Walk into the Shoppers Drug Mart Polson Location on Hwy. 6 and you are immediately greeted by a member of the cosmetics team.
Cosmetics manager Michele Conley and her staff are something of an unofficial welcoming committee at the store, regardless of whether a customer is there to buy a tube of toothpaste or a tube of lipstick.
But for those who are in the market for the latest mascara, foundation or fragrance or just looking to stock up on an old favourite, Conley and her team are happy to help. Anyone who has experienced their superior customer service knows that the help they get will be genuine, helpful and never pushy.
And that’s why the team of Conley, Ally LeBel, Lesley Clark and Ashley Krastel has just been awarded what is known in the business as the Oscar of the cosmetics industry: the COSA, short for Cosmetic Outstanding Service Awards.
“The award is for customer service, not sales,” said Conley. “It’s listening to what your customer wants, helping them find that solution, not being pushy, not judging anybody.
“This is very much a team award, and everyone on my team is so special. We truly love what we do and enjoy meeting new customers each day and building a relationship with them. We just have an awesome job.”
There are a number of steps to take before taking that trip to Toronto to collect a COSA. You must be nominated by a peer, vendor or retailer. But that doesn’t ensure you’re any closer to winning: this year’s awards brought in more than 900 nominations for a total of 17 awards, ranging from overall winner, to fragrance advisor to Vernon’s award for Team Award Drugstore.
The cosmetics team was nominated for the COSA by Shoppers’ front store manager Dave Stefaniuk.
“What stood out for me is that of all the retail outlets I’ve managed, the cosmetics department here — the group of girls together — is fantastic,” said Stefaniuk. “I’ve been here a year and I can’t tell you how often a customer has come up to me and said ‘I’d like to tell you about Michele, about Ashley, Lesley or Ally,’ so nominating them was just a great opportunity to let them know what a great job they’re doing and to see them get the recognition they deserve.”
The panel of judges reads each nomination, selecting their personal favourites from each category before selecting those individuals whom they feel deserve to be finalists.
Conley and her colleagues were nominated in the team category for the 11th annual COSA Awards. And once they made it to the finals, they were visited by secret shoppers three times.
“We had no idea of course, and we later found out that the secret shoppers ask everyone the same three questions and if you aren’t able to answer them, you are vetoed,” said Conley. “And we didn’t find out we were finalists until we’d passed the secret shopper test.”
From there, the fun began, with the four women jetting off to the COSA awards gala in Toronto last November, attended by more than 500 sponsors, industry members and media/PR personnel.
Staying at the five-star Fairmont Royal York, the women crammed in sight seeing and shopping, along with the awards gala.
“We had an amazing time,” said Conley. “And we will be in the April edition of Chatelaine magazine about the COSA Awards — we were blown away when we heard that.”
For Conley, a mother of two grown children, a passion for her job makes it easy to provide the kind of customer service that wins awards. At 19, she began working for Shoppers Drug Mart in Vernon’s downtown store, as a cashier.
“I have worked in every position except pharmacist and then when a spot opened up for a cosmetician, I jumped at the chance.”
Trained by her mentor, Ursula Gohmann, Conley quickly embraced her new profession, signing up for every course and training opportunity that came her way, something that she and her team still take advantage of on a regular basis.
“Even if you have done this for many years, you keep up to date and we do training on weekends, on our own time,” said Conley. “They have advanced courses and basic schools for those just starting out. You learn about everything, and it can be overwhelming to someone just starting out because every year there is something new. One year it’s peptides, another year it’s retinol, so keeping it all straight can be confusing.”
Conley said today’s drug store still provides all of the items customers have come to need and expect, from prescriptions to shampoo, but today, they are more like a small department store, particularly when it comes to the cosmetics department.
“One of the biggest changes in the industry is that more men are actually using skin care and aren’t afraid to come in and talk to us about it.
“It’s about helping people, I don’t feel like it’s a job, it feels like fun, and it’s really nice to get to know the customers, as we have a lot of regulars. It’s about making someone feel good about themselves, and that’s what we love.”
Conley flips through a file containing comments that have been sent in my customers, praising members of her team. There is also a log, where they keep extensive notes, as a way of communicating with each other about products.
Conley is proud of her team: Clark was a customer first before making the switch to cosmetician, a position she has held for two years; Krastel was a lawyer’s assistant who has now been at the store for three years; LeBel has been at Shoppers for nine years.
“They are all amazing and I feel so blessed to work with them.”
Conley said cosmeticians have to learn about everything in their department, not just one brand: fragrances, hair colour and every new product that comes out.
“We don’t just focus on one product. And I always tell my customers the most important things they can do for their face is to cleanse, tone, moisturize and wear sunscreen. I get young girls in who are interested in anti-aging products and I tell them that sunscreen is the best anti-aging product there is.”
Shoppers Drug Mart has been serving Canadians since 1962, with the Polson location opening five years ago.
Conley was enthusiastic about having the opportunity to open a brand-new store.
“I still had to apply for the position, and then it was so wonderful to set up my department with the store concepts crew from Toronto.”
And she is thrilled that her department is able to carry high-end lines such as Smashbox, Benefit and Dior in addition to all of the more moderately priced lines her customers have come to expect.
“When I came from the downtown store, I wanted to make sure I could carry certain lines, but they don’t just give you an account because you want it, but because you have proved yourself.”
So when Conley wanted to carry Smashbox, she had to make a presentation to head office as to why she felt her store was a good fit for the brand. Her spiel worked and the store is now one of the top 10 accounts for Smashbox.
Conley said the fun of working at Shoppers begins at the top with owner/pharmacist Gudrun Wiens.
“She is wonderful to work with and doesn’t hesitate to give us hugs,” said Conley. “The whole store works together. As soon as you walk in, you feel that vibe that this is a happy place, and that first impression makes all the difference.”