While I have worn the hat of a salesperson, retailer and manufacturer, if anyone asks what my main job has been in life, I would tell them that it is teaching.
To do my job correctly, I listen to my customer’s needs and share with them the features and benefits of the products I am selling that fit those needs. My approach has allowed me to develop a relationship with my customers built on trust and confidence.
My goal is always give the customer what they want. This is an important part of the successful long-term buyer/seller relationship and has served me well as a belief principle.
Did this insight, which has been my guide in life, come from what I learned in college, from books read, from business articles, from seminars attended? These experiences certainly had an impact on my education. However, the best method I’ve found for learning has been mentoring. Having mentors and mentoring others has served as important factors in my development and growth as a leader.
I have had incredible mentors in my career. While in college and working part-time in New York in my first housewares industry position, my regional sales manager saw in me a talent for marketing and moved me into a position that allowed me to work in five divisions of the company while I attended college. We would meet after work every Monday evening so he could ensure I was on track. It was incredible that he selected to invest his time in me. This mentor’s interest changed my professional business track for my entire life.
My other lifelong mentors include my wife, Lorraine, who had broader business experience than I did. Chuck Williams, from Williams- Sonoma, taught me about the value of a customer. Alfred Peet, founder of Peets Coffee and Tea, taught me how to roast coffee and how to have one standard of excellence even if it meant throwing hundreds of pounds of coffee away if it became over-roasted.
Other mentors included Sam Michaels, who bought All-Clad Cookware in 1989 and created the heart and soul of a company. He never compromised. Thomas Keller, a top American chef who owns the The French Laundry and Per Se, taught me about attention to detail. For Keller, no detail was so small that it should ever go unnoticed. Keller labored over the design of the floor drain for the kitchen in his Bouchon restaurant, in Las Vegas.
Everyone can benefit from the guidance of a mentor and there are great mentors in the gourmet and housewares industries helping people every day. Janis Johnson, president and founder of the Gourmet Catalog and Buying Group is a great example. The stores and vendors that have benefited from her advice and assistance number in the thousands over her nearly 40-year career.
Mentoring is still one of the best ways for one person with experience and knowledge to help another looking to grow and learn in a field or profession. Here are a few simple rules for mentoring that made a difference for me:
1. To be a good mentor, be humble and helpful. It can be a powerful experience. Put forth the effort to really make a difference in someone’s life.
2. Always keep your discussions with your mentor or protégé confidential. The relationship has to be built on trust.
3. Keep the relationship professional. Only give advice in areas where you have complete expertise. Never guess.
4. Don’t agree to mentor unless you have the time to commit and are willing to do it.
5. The only way to really learn is through the process of listening and asking questions.
6. Find people who can benefit from your experience instead of waiting for them to find you.
7. Be honest.
Like anyone who is a teacher, be committed to a lifetime of learning for you to share.
Our industry needs an influx of young, dynamic people who can help the industry grow. I am sure with commitment and effort, mentoring will make a lifelong difference for you.