Most cabinet shop owners aren't natural sales people, but they can quickly learn. That's the message Eric Lehmann delivers in a popular talk he's been giving. Lehmann is a  Certified Kitchen Designer and owner of Innovative Wholesale Fabricators on Long Island, N.Y. He has more than 30 years of experience selling cabinets.

First impressions

Lehmann notes that even how you first greet a potentialp client can set the tone for everything to come later. "You never want a negative atmosphere," he says.

"Say, How can I help you?' not Can I help you?'" By not giving the client a chance to say no, you open the door wider.

Lehmann is known for forceful delivery, and he thinks many shop owners get off on the wrong foot right away by not showing enthusiasm. "You've got to have some energy," he says, showing the difference between someone with slumped shoulders, looking down as they greet a customer versus someone standing up straight, showing a sincere smile and making eye contact.

"That first impression will last the whole relationship, unless you blow it," says Lehmann.

Client visits

Lehmann says being organized makes you look more professional. "Don't be early, and don't be late," he advises.

"Call if you are going to be late, and tell them exactly how many minutes you'll be late."

To help him be on time, Lehmann sets his car clock exactly one minute ahead. He has a slogan:

"If you say it before (something happens), it's a reason; if you say it after, it's an excuse."

He advises shop owners to dress appropriately for meetings.

"Dress like a professional, and you can charge a professional price," he says.

Lehmann says it is crucial to listen to customers and ask lots of questions to find out what they really want.

"I ask them to tell me about everything they've been told so far about their project. Find out what their fears are," he says.

"Don't say one word. Just listen. Don't disagree with them. You want a business partner. You want to be their ally."

All this gives you ammunition for your sales effort so you can specifically address concerns and build confidence that your shop is the one for their project.

"If you sell yourself to the client, the product becomes secondary," Lehmann says.

Don't do, sell!

Lehmann invests a lot of time in working with clients. He wants to make sure they appreciate the technical expertise he brings to their project. He reinforces that impression even with the language that he uses.

"(The word) do is not allowed in our showroom," he says.

"We don't do' cabinets. We manufacture custom cabinetry. Use specific words."

Not just words count but also delivery. Lehmann says you need to exude enthusiasm and professionalism. He uses an usual training aid.

"Watch infomercials! They're selling garbage for a ton of money and it doesn't work, but you've got to buy it," he says.

"Forget about the product; watch the technique." He says the emphasis is on repetition and a motivational person.

What if the client wants something that you don't want to build or that you know from experience will be a problem? Lehmann says the secret is to offer alternatives.

For example, if the customer wants spice racks mounted on a pantry door, Lehmann knows from experience that people will load those racks up with cans and other heavy items that might cause the racks to sag or fail. Instead he offers other suggestions such as pullouts.

Thank you notes

Lehmann sends lots of thank you cards. He sends one to customers who visit his showroom. He sends a card to thank them for considering a quote. He thanks them for giving him the job. And, finally, he thanks them at the end of the project and asks for referrals. That thank you card comes with a stack of his business cards.

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