Retail Archaeology

– Retail Archaeology: The Innate Passion of Discovery –

My grandparents retired from their San Francisco jobs to a piece of property up north. Their hidden acre sat on the rocky slopes of an ancient volcano. The surrounding land was covered in shiny black glass—obsidian. Gramps told me if I’m patient and look closely at the ground, I might find an arrowhead. After scouring every inch of his land, I found my first one. After that, I found them all the time. I knew what to look for.

My grandma still lives on that property. And though it’s no longer as secluded as it once was, large homes now dwarfing her double-wide with a wrap-around porch, the yard remains a treasure trove for an amateur archaeologist like me. I don’t visit her as often as I used to since I no longer live within driving distance, but when I do make it to her mountain, I wander around midday, my neck craned towards the earth, and occasionally find a museum-worthy artifact. Especially after a good rain.

This penchant for discovery carries over into my daily life. It’s why I love to review books, write poetry, travel to unlikely places, and meet new people. Believe it or not, it’s also why I’ve always been fascinated by retail.

In a retail store, shoppers and staffers alike have a constant state of discovery at their disposal. Shoppers enter, mill about for a while, maybe find that perfect thing or two, then return again expecting a similar experience. Sort of how I feel whenever I go back to my grandparents’ property. But when I spend all day looking for an arrowhead and come up empty handed, I get bummed. Makes me less excited to do it again.

Retail staffers’ discovery is a little different. Frankly, they could probably get through the day without much discovery at all. It’s more of a choice than it is a natural outcome. But good staffers intentionally seek thrilling bits of information that lead to the next interesting bit. Ideally, they involve themselves in the lives of their shoppers and learn a gamut of things along the way. Their discovery actually facilitates the customer’s connection to them (and their store).

These best employees are retail archaeologists. Each arrowhead they find makes it easier (and more fun) to find the next one.

When I happen to be at my grandparents’ place with my cousins, they often laugh at my middle-aged tendency to stare at the ground. They aren’t as excited by the possibility of finding a thousand year old piece of stone carved into a tool by ancient hands. And that’s cool—it’s just not their bag.

Same goes with a retail shop. Not every staffer is going to be driven by the prospect of the unknown. And not all of them have the skills to do so, either.

But these days, especially in a specialty environment, digging for treasure is wildly imperative. Being excited about what’s found is crucial. Then, having the ability to do something with this newly-found information is what will ensure your store’s future relevance.

Hanging with my gram is great, even if it’s sporadic these days. I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything. But the bonus of my visit to her hideaway cottage is the possibility of finding a perfectly-honed, glassy triangle. I quietly celebrate my find before letting ti weigh down my pocket, it’s edges still warm from baking in the sun for millennia.


untitled-596Tom Griffen is a highly sought after trainer and presenter whose message transcends industries. He’ll help you raise the bar and reinvent your business.

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