Chef Alton Brown’s Advice For Consumers

Celebrity chef Alton Brown recently held his “Edible Inevitable Tour” at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Mich., and I was in the audience. During the show I was struck by item six of his 10 Things I’m Pretty Sure I’m Sure About Food. “We vote with this,” stated Mr. Brown, pointing to a pile of money projected on a large overhead screen. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Businesses will eventually get the message.”

This got me to thinking: why don’t more consumers take Alton’s advice when shopping for a new mattress? We’re all familiar with consumer complaints regarding dishonest sales tactics, yet when you look at the largest retailers this deceptive type of treatment seems to be de facto. Why is that?

L.A. Woman

Take, for example, a woman from Los Angeles who called my store last week seeking advice regarding a mattress store she just visited. “I’ve watched some of your Beducation videos, so when I went into the store, I had a small list of questions concerning the type of foams and innerspring units used in their mattresses,” she said. “When I asked for this information from the salesperson, she quipped at me, ‘Oh, that’s just minutiae. None of that really matters.’ What should I do?”

I bit my tongue. Why would any salesperson, in any industry, treat a customer this way? I calmly replied, “I won’t mince words – shop at another store.”

The woman seemed taken aback. “But why,” she asked?

I bit down again – my tongue was now bleeding. Why would this woman consider spending one cent in a store providing such lousy treatment?  

“The very things you asked about, the foams and innersprings, are what constitutes a mattress. They’re not minutiae. If you don’t know what’s inside of a mattress you might as well consider it a fancily wrapped present and you won’t know what you have until you take it home. You can’t feel quality or durability just by looking at or sitting upon a product – you need to know what’s inside.

“Would you buy a car without knowing the mileage, type of engine, accessories, or condition of the interior? Of course not. So why, when purchasing the most important piece of furniture in your home – one that has a direct impact upon your health – are you accepting of such incomplete and disrespectful treatment? You need to vote with your money.” I was very polite, but also matter of fact. I assumed I had clearly made my point.

There was a pause. “But they have an award from a local television station.”

As Sylvester the Cat would say, “Sufferin’ succotash!” I needed Starbucks to deliver this lady a Trenta full of common sense, and fast. Since that wasn’t an immediate option, I politely went on to explain the fallacy of the television station’s Best in Business awards. I think I eventually got her to realize she needed to be treated better and deserved to have her questions answered when shopping for a mattress.

Don’t Reward Lousy Service

So why do so many consumers put up with lousy treatment? I think sometimes they’re embarrassed, especially if they’re not armed with good information. And in general, people don’t like to be confrontational. I wish more of them would call BS on these lousy salespeople. Our industry would be better for it.

So, when assisting your customers, be a comfort consultant, not a salesperson. Stand out from the crowd. Think of how happy you’ll make your customers, and you’ll be doing them a genuine service. If these people are voting with their money, earn those votes and make a strong case for them to cast a few hundred ballots in your direction.

Alton Brown would be proud.

This article also appeared on Sleep Geek.