Get Out of Town - Really!
by Matt Parmaks, Senior
impossible to direct an operation without knowing how it works. How it
really works, not how it is supposed to work.
If you are in
charge of a retail operation and don’t have your next out of town store
visit trip booked …do it now. It’s more important to visit out of town
stores more often than you visit stores in close proximity to Head Office.
In town visits are really not as productive, for you or the company, as out
of town visits. There are many reasons for this but among the most important
are familiarity and favoritism. The home town Store Managers are usually
more familiar and friendly with Head Office staff and out of town stores
perceive the in town stores to be favored…true or not. For everyone’s sake,
get out of town regularly.
District Manager and each of the Managers you plan to see during your trip
and ask them to prepare a list of questions for you. This call should be
made by you, not your assistant. Tell the Store Managers that no topic is
off limits and that you are sincerely looking forward to hearing their
ideas, answering their questions and discussing the business with them.
Make sure you
let them know exactly when you will be in town and then work together to
come up with the best day and time for you to meet with them in their store.
Remember that, during these visits, your schedule is much more flexible than
theirs. They must consider floor coverage, breaks for staff, etc.
Let them know
that you would like to do a store walkthrough and then meet, out of the
store of course, for lunch or coffee.
all of the above you will already have accomplished a great deal. You have
made a commitment to meet with certain individuals and, barring an
unforeseen disaster, you will show up at the date and time agreed to. They
are counting on it; their staff members are counting on it. The operation is
important to you and, while you are out of town visiting your stores very
few things should be allowed to take priority over your scheduled meetings
with Managers. What you learn from these meetings will be very valuable for
you and the organization.
elevated your business partners. They are excited about your visit and they
are feeling more like a valued company professional than they ever did
before. With your phone call you have personally acknowledged their
importance to the company and their level of motivation has shot right
through the roof. They are pumped and they will rally their teams to get
ideas, questions and concerns. When you arrive they will be ready to
In contrast to
this scenario many VP’s and Directors do something like this: Make a
decision to fly out in a few days; have their assistant send an e-mail to a
District Manager to make sure they are picked up at the airport; the
assistant is instructed to tell the DM that there are certain stores they
want to see, certain stores they do not need to see and the schedule, or
order of store visits, can be worked out when they arrive.
The DM then
lets his/her Managers know that there will be a Head Office visit during a
specified period of time but no one is sure whether the visitor will come to
their store or not. The reason for the ‘possible’ visit is not known. Even
if a particular Manager is told that the Head Office visitor will come to
their store, no time is set because the visitors schedule is subject to
change if something more important comes up. Perception is reality and all
that. My opinion is that there are very few things more important than
meeting with a Store Manager who is expecting you. I have witnessed many
cases where a store team knows of a pending visit and waits the entire day
(and evening) only to have a Manager of another store call to say ‘they’re
not coming because they got off schedule’ which translates into ‘too bad you
waited; you’re really not that important.’
scenario no one is expected to prepare anything or to contribute in any way.
They are just the keepers of the stores. This is a completely wasted visit.
Unfortunately, the Store Managers are likely to be de-motivated by all of
this. Even if the Head Office individual does feel that they accomplished
something with this visit, it is nothing compared to what they could have
A note about
surprise visits: Before your next surprise visit, determine exactly why you
are doing it. Do you want to know what the store looks like and how the
staff are handling customers, etc.? Do you want to catch someone doing
something wrong? Isn’t there a better way? Of course there is and you don’t
need to fly around the country to do it. Try to find a good Mystery Shopper.
More on that in another article.
this. You are a VP or Director. It is Monday at 1:45 p.m. Last weeks numbers
are not great and you have been working feverishly all morning trying to
analyze what is going on; you’re calling RM’s and DM’s, buyers and marketing
staff; your assistant called in sick and you haven’t had a chance to have a
bite to eat. You have to have the full explanation of what went wrong and
your complete action plan ready in time for the 4:00 p.m. meeting with the
boss. The CEO walks into your office and has you call in all of your
subordinates for a meeting – right there and then – and during that meeting
you must still carry on with your work (think customers in the store). You
do not have the option of saying that this is not a good time; you just have
to live with the situation. Impossible is it? Sounds a little bizarre?
That’s a surprise visit. Just don’t do it.
You can have a
tremendous impact on your business by handling store visits as proper
professional business meetings. No doubt you have Store Managers at
different stages of development with different levels of knowledge, skill
and experience. Your visit can be used to build a foundation of management
strength in the field. You can impart knowledge to raise the skill level of
your newer and less experienced Managers. You can challenge your more
experienced and more knowledgeable Managers. You have tremendous power to
create very positive attitudes and a loyal following. In addition to the
motivation you create in the field you are going to go back to the office
much better off. You will have new insight and information and you got it
from the people who are in direct and constant communication with your
customer; you got it from the people who make the sales and satisfy your
If you do it
right, you can accomplish truly incredible things with your store visits.