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Posted: October 17, 2013

Chef Laura: Secret sales magic trick revealed

Behold! The Mystery Box!

Laura Cook Newman

Most magicians are known for their signature trick:  David Blaine levitates, Criss Angel freaks your mind, and David Copperfield defies the limits of bronzer application.

Sales people usually have a few tricks up their sleeves too.  Some are pure voodoo, some are legit; this one’s a little bit of both. 

I call it The Mystery Box

If we apply a little wizardry to the sales cycle, we could potentially double our sales.  Not only is this lucrative for our business, but it also increases our sales people’s commissions and delights our customers.

At the risk of having my SAM card revoked, I will reveal this magic trick here:

Behold!  Nordstrom is where I learned this sleight-of-hand.  I pulled an Al Bundy and did a stint in the shoe department.  This magical maneuver works like a charm with shoes, and it might work for your company’s widgets/services too.

Before given free roam of the showroom, I shadowed the store’s top salesman, Marty.  Unlike a Las Vegas headliner, he wasn’t particularly handsome, didn’t dress in head-to-toe black, and just had me - not a scantily clad assistant – by his side.  But Marty was a magician in his own right, without all the smoke.  We did have mirrors in the shoe department, after all.

When a customer entered our arena, he cast his spell with a nod, smile or friendly wave from across the room.  Then he let the customer browse to her heart’s content. 

Ms. Customer would pick up a pump and examine it.  The moment she held it a nanosecond longer for consideration, was precisely when Marty would gracefully approach and ask “What size may I get you?”  Not “Can I help you?” or “Would you like to try that on?” which could both be rebutted with “No thanks.”

“Do you have a seven?” she’d ask, handing over a conservative beige kitten heel.

“Right away,” he’d reply smoothly, vanishing into the back with me handcuffed to him.

The shoe storeroom was a cross between Imelda Marcos’s closet and the warehouse where the Lost Ark was kept.  We went directly to the beige heels section and secured the customer’s request.  Presto!

Or so I thought…

My mysterious mentor continued shuffling through the shelves like a solo game of Three-card Monte.  Marty handed me the stack.

“Why so many boxes?” I asked

“You’ll see,” he assured me.

Ms. Customer sat patiently awaiting our return.  Marty removed the lid of box #1 and revealed exactly what she asked for.  This was Act One of the trick: “The Pledge”.  Marty earned her trust delivering what she expected.  She slipped them on and performed the obligatory catwalk.

“I also brought you these,” Marty would say as the customer settled back into her chair.  This was Act Two: “The Turn”.  Marty had subtly shifted the sale in his favor.  Box #2 contained another pair of beige kitten heels.  These had an elegant silver buckle on the side, were pricier, and also a size seven. 

As Ms. Customer began to walk the carpet in those, Marty politely excused himself, with the promise of his return.

From our vantage point of the register, I whispered “Why didn’t we stay with her?”

“You’ll see,” he assured me, obeying the magician’s code to never reveal their secrets.

“Okay, but can you at least tell me what’s in the last box?”

“You’ll see,” he purred, clearly enjoying his super powers.

Ms. Customer opened box #3 and extracted the cutest pair of bubblegum colored patent leather slides I have ever seen.  Voila!

Guess what size they were?

Guess what she did with them?

From my post, I anxiously watched as she slid on the size seven pink sandals and pranced around the floor as if happily hypnotized.

Like an apparition, Marty would reappear and say “Oh, I brought those just for fun.  They looked like you.”  Beaming, she nods.  Marty escorts her to the counter with two boxes in hand: the upsold beige heels and the pink slides.  That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the Final Act: “The Prestige.” Ta-da!

The Mystery Box is a touch of hocus pocus with a remarkable track record.  Show your customers what they want, then show them a little more, and then show them something they didn’t even realize they wanted.  Abracadabra, you’ve doubled your sales!  No bronzer required.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Fantastic article, Chef! I'm a big fan of Jedi mind tricks like these. The best part of this one is how Marty was able to use the customer's aspiration of herself to not only increase the amount of the sale, but of the value and joy she received as well. Sure she left with less money than she probably anticipated to, but she also left a lot happier. Good for sales AND for customer experience, and that wins every time. By HLZ on 2013 10 17
Couple of years ago we took the fam to Disneyland. After each ride we disembarked into a gift shop designed around the ride and had the opportunity to purchase a photo or tchotchke to help us remember the experience (not ride). Similar set up, but the Prestige is a bit different. I note this as I sip coffee of my Twilight Zone Tower of Terror cup. By Mr. M. Mouse on 2013 10 17
Up sale is good, the method you describe is nice, up selling a high margin product is even better. By What is the Margin on 2013 10 17
Love it! Except for the pink sandals, that shopper could have been - ok, has been - me. And I've never regretted a purchase from Nordstrom's so it's a long-lasting magic. By Andi on 2013 10 17
Great Article!!! Nordstrom's knows how to do it right. By Liz wendling on 2013 10 17
Marty must have made a lot of money! By Ta tee on 2013 10 17
Loved it Chef! Last weekend, I took my grandsons to a fall craft fair on the hunt for rubber band guns. (More precise than using your finger!) They browsed the array of wooden revolvers with sprocketed-barrels to hold the "ammo" (rubber bands) and targets made from wire and foam core. With their hard-earned cash, the boys thought they'd buy a $10 gun and be done. After making their selection, the craftsman/salesman/jedi said "so what are we going to do for your ammo, and target"... and proceeded to up-sell into an $18 purchase. We knew you could buy rubber bands from OfficeMax for pennies. We knew we could construct a target from recycled materials. But he transfixed us and we were all sold. We left happy and feeling like we got exactly what we wanted and deserved. Now if I could only apply this to sausage... By Abe Froman, the king of Chicago's cased meats on 2013 10 17
Great article. One of your best! By Pater Familias on 2013 10 17
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