The perils of assumption


January, 2017—

When you prejudge, you misjudge. In our business, that can prove costly.

Days before the presidential election, I was reading a magazine article in which the writer wrote there wasn’t much mystery in who was going to win. I thought to myself that was either an extremely brave or an amazingly arrogant comment. Sure, in the weeks leading up to the election it seemed like one candidate had the upper hand and the election was going to be a fait accompli. Some might call the statement arrogant, others may call it gall and still some may call it obvious. I don’t judge so let’s just call it a bold comment for someone to publish.

The following morning, I was running on the treadmill watching the loser, who was supposed to be the overwhelming winner, thank her supporters for their efforts. Since this is not a political piece and what’s done is done, I’m not going to say I was pleased with the outcome or that I’m working my Zillow account looking at postal codes in the southernmost regions of Canada. It doesn’t matter. What I can and will scream from the balcony is that there’s a lesson here for retailers. It’s an important one, and one I harp on all the time because I’ve been guilty of a transgression that, dare I say, we all have been at one time or another.

In my retail management days, I would call it prejudging. Prejudice is an ugly word filled with spite and ignorance. Prejudging is the same thing, but it has a softer sound, don’t you think? The practice of prejudging your customers can have unprofitable results and can litter your Yelp page with stars of that putrid brownish-yellowish variety reserved for only the one- or two-star reviews. I know this because the horrible sushi place in our neighborhood was finally drummed out of the shopping center it was in and the depressing reviews knew no end.

Have you ever been prejudged when you walked into a store or worked with a salesperson? It happened to me, and I was so furious I went straight home and wrote the store manager a letter, put a stamp on it and mailed it the same day. Which is exactly what my grandmother would have done. I was looking for an engagement ring for my lovely bride and the sales associate had the lack of emotional intelligence to let me know that I couldn’t afford the ring. She was right, I couldn’t. But to prove her wrong, I bought a more expensive ring someplace else and sent her a copy of the receipt. How’s that for spite? Think of what my review would have sounded like on Yelp if it had existed back then. That other jewelry store should have sent the store I walked out of a thank-you note.

Not two weeks later, I was getting beat down good by a gentleman pleading in broken English for a discount. A discount I couldn’t give, but did anyway because I bought his story of plight and poverty mixed with his deep desire to have a new entertainment center for his family.

As I walked him to the door and shook his hand feeling like I did a very nice thing for a struggling family who just wanted something to get their TV off the floor, he said “Thanks, Dude” and I watched him jump into his shiny, lifted SUV and drive off. I got had, and I was mad, but I did it to myself. I allowed myself to be open to forming an opinion about someone based on the way they acted and what they looked like, and I learned a great lesson that day way back in the first Bush administration. I think about it every day and try to apply it to my job. I hope your employees do, too.

As I call on furniture stores almost every day, I see all kinds of floor personnel. It’s part of what I love about my job. We foster a special breed on the furniture floors of America, and I notice a lot of people shaping opinions about customers that may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter. Salespeople have a responsibility and store owners and managers have an obligation to ensure that each customer who comes to visit and shop are offered the best presentation and performance possible.

That customer who comes in may be dreaming and may never buy, but their visit was bought and paid for by the marketing dollars and efforts of the company or the increased rent paid by being in a busy area to attract a walk in. Make the most of the opportunity!

Salespeople are no different than a plane full of people. Most people on the plane believe within an inch of their lives that they know it all and that their opinion is what matters most. I was conducting an interview once when the candidate boasted, “I can tell right away if someone’s going to buy or not.”

“Wow! How can you do that?” I asked, explaining that my crystal ball exploded from overuse in 1989.

“I just can,” he said, his words oozing with confidence.

I asked him if he thought he was going to get the job and he said yes. I guess he didn’t know everything.

About the Author

Jonathan Schulman
Jonathan Schulman is a member of the IHFRA executive committee. His coverage area includes Southern California and Hawaii. He has won several awards including Sales Professional of the Year in 2013 and can be reached at