t really need to throw away cash on consultants. It all comes down to a little common sense and remembering the golden rule of “treat others the way you want to be treated. ” And yet, hardly a month passes when some frustrated buyer doesn't send me an email or call me with complaints of feeling slighted by a vendor.

One recent note from a collector began, “My wife and I attended the Pleasanton MVPA show and had a really good time…I brought $300 specifically to buy military items for my '42 jeep restoration project. I was deciding between five different vendors for these items. Two of the sellers were literally glued to their smart phones. They NEVER looked up to see who was standing at their tables. Other people wanting to buy items just gave up and went on their way. I did as well.”

That really says it all…when I hear dealers complain about “slow sales,” “tire kickers,” “lack of participation,” or “no young people getting involved,” I just smile and listen. Okay, maybe I mutter, “you S.O.B.” after they leave, but only after I determine whether they understand the fundamentals of customer service – as it applies to a militaria show.


I can’t take credit (or the blame) for these. Dad gave each of his kids these rules some 30 or 40 years ago. But, with a bit of adjustment, they can apply to good service in our hobby.

*Acknowledge every customer

I covered this already, but basically, acknowledge someone who pauses at your booth or table. Don’t badger them, stare them down, or engage in a deep discussion. Just a simple, “good morning” or “hello” indicates you see them and are available to answer any questions. It doesn’t matter if you are catching up with your long-lost buddy. The guy on the other side of the table has the money in his pocket.

*Don’t eat in front of a customer

I get it…you are at a show for eight hours or more. But you know what, I still feel uncomfortable if I am looking intently at some relics while a guy slops down a barbecue sandwich 24 inches on the other side of the table. If you can’t leave your table, keep your food out of sight. Sneak a bite when no one is at your table.

*Put away the phone

I had to adapt Dad’s rule to the 21st century. His rule was, “Don’t read in front of customers.” Nothing says you are totally disinterested in doing business like looking at your computer or talking on the phone. You are at the show because you want direct contact with customers – so put away the distractions and MAKE contact!

*Stand up

Again, this is an adaptation of Dad’s rule, “Don’t sit on the checkout counter.” Standing to engage a customer indicates you are interested in them and are prepared to provide whatever interaction they require. Sitting in front of a customer says, “I can’t really be bothered unless I see the green of your wallet first.”

*Know what you are selling

Dad’s way of insuring that we knew our products was to make us clean shelves, straighten items, or do pricing. That way, when someone asked, we could provide a meaningful answer.

At a show, tidying your table, making sure prices on items are visible, or just rearranging your stock is a good way for you to show your customers you care about your items. Sitting behind in your booth without direct contact with your product conveys the idea you are just showing the same old stuff, show after show. An active vendor appears to be a seller who is excited about what he has to offer. Buyers react positively to that image.

While there are a lot more rules of business that you can apply to your sales efforts that might provide quantifiable results, remembering “Dad’s Five Rules of Customer Service” is something that each of us can use when we set up at the next show (he did have a sixth rule: “Don’t talk politics, religion, or sex. I just couldn’t figure out how to adapt that one for militaria dealers!).

Employing these rules might not make us any richer, but we will certainly appear to our customers as caring about our business and the hobby. Dad always said, “Any customer is a good customer."

You can always mutter, ‘You S.O.B.’ after they leave.

For the strength of the hobby,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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