JJ Jeska of Golden Valley likes to dress like she has money. "I make a big effort on how to look rich when I'm not," she said.

Part of her success is the deals she finds at Rodeo Drive consignment shop in St. Louis Park, but she also has an ace in her Armani suit pocket -- a top-drawer saleswoman at the store who makes sure that Jeska doesn't leave the store until she looks and feels good.

"She knows when I'm trying to look younger or skinnier than I am," she said, "or steers me clear of a pair of Donald Pliners at a fabulous price that are a half-size too small or big."

Jeska says she hit the jackpot when she found Mary Griffin.

But many shoppers aren't as lucky.

They bristle at feeling that salespeople are either nonexistent or pushing to sell them something they don't want, or need, or even like, said Lou Carbone, author of "Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again."

A few top-selling salespeople in the Twin Cities take a different approach to helping shoppers find that perfect thing. These salespeople, who have decades of experience, thrive on helping shoppers narrow their focus, work within their comfort zone and budget, and leave feeling confident.

Above all, they are masters at putting the customer first, which is the golden rule of sales.

"When the salesperson makes a customer feel good about himself, that's magic," Carbone said.

Dan Bauer of Hopkins found top-drawer service at Hubert White in Minneapolis. Salesman Chuck Simpkins knows his preferences, said Bauer. When the CFO at Security Life Insurance of America in Minnetonka lost a lot of weight and had to replace some of his wardrobe, it was a chance to use Simpkins' skills even more. "A good salesman is an investment on both sides," said Bauer. "You need to get to know each other so you can get better service," he said. "Otherwise, consumers are left in the position of always needing to fend for themselves."

Avoiding salespeople means passing up valuable allies, said Carbone. A good salesperson can save shoppers money and time. Griffin calls the practice of selling a customer an item that doesn't look good on them "stepping over dollars to pick up dimes." She'd rather put an item on a customer's wish list and call her when the perfect fit comes in than go in for the quick sale.

She satisfies customers by trying to determine what they want (the occasion? color preference? favorite designers?), especially because clients aren't always sure about what to reveal. It's a fine line between gently prodding and playing a game of 20 questions, she said.

Simpkins, one of the Twin Cities' few salespeople to hit $1 million per year in clothing sales, tries so hard not to appear aggressive that he worries about being seen as standoffish. His casual tweed sport coat and mussed hair put clients at ease as he asks about their family and style. When a new client makes a purchase, he asks if it's OK to start a profile (including sizes and purchase records). He then follows up with a thank-you note or e-mail.

And he occasionally does house calls. Not every salesperson will go that far, but the serious ones do, Simpkins said. For example, a client's wife called him once and said, "I don't like what you're selling my husband." After a visit to their home, Simpkins realized that the client wasn't confident at re-creating the mix-and-match combinations he'd been sold. "I took pictures of different combinations from casual to dressy so he could look at the picture in the morning and choose among at least five outfits," said Simpkins. "Everyone was happier after that."

A salesperson who knows your wardrobe can save you money by choosing items that fit into existing ensembles. At Macy's by Appointment, a free personal shopping service, Jennifer Horan can pull pieces in advance or while a client gets a cosmetics consult. If needed, she offers curbside service or office delivery.

It's just one of the perks of working with someone who wants to do more than watch you browse. "Buying from me means that you're a walking billboard of my work, so I want to make sure you love it," she said.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/dealspotter.