A couple Sundays ago, I was flipping through the channels before prying myself out of bed and caught a glimpse of Joel Osteen’s sermon. I’m normally not a fan of T.V. evangelists, but his words always have great meaning and lessons that seem to apply to everyone’s life, no matter what your religion.
He was speaking about reaching your dreams and goals in life. He said being the best you can be wherever you are in life right now will make doors open for you leading to where you want to go. He went on to say that people you may not even be aware of will show up at the right time with the right opportunity for you. It made me think about my unlikely path from a design consultant with no formal interior design education to the exact job I wanted (but didn’t really think I’d ever get) as a professional sales & design trainer in the furniture industry. Joel’s words described my experience perfectly.
You can get all my background in my previous blog post. But here is a quick recap. I left my salaried advertising agency job to take a commission-based sales position at an upscale furniture showroom franchise, with only my natural talent, one 2-day training session, and some sales videos to help me out. By exactly following the specified sales program outlined in the training and videos, I managed to become one of the top design consultants in my area. Within 3 months, I was made the manager of the store.
But management wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I mainly took the position for the increased pay, the learning experience, and to prove to my parents that I made a good decision by leaving my corporate job; kind of like, “Look Mom & Dad, I’m the manager now.”
What I really wanted to do was become a trainer like the one that had visited our area during my first week in this new career. She conducted a 2-day training seminar on furniture construction, interior design skills and selling techniques. And it was fun! We played games, worked in groups, and even got cookie breaks. That sounded very appealing to me – hosting these fun training sessions (that were more like little “learning parties”), traveling to different cities, helping people become more successful in their design careers, and getting 3 or 4 days off between trips.
But honestly, I just didn’t know how that could ever happen for me. I was new to the business. Surely there were plenty of other people that had much more experience than me. Plus, I didn’t have an actual interior design degree.
At age 24, I was doing my best to maintain the daily operations of the store, hire and train a new team (seeing as there was almost complete turnover when the “new girl” became the manager), and handle every customer issue that arose, all while keeping up my own personal sales, which usually fluctuated between 30 and 50k.
It was a tough road and I wanted to throw in the towel several times. There were many days when I was so busy “putting out fires” in the store, that I had to lock the doors at closing time and stay there until 4am to get a presentation done for my own client.
So, I was extremely thankful when I was given the opportunity to attend two different training sessions with the franchise's Director of Training, Jim – the guy from those videos I watched in my first couple of days on the job. I needed all the help and information I could get!
The first time I met Jim, I really wanted to make a good impression. I studied our training manuals from front to back, just incase he called on me. I was dressed very professionally and feeling confident. On my way to the training room, I bumped into him just as he was exiting the restroom.
I decided to be assertive and quickly introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Cathy Linard, the Strongsville store manager.”
He responded, “Hi. I’m Jim and your zipper’s down.”
Ugh! I could have died from embarrassment! But I tried to act like I wasn’t fazed by it. During the class, I attempted to make up for this wardrobe malfunction by answering as many of his questions as I could.
A year later, I was able to go to his “Train the Trainer” class that instructs store managers on how to make fun, beneficial sales meetings for their staffs. We all had to come to the meeting prepared to conduct a 5-minute training segment on a topic of our choice pertaining to the retail furniture biz. Since creativity is one of my strengths, I thought I would do well at this.
In fact, planning great sales meetings was my strongest management skill. I would sometimes work until 3 in the morning getting materials ready for the next day’s meeting. If my staff was going to come into work 90 minutes early for a “professional development” meeting, I better make it worth their while.
I decided to make my 5-minute meeting about the importance of social conversation. Specifically, how you can use it to “Break down the brick wall” the customer has when they enter your store.
My plan was to start with a game of Pictionary to create the “visual aid” of a brick wall. Then I’d go on from there to talk about different social conversation tips followed by a skill practice in which the participants would make quick conversations with the person sitting next to them. Then we’d wrap up by quickly sharing what we learned about the person we talked with.
However, it started out a little rocky when my audience wasn’t able to figure out what I was drawing. So I had to make a joke about my drawing ability saying something like, “And now you see why I dropped out of art school.” It got a laugh but I wasn’t sure if Jim was impressed with my presentation.
He gave everyone 3 compliments after their segment was done. I still remember mine:
1. I wasn’t afraid to make fun of myself.
2. I was extremely enthusiastic and energetic. “How could a group be bored with that kind of energy?”
3. I addressed everyone in the group by their first names even though I had just met them all that morning.
(Now, I can look back and know that these are 3 characteristics of the best trainers: humor, enthusiasm & making each participant feel important.)
Up to this point, my almost 2 years of management were filled with long work weeks (50-80 hrs/wk) and tons of stress. And now I had a baby on the way. I decided to relinquish the role of manager in favor of a part-time design consultant position when I came back from maternity leave.
This worked out well for about 3 months. I was able to make almost what I had earned working full-time because I had built up a good clientele during my 2 years as a selling manager.
But I could tell that the new manager felt threatened by my presence. Although I loved the balance of family and work life that this part-time arrangement gave me, the work environment was becoming negative and uncomfortable. (A few years later, I’d find out I wasn’t the only one who had issues with her management style. Another design consultant would actually hit her in the face with one of those big, heavy furniture catalog binders. Now, as a manager, I may not always have been loved 100% of the time. But at least no one on my team ever bloodied my nose by whacking me with a catalog.)
Anyway, enough gossiping. So just when I wasn’t sure if I could stay at the store any longer, a “door” was unexpectedly opened for me, like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.
It was on one of my days off. I was surprised to see that there was a call coming in from corporate headquarters. It was Jim!
He was calling to offer me a position with their Training Department; the job I, and so many other design consultants, had coveted. I’d go on a couple trips per month, most about 3 days long. The rest of the time I could spend at home with my new baby.
He was presenting me with the right opportunity at the right time. I didn’t even know I was on Jim’s radar! He’d only met me a few times. But I had worked incredibly hard for the last 2 years and didn’t give up when most people put in my position probably would have.
So being the best you can be wherever you are in life right now will make doors open for you leading to where you want to go. Give it your all!
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