4 Ideas to Help Your Retail Store Run Smoothly

4 Tips for Retail Stores
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Running a retail store is much more complicated than people realize. Each week, I am consulting with a store owner who got into retail because they thought it would be easy. They always wanted to own their own business and retail seemed to be the easiest way. 

While retail is not easy, it doesn't have to be so hard. In most cases, the reasons I find the retail store owner struggling is due to a lack of understanding of the "​basics" to running a store.

Here are 4 ideas to help your retail store run smoothly. 

Culture

Every store has a corporate culture whether you realize it or not. I often times hear store managers reference the "culture" of their store, but when I ask them what culture is, they really cannot articulate it. I find that they use the term as more of a  buzzword than with a true understanding. And since they do not understand it, they are letting it control them. 

Culture is a living, breathing part of your store. It exists whether you're dealing with it or not. Culture either controls you or you control it. But the bottom line is that if you are not addressing the culture in your retail store, then you are making your job much harder. 

Your culture is made up of the values, beliefs and behaviors of you and your employees. In fact, it's the one part of your business that will undo any new policy, practice or standard you may try and implement.

Too often, the owner says one thing, but his behavior says something else. For example, one of the main deterrents to having a unified sales process is the store manager or storeowner preaching about the sales process, but not following it themselves. Employees see this and know that the values of the company must not be aligned with the speech.

In other words, the owner "preached" about how important a sales process was, but when he or she was on the sales floor, did not follow it themselves. 

I remember talking with the creator of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" survey and hearing him share that the difference between the companies on the 100 Best list and the ones who were not was simply the corporate culture. The companies on the list had a culture that embraced service and valued employees. The ones not on the list can say they do, but act differently. When I do a culture audit of a store or company, I always look in the break room for the "notices" placed there by management. Most of them read "effective immediately, you guys suck!" I hear the owner tell me he wants his people to be empowered and then I see a list of the 99 things an employee has to follow or do to process a return or take a check.

Culture evolves and develops in a cycle. Here is a great article to help you understand this concept. The reason this is significant is that if you try and change the attitudes of your employees (like many managers do) the culture cycle proves that it will not work. You have to change the beliefs and values in order to change the attitudes.

Everything speaks in your culture. Every sign you make, every policy you pass, every decision you make reflect the true beliefs and values you espouse as a business. 

Take some time to examine your vision for the store. And then examine the culture and see if it is aligned. My experience has shown that this disconnect is most often the cause of the frustration of the storeowner. 

Standards 

The number one reason employees don't do what they are supposed to do is because they think they are! Absent standards in your retail store, employees will create their own. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to a store owner complain about the job the employees were doing only to find out there were no standards in place for how to do the job. How does an employee know they are doing it right or wrong if there are no standards to go by.

 

Think of it this way, your version of a "clean" bathroom is probably much different than your employees. So if you assign them to clean, you may get a version of clean you and your customers are not happy about. Putting things in writing always makes the difference. 

Now, you may be reading this and saying "this sounds like a lot of work." And you would be right. But remember, it's work done once not over and over like the time it takes to correct poor performance does. One tip here is to have your employees help. For example, I had my champions (see below) draft the standards list for their areas. Then I took the lists and refined and edited them for the final copy that went into our Standards Book in the store. We kept this book at the cash wrap for all employees to have easy access. 

Constantly update and improve your standards. It's easy to get complacent. But remember, your customer is constantly changing and evolving his or her desires in a retail store. That means you constantly have to update and evolve your standards to be able to deliver the proper customer experience every time. 

Champions

Accountability is a good thing for your retail employees. And the fact is, most retail managers (especially when they are owners) delegate very poorly. They try to do too much of the work themselves. Assign a "champion" for each area of your store. For example, in my shoe stores, we had a champion for athletics, one for dress, one for casual, etc. As the champion, the person was responsible for merchandising, pricing, restocking and training the other employees on the products in his or her area. We even had them unload the stock for the back room when it was their products to make sure the stock room was neat and ready to sell as well. In short, the champion was in charge of the customer experience in the store. 

This system made our retail stores ready to sell at all times. And it made it easy to hold the employees accountable. Prior to this system, we would simply make a "to do" list of the things that needed to be done that day. And when things didn't get done or were done poorly or worse yet, just missed, it was hard to know who was at fault. And the reality is, the manager is the one at fault in this situation. 

The other great benefit of champions is the development of your team. Since the employees were responsible for the section, they knew the products better. And since the champion was responsible for training everyone else, everyone knew the product better. Nothing works better than peers training peers. 

One final note on champions. rotate the sections each season. Some sections are more challenging than others, so make it fair by rotating them. This also helps wth your employees' development which prepares them to move up in your company. In other words, the more products and sections of your store the employee knows, the more prepared they are to be a leader in your store. 

Reviews

The number one reason employees don't do what they are supposed to do is because they think they are! Yes, I just repeated that line from earlier. But it's so powerful and when you embrace it — it can change your life. An employee is asked to take care of the customer. How they take care of the customer is more important than did they though. For example, I can sell $10,000 a month as a salesman in the store, but did I do it with integrity and honor or did I say whatever it took to make the sale?

The best way to ensure that your employees and you are on the same page is through ​employee reviews. Schedule regular times to give feedback to your employees on his or her performance. One of the main reasons I discover during a consulting engagement for failure in a retail store is lack of employee feedback. In other words, the employees did not now what they were doing was wrong or not exactly what the owner wanted. 

In my stores, you spent your first week simply watching and observing the other employees. We never taught you how to sign into the POS or even use it until after that first week. Most stores will train the new employee on the register immediately. We wanted the new employee to know what was really important. It set the tone for our reviews as well. On day one, I gave the employee a "role profile" which was a version of a job description that included key elements like our culture. Then, when we had a review, we used that same document to ground the discussion. 

Many retailers avoid the conversations with the employee because they are afraid of upsetting them by giving proper feedback. They are afraid they will quit and leave. But there is something worse than an employee getting mad, quitting and leaving. It's an employee getting mad, quitting and not leaving. 

Ultimately, you may find out that you have the wrong employee and it's time to move them on. There is a process to follow, but never make the mistake of being afraid to fire an employee if it's time. The bad employee can adversely effect the culture you are trying to create in your store.