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Tony French: Suited and booted up

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superheroTony French, the training 'guru' whose motto is "have flipchart, will Travelodge", tells the story of an action-packed and often dangerous training career which takes him from Poole to Peterborough, and London to Littlehampton. Known by many simply as 'the trainer without portfolio', he arrives mysteriously, and exits (usually at the end of the day) even more so, having quietly done his good works. This week he turns in an electric performance for a fledgling sales team.




My work takes me to exotic locations all over the world. Today: Cardiff.

The client, ‘Supersuits plc’ a leading high street menswear retailer, wants to boost its sales in a competitive market. Men have taken to wearing suits again after a cycle which has seen ‘dress-down day’ extended from Fridays to every day. At the same time, women have taken to wearing suits in the office in a sartorial role reversal. No wonder the workforce is confused.

I’m in the flagship store to educate sales assistants in the art of charm… and sales.

The retailer’s new product is a revolution in garment technology - made 50% from recycled cardboard fibres and 50% from Kevlar for durability. It’s called the ‘Supersuit’, and incorporates all the features the modern businessman needs: crease-free material, pockets for laptop, powerpoint projector, Pret a Manger sandwiches & large espresso coffee, satellite dish and built in GPS antenna pouches for communication on the move.

The Supersuit’s going to be a winner, due to its hi-tech, low price, everlasting qualities and environmental friendliness.

So, how do you sell a suit? In my day, this was a bespoke sartorial adventure involving several visits to the local gentleman’s outfitter to measure, re-measure, fit, and finish. The sale would typically be assisted by a discreet tailor, whose main technical issues were “On which side does one dress Sir, - left or right?” and the ‘rise’ of the trousers.

Gone are the days of such attentive service wrapped up in acres of hand-stitched virgin Italian wool. Nowadays, it’s all about ‘shifting product’. The sales assistants are lined up alongside rails bursting with Supersuits, and raring to go, but I’m here to restore the tradition of the personal touch in retail.

Session One: How to greet the Customer. I persuade the ‘guyz’ that “Ya aaaright there mate?” mumbled from behind a rack of suits 20 yards across the sales floor may be a little too informal.

Soon, we’re learning the art of sales multi-skilling - walking and talking at the same time. The words “Good Morning Sir / Madam, how can I help you today?” can be difficult to get in the right order whilst advancing towards a moving object (the ccustomer). But, after some practise at getting words and feet in synch, we’re all pointing in the right direction, so to speak.

Session Two: The significance of Customers to the Business. ‘Punters’ become ‘Live Retail up-selling Opportunities’ (LRO’s), and in a moment of magic, vital connections are made by the group. They have a direct influence in the store’s sales - and their own pay packets.

The main focus of the training is a ‘live’ session where real customers enter the store, are ‘served’, and sold to with charm and skill. This is a new concept for the ‘guyz’, and my challenge as trainer without prtfolio.

The first, LRO, Darren, enters the store. Darren, an IT systems specialist, is applying for a new job - and needs to look the part for an interview. I line him up with my protogee, Sam. “Go for it Sam, Up-sell.”

Sam puts his training into practise: “Ya aar, er Good morning, er afternoon Sir. How may we help you with your suit requirements today please thank-you?” Darren has simple buying needs: ‘Hi, I need a suit for a job interview today, and which will hold my new 28 inch combined 2 million Gigabyte Wi-Fi laptop & satellite dish - any ideas? “ Sam disappears behind a rack, returning triumphant: “We have just the thing - but I need to make a quick alteration so that it will hold your equipment – ok?” “Cool” replies the time-challenged Darren.

The main features of the Supersuit are a) its ability to be altered speedily on the spot, and b) the fabric’s inherent electro-magnetic conductivity - perfect for the technologically sophisticated customer. In a blur of behind-the-scenes wizardry, Sam gets to work with Stanley-knife and staple gun, emerging with the now ‘bespoke’ masterpiece complete with 63 pockets and sockets, and extra ‘stitching’.

After a brief trying-on & plugging-in, the first LRO parades around the store in a crackling halo of Kevlar enhanced electrostatic energy. Despite his new garment sapping the National Grid and blacking-out the street-lights of South Wales, the customer is ecstatic: “Wow, this is really cool - I’m picking up radio transmissions from outer space! I’ll take six please.”

The first Supersuit deal is closed, the ‘Guyz’ motivated in the art of charm, and the training a success. I slip into the now unlit shopping centre, and listen to my voice messages. The first, from the Managing Director of ‘Supersuits plc’: ‘Well done Tony, can you do the same for the Guyz in Oxford next week?’ The second is from the offices of the UK energy watchdog.

Oh well, all in the cause of Her Majesty’s Secret Training Service, and keeping the lights on in business.


Tony French is the fictional creation of Mark Benjamin, training consultant, writer and humorist who explores the lighter side of the world of training, people and change. Contact information: e.mail: [email protected] telephone: + 44 (0)7850 711803

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