The Beach Traders

By Bob Morrell on July 25, 2017

If you end up on a European beach this summer you will be accosted at some stage by teams of highly skilled people – mostly men, who will try and sell you sunglasses, jewellery, throws, beach balls and games, pirate DVDs, novels written by up and coming West African and Middle Eastern writers, hair braiding, massages and hats.

On a recent beach in Italy one local trader caught my eye. He had build a cast iron trolly, on large inflatable rubber wheels, which had a skeletal steel structure attached. To this he was able to display a vast array of necklaces, bracelets, tokens, charms and rings. The trolley was heavy. He would push and pull it along the wet sand at the front of the beach for about 30 feet, then wait for passers by and those on sun beds near him, to wander over and look at this jewellery. Try and sell some, then on to the next section further along.

I observed him for sometime at close quarters, and to see another salesperson in action was fascinating. He was very proud of his display, proud of his trolley that was built so sturdily. He was sweating with effort every time he moved it along the beach. Then he would puff out his chest as if to say ‘look at that effort – come and see the quality of my jewels!’

However, display is one thing – what about salesmanship? Here the poor guy struggled. Prospective customers would crowd around and naturally, as they were on a beach they would try and haggle with him to get the best price… and he was having none of it! Out went the chest, up came the Italian arms, expressing anger and disbelief at their rudeness in trying to negotiate!

This was great drama. He got annoyed, his bikini-clad customers got annoyed and more walked away with nothing than those with something! There were loud slanging matches between him and his customers that lasted ages – then he would strut away from them, re-attaching the jewellery to the display with huge bravado.

He was demonstrating firm price integrity in entirely the wrong environment. Every other beach trader was an easy 50% off barter – so here was this guy not budging much on price. At the end of each interaction he would proudly put the items back on the display and make sure that each piece was shown to its best advantage – he spent more time doing this than speaking to his customers.

This is classic stuff. We once knew a deli owner who was more concerned with displaying his rare cheeses, than actually talking to customers and serving them quickly – he didn’t last a year.

What this guys needed was a) a better assessment of the market he a competing in and b) some training on effective negotiation – upbeat, positive, cheeky – he could have made a bomb, because customers loved his display and his jewellery. He had forgotten personality and likeability.

At the end of the day he was sitting on a stool next to the massive cart, looking sun burnt and exhausted but still with that steely, proud look in his eye. His cart was still very well stocked, and now he had to take it all down and pack away before the next day – what immense effort!

So what’s the lesson? There are companies like this. Proud of how they look, amazing web sites, brilliant stores, beautiful Head Offices. They produce brochures and catalogues that have been painstakingly produced and created. And yet when it comes to the actual conversation with customers they fall down because they’re too concerned with the look and feel - over pure service.