Saturday morning, Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure showed up at the company’s new Country Club Plaza store and pinned a name tag to his gray polo shirt.
The nametag read “Marcelo: Trainee.” The CEO wasn’t there to visit; he was there to work the store’s sales floor for the first time.
Claure, who broke into the telecommunications business 20 years ago by founding a Miami cellphone company, wore sneakers and a smile as he greeted customers who came in off the cold, ice-slicked streets. His goal: Convince every one of them to switch to Sprint.
The CEO’s sales pitch worked with Michael Mally, general manager at Kansas City’s Carriage Club, who decided to ditch Verizon after talking with Claure.
“He’s a gentleman,” Mally said, “and he obviously knows his business.”
Claure also convinced Carol Wei, chairperson of the Mid-America Asian Culture Association, to leave AT&T. Wei said Claure gave her a good deal, and that she likes the idea of supporting the Kansas City area’s largest publicly traded company.
“We both want to help the community,” Wei said.
Claure moved quickly through the brightly lit store at 4712 Broadway, which was decked out with yellow and white balloons. Overhead speakers blasted upbeat Christmas tunes such as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” as customers tried out new iPhones and browsed a case filled with a glittering assortment of Kate Spade New York protective cases.
Once Claure found a customer who was ready to sign on the dotted line, a Sprint employee dressed in gray and black would swoop in with a tablet to close the deal so the charismatic CEO could move to his next appointment.
Despite bad weather, between 70 and 80 percent of people who signed up for appointments showed up, said Tim Donahue, Sprint’s regional president in Kansas and Missouri.
Donahue said the publicity stunt was Claure’s idea, and that the goal was not only to sign new customers, but to connect with the community. On Saturday, more than 20 other Sprint executives worked at stores in markets such as Phoenix, Denver and Atlanta.
The event was strategically scheduled on what is traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year: The Saturday before Christmas. But snow and ice kept large crowds away from the Plaza.
At around noon, large white flakes had started to collect on the salty sidewalks. The Plaza’s horse-drawn carriage station was shuttered because of the weather, and the pedestrians brave enough to chance the icy streets darted quickly from store to store as temperatures dropped to the upper teens. Stores such as Sephora, Victoria’s Secret and American Apparel appeared to have more employees inside than shoppers.
The Sprint store was bustling, but Claure wasn’t the only draw. Former Chiefs player Will Shields signed autographs from 11 a.m. to noon, and Royals left fielder Alex Gordon made an appearance in the afternoon. Mayor Sly James also showed up to chat briefly with Claure about Sprint’s role locally, the upcoming Chiefs game and the success of the Kansas City streetcar.
“I love what you’re doing,” James told Claure at the end of their meeting.
The CEO also got a visit from Felix Sabates, founder of Sabates Eye Centers.
“He takes care of my eyes,” Claure said before posing for a photo with Sabates, who switched to Sprint from AT&T while he was at the store.
Sabates, an 86-year-old entrepreneur from Cuba, said Claure possesses the qualities he admires most: “He’s outgoing, down to earth, and a go-getter.”
Although many customers showed up specifically to meet Claure, some didn’t even know who he was.
DeaShunn Simmons and Cynthia Ferrara, who recently moved to Riverside from Oklahoma, drove in to get Will Shields’ autograph. On their way out the door, the Chiefs fans were stopped by a Sprint employee (not Claure) who asked them about their current phone plan.
A few minutes later, the couple was meeting with the CEO, who promised to waive their down payment if they dropped T-Mobile.
“We were paying $175 a month,” Ferrara said, “Now we’re paying $140, and that includes the cost of the phones.”
Simmons, who wore a Santa hat, said Claure told him he might be able to sweeten the deal with tickets to Sunday’s big Chiefs game. Simmons pulled the CEO’s business card out of his coat pocket.
“He said to email him,” Simmons said, “because he’s got some tickets for me.”