Retail: The Relationship Business

By Jim and Rick Penn
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, relationships are relevant to any business. As we experience customers coming in and out of our stores, we have learned that people crave relationships. Time and again, we see customers stop in just to have a conversation, to spend time around people, and to engage with others.
We’ve also learned that meaningful customer relationships are the key to cultivating loyal clients who continue to come back. At Puritan, we say we’re not just in the clothing business; we’re in the relationship business.
Customer relationships really aren’t that different from personal relationships. You begin as strangers, and ultimately you hope to “marry” them: to win that stranger over as an advocate for your business. But of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. Keeping with the metaphor, the customer relationship passes through distinct phases.

  1. Prospect : Stranger

These are individuals who are completely unfamiliar with your business. A stranger. They’ve never visited your businesses and they know nothing about you. This is where you can “play the field” and pursue new potential customers.

  1. Visitor : Acquaintance

These are people who know about you, but have never given you their business. They are acquaintances, you might have mutual friends, but you haven’t gotten to know each other yet. If you haven’t already, introduce yourself to your visitor and begin building the relationship. Get to know a little about them, and tell them about your business, product, or service.

  1. Customer : Friend

They’ve made a purchase! Someone who was once a stranger has now given you their business. This is your opportunity to really start building a more personal relationship to turn that customer into a repeat customer. Good listening and information gathering skills are key. Listen to their preferences and feedback. Ask permission for their contact information so you can stay in touch!

  1. Client : In a relationship

A customer + relationship = client. These are individuals who you’ve gotten to know over their past few visits. You know and greet them by name when they enter your business. You have their contact information up to date and keep in touch with them on a regular basis. You let them know about new arrivals, promotions, or events, and your client knows that you truly care about them.

  1. Advocate : Marriage

The peak of customer relationships is the advocate. Your advocates feel that you will always take care of them whenever they have a need. You have their trust and their loyalty. Advocates are not only meaningful in their own business with you, but also invaluable in building additional relationships. Ask them for referrals, reviews, or event opportunities. An advocate is delighted to support your business and happy to help.
Like any relationship, the customer relationship takes work and happens over time. It starts with simply introducing yourself. It takes patience and listening to their needs and preferences. It involves keeping in touch, whether it be an occasional phone call, email, or text. Letting them know you’re thinking of them goes a long way! Surprise them with an extra effort that’s unexpected, like a phone call on their birthday. And sometimes it even requires going above and beyond, like personally delivering their purchase after hours for a rush order. Because in the end, it’s all about trust. And a customer relationship built on trust can’t be duplicated anywhere else.
Jim and Rick Penn are the owners of Puritan Cape Cod, with retail locations in Hyannis, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Chatham. They can be reached at (800) 924-0606 or