Over the 25 years that I was responsible for store operations I learned a few practices that made my visits more productive. I thought it was about time I share them with the rest of the world.
1. Look for what the store team is doing right
Too often when a District Manager or Regional Manager goes to visit a store they are on a mission to show the store team how smart they are by finding everything they can that is wrong. While it is certainly everyone’s job to make things better, a more productive way to start is to find some things that the store is doing very well. After all, you would not have made your manager the manager of the store if you had not seen some skill sets in him/her. Ask yourself these questions: Is the pricing correct? Is the merchandise functioning? Are the front windows well displayed? Is the cash and wrap uncluttered? (An interesting side note on clutter - how much does the home office send to the stores that is at cross purposes to itself? Is there a central PERSON that has to approve EVERYTHING that goes to the store?) As you are finding what the store is doing right, ask the store manager to point out what could be better. If they can’t or won’t point out areas that can be improved, you have a problem with your store manager.
2. Look at the store as a customer would see it
When I was first a store manager I learned how to run a store from three people, Bud Hollander (my dad) Sam Golub and Sam’s wife. (store managers in our Ukiah store). All three of them told me to look at the store like a customer. To do that, you should ask the following questions: What overall story is the store telling? Is it neat and clean or is it dirty? Is there something special going on or is it business as usual? Is it easy to find things by themselves or is the signage a mess? Is it a friendly store with excited people or does the store not have any life? If you think about the customer viewpoint as you walk in the store, just for a moment or two, you may very well see a different store. If the store is not aimed at helping the customer shop, then you have a problem.
3. Ask where the “hot spot” of the store is.
Every store I have ever managed has a “hot spot.” This is the spot that every customer spends a bit of time. I was just in Nebraska Furniture Mart in The Colony (Dallas) TX and they have a "hot spot" in each of the sections of the store. Ask the sales team where the "hot spot" in the store is, they all know. Then work with the team to determine what merchandise should go there. Don’t worry about the Plan O Gram, because this is more important. You will be empowering the manager and her team to be successful. What could be more important than that? Write down what item is going to go into the "hot spot" and have the manager drop you a note on the sales. You will be shocked at the results of this empowerment.
4. Go to the bathroom
Now doesn’t this sound odd. However, I have found that this act will give you the opportunity to find out what is really going on in the store. Everyone will, of course, leave you alone on your chore. If the bathroom is clean, then the store is most likely to be clean. If there is no toilet paper on the roll then you probably have a manager who is not looking at the details and has not put pride into the performance of the store.
5. Look around the back room
When you are finished in the bathroom, walk around the back room. Is there merchandise in the back room that should be out on the sales floor? Is there discontinued merchandise that is not out on the floor? The efficiencies that can be had with an organized back room are worth a fortune. If your back room is organized you can spend more time on the sales floor.
6. Sit down at the managers desk
Every retailer should want his store manager on the floor as much as possible. I don’t care what size store you have, your manager must WANT to be on the floor teaching sales people and helping customers. It is easy to find bookkeepers; it is tough to find sales managers that are passionate. By sitting at the manager’s desk you can tell where she is spending her time. If there are magazines that should not be there then continue to look around. If the manager is keeping his personal finance at the office you have found a danger sign.
7. Find something to sell.
Every store has many items for customers to buy. You should walk around the store and help the team find one thing they can sell. It really doesn’t matter what that one thing is; just find one thing. Then help the team create the story they want to tell about that one thing. Then challenge them on how many of that one item they can sell in the next week. You should look for an item that has a more universal appeal but in the end that should be the team’s decision.
8. Look for cell phones.
I think this is a huge issue for retailers today. I can think of NO reason that any sales people should carry a cell phone with them on the sales floor. If there is an emergency they can be reached on the store phone. Phones on the sales floor are like phones in a moving car…they are a distraction. They DON’T belong on the sales floor. And, they don’t belong with you while you are making a store visit. Most likely you are only in this store once a month. While you are visiting the store, pay attention to the people and operations in the store. Make your calls either before you visit the store or after you leave. While you are there talk with the team and the customers…it is your job.
9. Ask what you can do to help them
Ask the team at the store what you can do to help them…and write it down. Listen carefully to both the words and body language. Then follow up with them getting any questions answered within a week of your visit to the store. This is retail so no question should take more than a week. You may not be able to do everything you discuss with the store team, that’s OK. But make sure you let them know what is going on. The best person I have ever seen follow up is Bob Higgins of Trans World Entertainment Corp. He is simply unrelenting. I admire him on this and so many other areas.
10. Ask how we are wasting their time
And finally, find out what the home office is doing to waste their time. I can guarantee that they have been given tasks that are just pure time wasters. The people in your home office think nothing about having the stores count this or more that. They will have the Store Manager go out of the store to see the competitive set of retailers within 100 yards of the store. That is not what you want the store manager to do. Len Roberts once said that “We have two types of employees here those that serve the customer and those that serve the server.” Too many retailers think they have a third type of person in the mix…those that serve the home office. Kill that attitude. Tell the store people that they are not allowed to do anything that does not come through the retail chain of command. You have to keep everyone focused on one thing …Selling.
When you visit the store you are there for one thing, to help the store team become successful. If you follow the guidelines above for three months you will see a startling difference in your results.
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Rich Hollander is a retail expert with over 40 years in the industry.