associate at Williams-Sonoma is all as
chill as a $399.95 Breville Smart Scoop ice
cream maker. For all the casual vibe of the
elegantly homey shop, its lawyers-turned-sales associates haven’t entirely escaped
the concept of billable hours. Williams-Sonoma keeps elaborate metrics on the
performance of each member of its sales
force. The company tracks, for instance,
how many sales per hour each associate
makes, says Montgomery, the general
manager of the Bethesda store. Sales associates don’t work on commission. Still,
Montgomery meets regularly with each
sales associate to discuss their numbers.
As internet sales continue to grow,
and many brick-and-mortar retailers
falter, Williams-Sonoma tries to staff its
store with associates who offer customers something they can’t get on Amazon:
personalized expertise and instruction.
“I look for people who love the product
and can sell the product,” Montgomery
says. “We have everything from sofas to
really complex espresso machines here.
So somebody who is using our products
at home and has an aptitude for using
them has a real advantage.”
Customers bring in reminders of
how chaotic modern life can feel. Inter-
net commerce with free next-day or
two-day shipping has altered customer
expectations of what can be purchased
in a hurry. It’s not unusual, Montgom-
ery says, for a customer to rush into
the Bethesda Williams-Sonoma store
midafternoon to buy 12 place settings of
china to use during a dinner party they
are hosting that night.
Sales associates collect tales of
customers on last-minute missions.
Someone who had just bought $120
of steamed crabs at the Bethesda Crab
House stopped in on the way home
because they realized they had no way
to eat them; they didn’t own a mallet
or claw cracker. A young man who’d
invited friends over to watch a game on
TV—friends due to arrive in 15 min-
utes—rushed in to buy a can opener for
the bean dip.
It’s not unusual for sales associates
to assist customers they know from
other parts of their life. At first, Bonner
says, she’d flinch a little when some-
one who knew her as a suit-wearing
dynamo hanging out with senators saw
her with a name tag pinned to her shirt.
She laughs as she recounts how young
people who grew up with her kids in
Potomac see her in the store, do double
takes and ask: “What are you doing here,
These days she has a ready answer:
“I’m having the time of my life.” n
April Witt ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
former Washington Post writer who lives
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