Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
August 1, 2014

Question: I have a situation you may think I’m crazy for complaining about, but I’m hoping you have a suggestion for us. We have a customer who comes in a few times a year and essentially takes over the whole store. She spends a great deal of money (often her one sale is three or four times our average daily total sales!), and both of our employees, as well as my husband and I, scramble to keep up with ringing, packaging, and gift-wrapping her purchases. The problem is she sometimes arrives at 15 minutes to closing time and expects everyone to stay until she is done shopping—often up to an hour or more after closing time. As a rule, we all do, but sometimes an employee will have a commitment that does not allow them to stay. While she is in the store, she “demands” everyone’s attention, even to the exclusion of other customers. Of course, we are grateful for the business, but it doesn’t always feel good to me. Any ideas what I can say to her?

Answer: I certainly understand your dilemma. How nice to have a customer who spends so much money in your store! I can also see the need to make her shopping extravaganzas a bit more manageable without deterring her from coming in to shop.

One approach might be to call her, thank her for her business, acknowledge that she is a special customer, and tell her that if she would let you know a few days in advance when she plans to come in to shop, you would love to create an evening in which she is the sole customer so you and your staff can dedicate all your energy to providing her with great service. Maybe she will appreciate your gesture, or maybe spontaneity and not planning in advance are part of her fun, so be open to whatever her response is. If she doesn’t seem pleased by your suggestion, I would just thank her once again and ask her if there is any way you and your staff could make her experience more enjoyable when she does come in. If she is happy with the current arrangement, I would thank my lucky stars for the cash flow shot in the arm and, since she only shops occasionally, make the best of the situation.

Kim Perkins is the former co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to