Friday, maybe more than any other shopping day of the year, you really notice great customer service: A genuine smile. Taking the time to help you find just what you’re looking for. The feeling that your business is appreciated.
There was a lot of hoopla this month about “Alex From Target,” a young guy in Texas who became an Internet star based largely, we’re assuming, on his good looks. But it prompted us to ask readers if they know of store employees who actually deserve a moment in the spotlight — not because they resemble Justin Bieber but because they’re good at what they do.
We got more than 50 nominations: retail clerks, grocery store sackers, fast-food workers, furnace repairmen, sandwich shop delivery guys — you name it, we heard about them. Mostly from grateful customers, but also from co-workers and even (slightly biased) moms.
Here we’re introducing you to three of the many examples of “good help” we heard about. Our hats are off to them and everyone else who was nominated.
We also salute everyone who took the time to suggest Brenda from Walgreens or Jim from Costco or whomever. Who doesn’t appreciate a compliment every once in a while?
On a day with a name like Black Friday, a kind word here or there is almost essential.
Calvin From Cosentino’s
Grocery shopping can be just one more chore, but when the guy sacking up your groceries flashes a big smile and asks how your day is going, your trip just became, well, less of a chore.
That’s why Barb O’Neill of Kansas City pointed us toward Calvin Knox, a day clerk at Cosentino’s Price Chopper on 103rd Street near State Line Road. Besides being an excellent sacker — “Nothing ever squished,” according to Barb — there’s one more thing to know about Calvin: He could be mistaken for actor Morgan Freeman.
“But Calvin is better-looking!” Barb says.
Calvin, of course, hears the Morgan Freeman stuff on a regular basis from “just about anyone that don’t know me.”
Is he Freeman’s biggest fan? Well …
“A lot of his movies are real slow,” Calvin says. “I like fast action movies.” (He does enjoy “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Lean on Me,” though.)
He also can tell you that the golden-throated movie star is a few years older than he is. The actor is 77; Calvin is 74. He has worked at Cosentino’s nine years as of Nov. 16.
As a clerk “I do some of everything around here,” including some stocking. But among customers, certainly, he’s best known for doing what he can to ensure that groceries get home in good shape.
And that aforementioned smile.
“I’m a people person,” he says. “I love people.”
“Bye, Calvin,” a customer tells him, wheeling her cart out the door.
“Bye-bye! Have a good one,” he calls after her.
Originally from New Jersey, Calvin moved here in 2004. A stepson, linebacker Gary Stills, was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999 and played for the home team through 2005.
Store director Guy Steiner says Calvin is always positive, pleasant and polite, “no matter what’s going on.” And he’ll do anything to help a customer.
So it snowed a foot overnight? Calvin will make it to work on time.
“He’s 100 percent reliable and dependable,” Steiner says.
As for retirement, doesn’t sound like Calvin has been considering it.
“My wife told me, ‘Just keep goin’.’”
Nicole From Starbucks
Kay Ferguson’s favorite barista at the Starbucks at Ranch Mart Shopping Center knows her name and her pup’s name, and says hi to both whenever she sees them — even if it’s from the camera in the drive-through lane.
And one day when this barista, Nicole Blair, wasn’t the person handing Kay her drink, she wrote a cheery note on the cup and signed it with her name and a tiny heart.
“This is small-town joy in the busy-ness of Kansas City,” says Kay, who lives in Brookside.
This Starbucks, at 95th Street and Mission Road in Overland Park, hasn’t been open two years yet. The day in June 2013 when Nicole graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School was the very day she interviewed for a job there.
She already had experience working at the Barnes & Noble store’s cafe in Leawood, which serves Starbucks drinks. But she wanted to work at an actual Starbucks.
Now 19, she’s also a student at Johnson County Community College. She’s interested in psychology.
Watch her in action at Starbucks, though, and it’s not hard to imagine her on stage. She’s got the voice. And she likes joking around with her co-workers, especially when there’s a line out the door and it would be “easy to get overheated.”
Turns out she did theater in high school.
“I guess I’m just kind of a big personality, as my friends would say.”
As a barista she is not known for any particular drink, but “the pumpkin spice latte is my all-time favorite. To make, to drink.”
Nicole’s boss, store manager Kristin Spilker, praises her for her enthusiasm, remembering the details — like the customer who always wants two straws — and just generally going the extra mile to create “the Starbucks experience.”
“It’s very important to me,” Nicole says, “that the customer leaves here having a better day than when they got here.”
And you bet she knows Kay Ferguson and her dog.
“Every time I see her, she grabs my hand and tells me I’m a blessing,” Nicole says. “She’s always telling me I’m awesome.
“Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried after she’s been here.”
What would she advise new employees, her fellow baristas who’ll have to learn how to make 50 base drinks and an endless number of combinations?
“Success doesn’t come without a few rounds of failure.”
Di From Chico’s
Which kind of clothing store salesperson would you rather have: One who assures you that everything you try on looks great? Or one who goes the extra mile to find something that works for you?
“I always am honest,” says Di Brace, a sales associate at the Chico’s women’s clothing store at Town Center Plaza in Leawood. “That’s what (customers) like. They want to have confidence when they leave here.”
Of course, there are tactful ways to get a message across. “That dress makes your butt look really big” is not the way to go.
Instead, Di might say, “I think we can find something a little better.”
Sandy Porter of Overland Park, who suggested Di as “a special clerk to me,” appreciates her straightforwardness — “Di is honest about the fit of a garment and how it looks on me.” She says Di is always pleasant and helpful, really knows the merchandise and has wonderful fashion sense.
“I love Chico’s, and I love Di,” Sandy told us. “Every woman needs a Di in her life.”
Di, 61, who grew up in Pittsburg, Kan., is what you might call a Chico’s lifer. She has worked for the company since it opened a store on the Country Club Plaza in 1993. She moved to the Town Center location in 1996 when the shopping center opened.
She’d been working for the family business, ski shop Sitzmark Sports in Overland Park, but when she heard Chico’s was coming to the area she decided “I’m gonna go get a job there.” She already liked Chico’s clothing; someone had given her some as a gift.
She was an assistant manager for six years but these days works full-time in sales. (She also helps with the buying at Sitzmark.)
“I love the people,” she says of her Chico’s job. “You just make connections for life.”
Her advice for others considering a career in retail: Be personable. Be kind.
“Customer service is really making people feel special.”
A SAMPLE OF YOUR NOMINATIONS
▪ “I felt compelled to (nominate) the ‘Happy Meat Man’ at Costco in Independence. … I don’t know of anyone who loves what he does more than Jim (Bennett). He is always ready with a smile and a hearty ‘How ya doin’ today!’”
▪ “I nominate Linda the night checker at Hy-Vee (in Prairie Village). Linda practically sings as she’s checking you out. She has an uncanny ability to make everyone in line feel like you are her favorite customer. Besides, she has great suggestions on produce that is particularly delicious at the time!”
▪ “Shannon, David, Seth, Charlie, et al — all the morning-shift employees at the Filling Station (coffee shop) on Johnson Drive have made my mornings this past year! They were usually the first people I spoke to each morning and always made me smile.”
▪ Michelle, the lobby attendant at the McDonald’s on Woods Chapel Road in Blue Springs, “greets everyone as if they are her best friends. … She loves to tickle the babies and talk with everyone who comes in. In fact, there are customers who only come in on Saturday morning to get breakfast because they know she works that shift.”
▪ “On a scale from 1 to10, Miss Brenda is an 11! She is a certified digital photo specialist at Walgreens on 95th Street and Mission Road (in Prairie Village). We (preschool teachers) always take our photo business to Miss Brenda because she is so knowledgeable and patient with us while trying to operate the photo kiosk.”
▪ “I love Miss Nancy (at the Hen House grocery in Leawood). She is all smiles, even at 6:30 a.m. … She never focuses on how many hours, minutes or seconds she has remaining on her shift. Now that is a blessing for customers.”