Sales Lessons from Violet’s Boutique

Sales Lessons from Violet’s Boutique

Last year I was in Laguna Beach, California to attend a live event – I packed my bikini and booked a hotel with a pool so I could relax in the sun for a couple of days before the conference.  Ha!  The universe had other plans and instead I got a week of cold, pouring rain – and of course I’d packed all the wrong clothes! So I popped out to the local shopping street to see if I could find some more seasonal items to wear for the conference.

Not the weather I was expecting in California

Not the weather I was expecting in California

I started at the top of Forest Street, a really quaint pretty road with a hill at one end and the sea at the other (Laguna Beach is a ridiculously pretty place).

One of the first shops I went into I had barely made it to the first rack when a sales assistant towered over me and announced that there was 60% off everything on that rack, 25% and 10% over there.  Taken aback, and always one to blurt out what’s on my mind when under pressure I said “But I haven’t found anything I like yet!”.

As she continued “talking at me” about the items available I quickly sized up the situation – I could try to have a look around, but it was clear I wouldn’t have any chance to browse on my own, so instead I left.

Always one to see things through my “sales eyes” as I wandered down the street I reflected that they didn’t get a chance to sell me anything because they didn’t give me the space to come to a decision on my own.

A few shops later, I walked into Violet’s Boutique.

Violet's Boutique in Laguna Beach, CaliforniaAnd this is where I experienced a masterclass in retail sales. I thought I’d share it with you as there are a lot of lessons we can take from this when selling our services.

As I walked in I was welcomed me with a friendly “hello, how are you?”.  But was then left to my own devices to look around.

After browsing along a couple of racks, I paused at a floaty T-shirt top,  pulled it out for a better look and checked the price label. This is the exact moment that Violet called out from the desk “Everything on that rack is 25% off!”.

Lesson 1:  The Discount is meaningless unless the customer already knows they want the product

The time to offer a discount is after your client already knows they are interested in your product or service because a discount on something someone doesn’t even want is meaningless.

This is why I always focus on selling the benefits of a course or programme first and make sure I build the customers desire long before I talk about price. And why I wait until there is tension between that desire and the price before I bring in a discount.

So where the first shop got it wrong, Violet got it right, only offering up a discount once I’d found something I was interested in.

Lesson 2: Volunteer information and be of service, but don’t push your agenda on the customer or you’ll push them away

I then continued around the shop, and every now and then in response to something I was looking at Violet would call out a piece of information – “that’s new in”, or “everything there is from Italy”.

It was a bit intrusive at first, but not so much that it felt pushy enough for me to want to walk out.

In fact Violet got the balance just about right and as I got used to her we built a bit of rapport and Violet started pointing out items that she thought I might like, and encouraged me to take a few extra items into the changing room. Part of me felt that she was trying to sell to me, another part thought  “Well, I’m going in there anyway…. there’s no harm in trying a few extra things”.

Lesson 3:  It’s easier to sell after you’ve developed rapport

This is kind of weather I was expecting at Laguna Beach

This is kind of weather I was expecting at Laguna Beach

Violet had done an expert and seamless job of slowly building rapport as I browsed, and only once the rapport was built did she suggest items for me to try on.

Once I was in the fitting room she checked on me regularly.  All but one item were a clear “No” including the items Violet herself had picked out.  She listened to my feedback and was genuinely interested in why I didn’t like things: “I don’t like the way the floaty bits reach my thighs, I think it’s because I’m short”.

On hearing this she darted across the shop and came back with a top that in a million zillion years I would never have picked out. “Here, try this”.

Lesson 4:   Don’t argue with your customer, instead acknowledge their concerns

Violet didn’t argue with me and try to tell me that actually those floaty bits looked really graceful, or be over sensitive about my not liking things that were favourites of hers. Instead she respected my opinion, which meant that it felt like we were “on the same side”.

Lesson 5:  Listen to your customer and give them what they want

Actually listen. Take on board their wants, needs and likes. Violet listened, and in full service to my likes and dislikes picked out something that directly addressed those concerns

And oh my! This silk top was quite possibly the single most flattering top I have ever worn!

It was also the most expensive!!

This small flimsy bit of silk had a price tag attached that was higher than all but one of my “best” dresses and my immediate reaction was: “it’s lovely but it’s completely outside my budget”.

Violet didn’t disagree, or even try to persuade me. She simply told me how great it looked on me and then disappeared off across the shop leaving me with my thoughts.

Lesson 6: Don’t get drawn into apologising or justifying your price

If the customer wants what you have badly enough they will do the justifying for you.

As I stood there looking at myself in the mirror, I had a silent conversation with myself.

“Sometimes I spend a whole day on Oxford Street and don’t find anything I like. Surely it’s worth paying the extra just for the time I’ll save shopping?”
“This suits me so perfectly I’ll probably still be wearing it in 30 years time”
“I easily spend this much on a hotel room without a second thought, why not on a top that will last me for years?”

Suddenly, not only was buying this very expensive top the most obvious thing to do, but it suddenly felt totally obvious that ALL my tops from this moment onwards should cost this much! It made so much sense!!

I had done that typical sales cliché (but oh so true) thing. I had “bought” it with emotion – and then justified it to myself with perfect logic…

And the thing is that Violet didn’t tell me any of these things. She didn’t have to sell to me.  I knew I wanted it, so I sold it to myself.

But what Violet did do is  gave me time and space to have that internal conversation – if she had stood there trying to talk me into buying it it’s more than likely she would have talked me out of it – the real masterstroke was that she left me to have that internal conversation on my own.

Lesson 7: Allow your client time to process their decision

Yes, your service might seem expensive at first, especially if it wasn’t what your client was expecting to pay. But allow them the time and space to process this for themselves. If they can see the value and benefit (in a non-retail situation they can’t just look in the mirror, it’s up to you to communicate the value with your words when you present the solution), and if they want it enough they will talk themselves into it.  But this can ONLY happen if you allow them the space to do that.

But I still wasn’t quite over the line. As well as the above my brain was also telling me:

“But I never spend this much money on clothes!”
“What if I never wear it and it just ends up in the charity shop in 3 years time?”
“She’s a really good sales person, what if I get home and realise it was a mistake?”

Then Violet, sensing my hesitation, came up with the coup de grace – she offered me a 25% discount if I took it today.

And that was it! Even with the discount it was still one of the most expensive items of clothing I’d ever bought – but she’d got me off the fence.

Taking a working break to shelter from the unseasonal rain

Taking a working break to shelter from the unseasonal rain

Lesson 8: Have a downsell or incentive to make a final decision

This can be really powerful for getting a client across the line. Very often your client will be right on the edge of the “do I or don’t I?” line, like I was. At that point very often all it takes is a discount or an added incentive to get them across the line.

Once I’d made that decision that “Yes, I was taking it”, Violet now started bringing more items to the changing room “what about these trousers, they will look great on you?”.  And because she’d found me the silk top, and because I was now really happy and excited about my decision to buy it, I had renewed faith in her opinion and tried on her suggestions much more eagerly than before.

Lesson 9: Build Trust

Once you’ve built trust in your customers by listening to their needs and serving them well, showing them that you can give them what they need, they will find it easier to buy more from you. Even though I was spending way more than I’d expected to spend when I left that hotel, I was getting in the groove, spotting more and more items I liked.

In the end all of my resistance to Violet’s sales charm had completed dissolved and we were wandering the shop together looking at necklaces and dresses.

Lesson 10: Save the Bad News until Last

Eventually I was at the check-out paying for my haul. Violet was writing up the receipt when she told me that if I accept the 25% discount I wouldn’t be able to return the items. This was the perfect time to give me the “bad news”. She wasn’t misleading me as it wasn’t too late for me to change my mind. But emotionally and psychologically my mind was made up and my credit card was already in my hand. Whereas if she had told me this earlier I would have weighed it up with the pros and cons and allowed it to affect my decision.

I walked out of that shop having with my credit card considerably dented, 3 tissue wrapped items in my bag – and a spring in my step! And told her I’d her I’d come back before leaving to try on some of the dresses.

And THIS  folks, is what good sales is:  It’s not trying too hard to sell. But it’s also not avoiding sales altogether because you don’t want to appear pushy. Instead it’s slowly building rapport, it’s listening, it’s respecting your client. It’s serving them and being committed to giving them what they need (and if that happens to serve you too then that’s OK!). It is leaving your client feeling supported, cared for and absolutely delighted with their decision.

And that’s what I got from Violet.

Thank you Violet for the masterclass in retail sales (you know if you ever set up a side business teaching this, there’s a shop just a few doors up that really needs your help!)

And as for that top, is it really so special? Well I’ll leave it to you to decide – if Violet and I are right about it, hopefully you’ll recognise it as “the one” when you see me wearing it 🙂

Over to you…

Have you ever had a sales experience that was so enjoyable that you bought something you thought you’d never buy? How can you apply the lessons from Violet’s Boutique in your business? I always love to hear from you, so please share in the comments below.

Got a Question?

I’ll be going live in the Free Facebook Group – Selling from the Heart Community on Wednesday 26th August at 1.00pm (UK) to answer your questions. Come along and ask me your sales related questions – or just listen in to catch some more sales nuggets. Just click here to join. I’ll see you then!

P.S. If you would like to learn how to bring your clients to an easy “Yes Please” like Violet did with me, I teach how to take your clients through a sales conversation that leaves your client feeling really excited about working with you in my Get More Clients Saying Yes! course, which is going to be released soon. If you’d like to be among the first to know when that happens, click here to be notified.

"THE 7 STEPS TO YES" Watch these short videos and start to fall in love with sales

Please leave a comment as I would love to hear your thoughts


  1. Jeni Webber on August 28, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    A wonderful read Catherine – I also hate being bombarded and need that time to browse……we hope to see that top sometime!

  2. Annette Shaw on August 25, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Brilliant blog and some very valuable lessons to learn from this!

  3. Cherie Bennett on February 7, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Hi Catherine,
    I loved Violets Boutique, it really clearly demonstrates the difference between a good & bad sales conversation. Thank you for sharing this. ??x

  4. Tracey Hughes-Barreto on February 5, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Catherine, I love this! It so true and it brilliantly illustrates the principles you teach. Thank you x

  5. Helen Reynolds on February 5, 2019 at 11:52 am

    I totally love this Catherine. I wish you’d shown us the top though!

    • Catherine on February 5, 2019 at 2:28 pm

      Ha! I knew you would be more interested in seeing the top! You’ll have to wait until you see me wearing it – and even then I’ll be interested to see if you agree that it suits me so well (I think it does though – grey, silver detailing, V-neck so it follows all my “Helen-rules” 🙂

  6. Suzanne Stephenson on February 5, 2019 at 10:49 am

    What a great post! So easy to visualise and relate to which makes it easier to apply in our sales techniques and conversations. Thanks, Catherine xx

  7. Carol Hanson on February 5, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Excellent blog, Catherine, with some fabulous learnings from your experience. Thanks for sharing.

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