Meet Jennifer Nelson
From the HGO Merchandiser
While many thrive in sales, it’s not an ideal career for just anyone. The perfect sales associate must be personable, approachable and, above all else, knowledgeable. That’s why, it’s incredibly impressive when someone not only thrives in a challenging and fast-paced environment but goes on to be recognised for their years of service to one of the biggest retailers in Canada.
Jennifer Nelson, the sales manager at the Leon’s Furniture franchise in Medicine Hat, Alberta, combines her love of helping people find their perfect piece with her love of design – and her passion shows, which prompted the judges to select her as the Retail Sales Professional Award recipient for the Western Region (including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, The Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut). So impressed were they, she was also named Canada’s Retail Sales Professional for 2019.
In an interview with HGO, held during the recent Canadian Furniture Show, Nelson revealed a career in sales wasn’t something she planned for. “I've been at Leon’s for 16 years and I started as a part-time employee in the office and now I'm the sales manager.”
Her career trajectory changed when she decided to challenge herself on the sales floor and ended up thriving in the role. “Watching the sales staff piqued my interest and I thought ‘I could do that’ and I asked if I could try it. My manager put me out on the floor, and I was on from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. and I did really well, so he said to train up,” she says.
Nelson loves to indulge two of her primarily passions: people and decor. “I love people and seeing different people all the time because everybody’s unique, and I also love home decor and decorating.”
She’s been passionate about and involved in decorating for at least the past 12 years. Nelson participates in Medicine Hat’s Parade of Homes event, an initiative launched in 2008 to showcase the abilities of local builders to the community.
“Contractors that purchase appliances from us have an event called Parade of Homes that involves 10 or more contractors that build houses and invite customers to walk through the houses. I go in and decorates and accessorizes the houses,” says Nelson, who also decorated the lottery homes sold by the local Kinsmen club.
Her customers also come to her for design advice. “I’ve had customers invite me to their house and I’ll give them suggestions.”
Her love for what she does was what inspired Shauna Schlamp, a manufacturer’s sales representative with the Calgary-based Westbridge Group, to nominate her for the RSP Award.
“I always look forward to meeting with Jennifer. She is enthusiastic, warm and authentic. With 16 years of sales experience at Leon's, Jennifer leads the sales team to successfully achieve their goals,” she told HGO. “As a mentor and role model, Jennifer has earned respect from her team. She brings her experience and skill set to the customer experience; she connects with people and listens. She’s an experienced and accomplished retail sales professional.”
“She is knowledgeable, keeps current with industry trends and yet, is always eager to learn,” her nomination reads. “Jennifer brings this skill set to the customer experience; she connects with people and listens. She is conscientious and driven to provide the best experience and best service to her customers, while maintaining a commitment to continual improvement.”
Nelson was humbled by the recognition, which she was given at the recent Canadian Home Furnishings Awards gala. “I was excited. I was honoured and scared at the same time because I was nervous to travel by myself. I kind of expected it because Shauna nominated me the year before and I won and couldn’t go, so I had to turn it down. She asked me if she could nominate me again. With the national award, I was so nervous, but so honoured too.”
Nelson says customer service is all about making the shopper feel welcome and acknowledged. “I try to build a rapport with my customer by trying to figure out who they are as a person, making them feel like a family member or friend. It's about making that personal connection.”
The approach not only pleases the customer, but also grows the store’s clientele. “I build my clientele mostly on my personality and word-of-mouth,” she says, adding, “When you have a great experience and a great interaction with the customer, they tend to tell people about that experience.”
The personable approach goes a long way in a community such as Medicine Hat, which is in southern Alberta on the TransCanada Highway between Calgary and Regina.
“For a small city, word of mouth is a huge thing. When a customer comes in, I try to talk about the weather or if they have children. In fact, we give balloons to children try to break down that wall. Kids love balloons, so the gesture makes parents a lot happier, so they give you information that you need to point them in the right direction,” she says.
Nelson believes it’s crucially important to guide the customer because most rely on salespeople to help find what they’re looking for – especially when they’re not sure what kind of piece will work in their home. “When a lot of people come in, they sometimes really do not know what they're looking for. They'll say they need a new couch or chair and then you take it upon yourself to find out what they need. It’s all about finding what they want, where it's going, how big their space is and so on.”