Buy-in is integral to every retailer, but perhaps in no arena is it as vital as in an upscale market. If employees of a five-and-dime don’t believe in the products they’re selling, the retailer will suffer; but if employees of a high-end shop aren’t personally invested in the merchandise, if they don’t believe the garment is worth its affixed price tag, then that store has failed before its doors even open.
It’s a concept very familiar to Jim Murray, President of A.K. Rikk’s, an upscale apparel boutique in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray’s shelves are stocked with runway favorites and his customers leave looking like models from the pages of Vogue. It’s a beautiful game of retail, but it’s also a difficult one, one that Murray traces back to the same concept as us all: buy-in.
|A.K. RIKK’S President, Jim Murray|
“First of all, we have to be convinced as buyers and sellers of the product,” he says. “If we are not convinced, we do not bring it to our client. Once we know it will add value to our clients’ lives, we buy it and ultimately educate our client to make their own decision.” It’s a process that begins with Murray himself and with every garment that slides through their doors. Because every item that’s put on the shelves is vetted and tells a retail story the employees can get behind, they do. And in turn, they bring that story and that product proudly to the customer.
“Selling is for items that need selling,” Murray adds, then says with a laugh. “We push people but not with product—maybe push them out of their comfort zones!” Once employees are genuinely invested in your model and products, they don’t need to sell; their beliefs and support of the product sells itself.
Murray understands the influence he has on his employees, and he intentionally cultivates the culture to support the unique model of A.K. Rikk’s while personally modeling the qualities his employees need. He also cultivates buy-in through a commission-based compensation plan; all employees are paid with 8% commission. He also points out that this entire model, with its various facets and legs, depends in large part on the personal confidence of each individual employee. Self-doubt, he notes, can have a huge impact on an employee and, by association, a retailer. “We all have a different idea of success and we make excuses for not succeeding. A lot of that comes from someone not believing in themselves, and that is something we work on, making sure a person knows they deserve it and are worthy of receiving it.” Murray fosters a culture of success so that his employees aren’t just confident in the products they’re selling, but in themselves, too.
It’s this level of buy-in, one that stretches into the souls of both the retailer and the salesman in a symbiotic boost, that defines the success of A.K. Rikk’s. Their success also depends on their ability to evolve, which in itself is a different kind of buy-in. “We do not live in fear of the unknown. We embrace change and learn from our mistakes. Retail is a funny place and it rarely changes, even though many believe it does.” That means Murray and his team are fully invested not just in every individual product, but in the store concept as it shifts and, just as often, stays the same.
One thing that does always stay the same? Their purpose. “The purpose has always been to put the customer in the forefront of our decision-making process and create experiences that we know they should enjoy.” At A.K. Rikk’s they don’t just sell upscale apparel, they tell a story, and it’s a story they all believe in.