I was 25 years old and just started a job working at a tuxedo shop when this late thirty-something man walked in. Standing I’d say around 5’4″, he wore thick glasses and sported a beard and mustache along with an already receding hairline.
Wearing a well used and absolutely filthy mechanic’s jumpsuit, he had just got off work and came directly to the shop to look at tuxedos. (Of course its filthy. Working on cars all day kind of has that kind of an impact.)
I was mortified by what happened next.
As he approached the front door, the upper management, who was training me, saw him coming. Apparently they had “sized” him up and determined that he was not going to mean much, which meant they weren’t going to make much commission. So, they wrote him off and gave him to me.
I could literally hear them mocking him in the back room. And quite frankly, gleefully mocking me as they didn’t expect much from me either in regards to this customer. They figured after one look, he had no money and therefore, not worth their time.
What are we in.. third grade?
To be honest, I was pretty angry with them and frankly embarrassed. Hadn’t this guy heard enough of this kind of stuff in life? To be honest, you could tell with his very demeanor and how he walked into the store that he had been written off long ago.
Maybe it was at recess as a kid or maybe in the hallways of school come junior high. Maybe it was that first interview, or maybe even [fill in the blank]. I don’t know when, but it didn’t take much to see it. My heart broke right then and there as I became determined to prove them all wrong.
But something was about to change.
As I approached him, I did my normal schtick as I introduced myself and sought to find out what brought him here into the shop that evening.
It was dark outside and the lights seemed dimmer than usual inside. Standing amidst mannequins dressed in tuxedos, I could hear the voices coming from the backroom as they mocked both me and the customer.
I prayed to God that he wasn’t hearing what I was hearing. To be honest, as I type these words now, 21 years later, I still pray that for him.
Initially overwhelmed with the selection, he seemed to lock in on the middle mannequin that sported the notch lapel Oscar De La Renta jacket, purple argyle vest and tie, and a matching pocket square.
You could hear the laughter coming from the backroom as they watched him approach that mannequin. It was the most expensive one in the shop that came with the biggest pay out in regards to commission.
It was then that he pointed to that mannequin and said that was what he wanted.
Without batting an eye, I told him that was an excellent choice and preceded to ask him what the occasion was. His response still brings a tear to my eye.
He looked up at me, squared his shoulders, and began to speak as proudly as I had ever heard anyone speak in my life..
“My mom is being honored by the mayor at a big event next week and I am going to be her date. I wanted to look the best for my mom.”
I remember that moment like it was yesterday. It was like a thousand arrows simultaneously hit their mark and in this case, my heart.
“What?!! You have got to be kidding me!” then spilled forth from the backroom. Yet, they sadly still weren’t convinced until the bill was totaled up and the amount was paid. But they knew right then and there that they were wrong in so many ways. I just pray that they had learned. I know I had.. and was.
In my adult life and in my years of retail, I have had the privilege of helping thousands of customers and I can say this, I will never forget this one particular customer.
Why do we judge? Why won’t we just shut up and serve?
I worked for that company a few months longer but not after learning some of the most incredibly valuable lessons of my life.
Never judge. Listen for the story. Everyone matters.
When we were done. He stepped up to the cash register and paid his bill. Without wanting to be too obvious, you could tell he was pretty darn excited at the selection he just made.
He couldn’t wait to be seen by his mom in the tuxedo he just picked out. He couldn’t wait to honor his mom as the eyes of the city were upon her. You could not only see it in his eyes, but you could hear it in his voice as well as see it in his every step as he left the store and made his way home.
“What just happened there?” I immediately thought.
What an honor to be able to be a part of that moment with him. I wish I could have been there to see him arrive at that event with his mom at his side. I bet his eyes were beaming and her heart was over-flowing. Can you even imagine?
Stepping out from behind the backroom, the once mocking voices now stood before me, face to face. They absolutely could not believe what just happened. Apparently that was not supposed to happen.
“Why not?” I pondered. …why not?
I wonder how many stories we miss out on each and everyday because we are just too hurt to even see them when they come face to face with us?
Yet they thought for sure that would be a wasted transaction. Hopefully instead, for them, this transaction had nothing to do with which tuxedo he got, but rather instead, the story he told and the conviction it brought.