When Jeff MacDowell was a little boy, he turned to his parents and said, “When I grow up I want to sell toilets. I promise you, Mommy and Daddy, someday I’ll be the best toilet salesman in the world!”
Okay, as far as I know, this didn’t happen. But MacDowell did go on to become a retail showroom sales virtuoso, and ultimately part of the leadership team of FW Webb, the largest family-owned company in the Northeast, with a billion dollars in sales and more than forty bath, kitchen and lighting showrooms in the Northeast. And he’s pretty happy in what he sometimes calls “the toilet biz,” even if this wasn’t an early childhood ambition come to life.
MacDowell has spent 25 years in the wholesale plumbing industry, starting in Buffalo as an estimator in the commercial department of IRR Supply and working his way up from there. More than half of his career has been spent in the showroom, where he’s been able to make the most of what he calls “a passion for the retail experience, particularly when it comes to improving the customer experience for customers.”
My interview with MacDowell highlights how essential great customer service is, even in an oft-overlooked industry like plumbing supply, which straddles the space between wholesale (B2B) and retail (B2C). [Author’s disclosure: I have had a past professional engagement with Webb.]
Solomon: I know you’re mostly managing other salespeople now, but any stories from the frontlines–maybe a cringeworthy moment from which you learned a lesson?
MacDowell: I wish you hadn’t asked me that! – but the answer is “yes.” Years ago, a woman came into the showroom dressed like she was straight off the streets. I mean: grubbier than you could believe. And traditionally, you’re taught in sales to look at the shoes, handbag, vehicle, etc. to see what the customer’s spending capacity is.
Of course, it didn’t take great spidey sense to assume that her ability to buy was zero, and I’m afraid my initial attitude to her was far from positive. But as it turns out, she was a wealthy business owner in the middle of a home remodeling project and had come into the showroom as a break from that work (without changing clothes or tidying up, obviously). She ultimately…