there have been many, many examples of people who have succeeded in a given
field, or discipline, through the application of common sense, hard work, firm
principles and, above all, great leadership skills.
In retail, this
combination is rarely found. That’s not to say that there aren’t many
exceptional people in retail – only that the particular combination mentioned
isn’t seen very often. Great leaders apply the above, and much more. To lead a
retail company, region, district or store is no small task. Many would argue
that, because specialized degrees or formal education is not necessarily
required, or indeed, even sought out when recruiting someone to run a retail
organization, that anybody can do the job. I once met a person, who was
searching for employment, say “Job hunting is so difficult. I can’t even get a
job as a Store Manager, even with my qualifications.”
The individual who
spoke those words had a college education, had never held a leadership position
in any job and had absolutely no retail experience. That person, and many
others, don’t think leadership skills would be important to managing in retail.
They think pretty much anyone at all can successfully manage a store. I
apologize if that comment offends, but, really, if you ask people that’s pretty
much what you’re going to hear.
I disagree whole
heartedly, of course, and here’s why.
The retail business
is all about people; people dealing with people. Though the hardships are many –
long hours standing and walking around, schedules conflicting with family
members’ schedules, sometimes getting too few hours to earn a decent living, or
too many hours, often no benefits etc. – retail employees must soldier on. Or
The retail story is
actually very big and quite complicated. While the process of selling products
to customers is simple, the back story is fraught with problems that need to be
solved. How a particular retailer solves those problems, day in and day out,
will determine the level of success achieved.
To achieve at the
highest levels, great leadership is required.
Let’s look at where
it starts; let’s just take a single store owned by a single person. The person
secures a location, finds a supplier for a product or many different products,
gets the inside of the store all decked out with the latest and greatest
fixtures and POS equipment, has a logo designed and gets a great sign outside,
and the various other things that need to be done to get a store open for
On opening day, s/he
is worn out but excited because the dream has come true – they took an idea and
saw it all the way through to fruition. Often, the store owner works in the
store and welcomes the customers; and does everything else too. In a short time,
though, the owner realizes s/he can’t possibly handle everything, and can’t work
75+ hours a week. So, they start hiring. They hire one, or more, people to work
in their store. And that is where their problems often begin.
knowing how to recruit, hire and train, the store owner finds that the new hires
really aren’t doing things the way they would do it themselves. The new store
owner expects, and naively assumes, that the new hires will have the same common
sense, direction and level of concern that they, themselves, have. Not so. And
how could they? They weren’t part of the dream and they didn’t travel the long
road of seeing it materialize. And they didn’t invest all of their money and
time and effort into the creation of the dream. They have simply applied for,
and landed, a retail job – probably at minimum wage.
Now, if we take this
small scale example and blow it up to look at a retail chain, of course
everything gets blown up. More stores, no passionate owners, lots more money
invested, more policies and procedures to follow, perhaps an established
reputation to protect, and the list goes on.
So, although we can
expect that more people know what has to be done, we also have much less
control. We are managing remotely which is not easy. We simply cannot rely on
every person in the organization to always do the right thing. That is, unless
we have great leaders who have instilled a performance culture in the
Of course, that’s no
small task. A performance culture is painstakingly difficult to build, it must
be nurtured which requires constant attention to detail and it’s very,
very easily destroyed. Here’s a story about one retailer who experienced this.
This retailer had a
chain of 50 stores. While sales had been fairly consistent for many years,
things were going downhill. There was no particular culture and the brand wasn’t
particularly strong. The company was faltering and bankruptcy loomed large in
the near future.
When the first store
had been opened the owner had a success on his hands. Everything was right.
Great product, great looking store and a great manager. Building on that
success a second store was opened, and then a third and so on. All the while,
the owner was oblivious to what was actually going on in the stores. Sales
didn’t suffer immediately, of course. Often that is the case.
If only we could
point to a single decision; one particular thing that was done wrong to cause
the downturn. But that rarely happens. Usually, it is difficult to connect those
dots and, therefore, difficult to take corrective action. Sometimes one bad
decision leads to another and another. By the time the downfall happens, no one
has any idea whatsoever as to what really happened.
particular owner had a lot at stake. His family had been supported by the small
chain of stores for a few years and bankruptcy would take a heavy toll and
destroy their lifestyle and any hope of a bright future. So, before it was too
late, he set about figuring out what went wrong so he could 1) stop it and 2)
start moving in the right direction.
To find out what was
wrong and how to correct and go forward, he had to do a lot of travelling,
talking and soul searching. This man had great leadership skills in him…but
hadn’t , as yet, put them to work. Busy running around attending to details all
these years, he forgot that people need great leaders.
He went to executive
leadership training retreats, read every management book he could get his hands
on, spoke to every single associate and manager in each and every one of his 50
stores. He asked quality questions and took note of every answer.
Before long, he had
the company back from the edge of the cliff…and extinction. With a crystal clear
view of what had gone wrong and what needed to be done to go forward
successfully, he embarked on a plan: Build and maintain a performance culture.
This, and this alone, was the only clear path to success.
Not so fast, though.
And not at all simple. As mentioned above, building and maintaining a
performance culture is not something that is easy to do or to maintain. Perhaps
that is why so many companies – not just retail organizations – don’t do it.
So here’s what took
He communicated all
of his findings, and lessons learned, to his existing executive team, and to
every level of management, and to all associates at store level – even part
timers working a few hours a week.
He introduced new
ways of doing things and new ways of ‘being’ – basically, he introduced new
standards of behavior and new standards of performance in every area.
performance became the new, and very important, operational guidepost.
He discussed every
single detail of the new way of doing things with everyone in the organization.
He communicated his
vision over and over again.
With the help of his
team members – and that meant everyone in the organization – he developed the
vision/mission/purpose statements and code of conduct for the company.
He was relentless in
following up to ensure that every level of the organization was on board and
following the new way.
And he spent a lot
of time and energy on all of the above. In fact, he lived it. The company went
on to new heights; it became very successful. Some may ask “Does an owner
or CEO really have the time to do all of that, and should they do it?” Many, in
fact, will dismiss this as a waste of the owner or CEO’s time.
So, how would you
answer the question?
If you answered yes,
then you have the right mindset and can very likely do it and, if you do, you
will undoubtedly reap rewards.
If you answered no,
then you don’t stand much of a chance of getting a performance culture working
in your organization. It simply can’t be done half- heartedly. To try, without
putting everything you have into it, is a waste of time and will probably create
more confusion than anything else.
The correct answer
is yes, definitely take the time and make it happen. Here are just a few of the
benefits of doing so.
Your executive team
will have a renewed sense of direction and a thorough appreciation for the
workings in every department in the organization
Your head office
support people will be on a mission to help your stores be as successful as they
can possibly be
Your store managers
and staff will feel pride of ownership. Yes, even without profit sharing or
anything similar, they will work as if they owned the company.
Because of the
first three benefits, your customers will feel the positive vibe. They’ll know
they are special and they will reward you with loyalty. They’ll keep coming
back, they’ll refer you to their friends and family and they will become
ambassadors of your company.
with your business, including your suppliers, will want to do their very best
for your company.
There is plenty of
compelling evidence of success when a retail organization operates within a
performance culture. In fact, anyone reading this can likely think of at least
two or three retail operations that they are loyal to. And, given enough
thought, you’ll probably come up with the reasons why you’re loyal and, very
likely, you’ll see a lot of similarities to the company mentioned above.
You know, we talk
about the funnel effect often in our workshops. There’s a good reason for that.
Every single word spoken by your store managers, district and region managers
and your executive team members will have an impact on someone, somewhere in the
organization and/or the customers of the organization. Every decision, good or
bad, will affect the results you get. Every policy, procedure or new rule, well
thought out or not, will affect the results you get.
That’s the whole
idea of the funnel effect – everything that goes in, whether good or bad,
positive or negative, right or wrong, malicious or well-intended, smart or
stupid, impulsive or well thought out – will undoubtedly affect the results you
The Retail Operations Management Workshop
we show you how to manage so that only the
right stuff gets into your funnel. Learn how to get consistently
great results and how to take your retail business to the next level.
Create your own
amazing retail success story.
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