One of the best parts of working in a music store is dealing with all the cool, great people who cross the threshold daily. Our customers tend to be friendly, happy folks who are really glad to be in the store, surrounded by cool gear and nice people.

Every store, I think, also has at least one customer who is referred to as “that guy.” You know when he’s coming into the store because employees mysteriously start to vanish. They don’t want to deal with “that guy.” They’ve seen his car pull in, and they know “that guy” is back. Whoever is caught unaware (i.e., whoever is still in the retail area when he walks in) has to deal with “that guy.”

There are several reasons a customer is tagged as “that guy.” Maybe he’s read too many magazine articles about gear and he wants to spend an hour telling you what he’s read. Maybe he considers himself an expert on some aspect of the music business, and he talks long and loud to all who will listen about his glory days, whether real or imagined, in the MI field. Maybe he’s just a jerk, or he’s perpetually annoying. For whatever reason, he’s become the one customer nobody in the store really wants to deal with. I think we’ve all known “that guy.”

Several years ago, we had one of those guys: one who had a deep streak of perpetual annoyance wound tightly into his DNA. I’ll call him “Joe Bob.” (That’s not his real name, of course.) He was so annoying that I ended up being the only one who could deal with him and maintain a good demeanor. It was my gift to everyone else that I would greet him when he arrived, meaning that they were off the hook. Joe Bob complained about everything. He had a high, nasally, inherently whiny voice. He hated his job; he didn’t like the people who lived next door; and the world was against him. Joe Bob was actually a decent player, and he had a job that put him in sort of an authority position. Others would listen to him (admittedly, perhaps grudgingly), and he sure liked to talk.

It dawned on me one day, during one of his visits, that Joe Bob represented a golden opportunity. No other store wanted to deal with him, and he was a roundly unpopular fellow. But, he had the ear of a lot of folks, and here he was in our store. I decided that Joe Bob needed to think of me as his friend and ask for me every time he walked in. It wasn’t hard to become Joe Bob’s buddy; all I had to do was listen while he talked, nod knowingly, hand him a guitar every so often and ask him what he thought of it. No matter how annoying Joe Bob was on a particular day, I reminded myself I wanted him to like us.

Over the next few years, even though other workers in the store still cringed when Joe Bob came in, they began to warm up to him a little. Over time, we sold him thousands of dollars worth of gear. We became Joe Bob’s go-to problem solver, and he told everyone he talked to how great he thought we were. Instead of being seen as “that guy,” he became a customer asset. Joe Bob moved out of state a couple of years ago, but he still calls us and asks us to mail product to him.

I relearned a great lesson from Joe Bob. All customers have value, and all customers must be treated like friends. We don’t work in the store for our personal benefit; we work here for the store’s benefit. Anyone can take care of the easy customers: the customers who are cool…the customers who are great players…the customers with great personalities. There’s nothing special about taking care of those customers. Even the greenest salesmen among us could make those folks happy. I’ve decided one of the hallmarks of a good salesman is his ability not only to deal with “that guy,” but also to make him his own.

I’ve had several opportunities since Joe Bob moved away to deal with other versions of “that guy.” From time to time, I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter how difficult it is to talk to him or listen to him; it’s my job to make him feel comfortable, welcome and happy to be there. The onus is never on the customer to build a good store relationship; the onus is on me. It’s my job. It’s my job.

I get the chance to put that relearned lesson to use every now and then. One young version of “that guy” was fond of telling us, with great intricacy, the details of the guitars (real or imagined) that he was building, down to the teeniest minutiae of each part he was using. Those guitars never surfaced, but I listened to his stories, nodded on occasion and showed him the cool new stuff. Over two years, we sold him custom, special-order guitars and other expensive gear.

Even with a half-century of retail experience, I have to remind myself on occasion that it’s not the customer’s job to make my day pleasant. However, it is my job to make his day pleasant. It’s my job to make him feel welcome. If he turns out to be “that guy,” it’s my job to remove that label and make him feel like a welcome customer.

Someone wiser than I am once said, “The customer may not always be right, but he’s always the customer.” That applies to everyone who comes through the door, even when seeing him walk in makes you think, “Uh-oh…it’s ‘that guy.’”

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