5 Retail Leadership Solutions

My home state: Arkansas. It makes my heart bleed blue and white to see Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club dropping the ball so hard. If they would let me, I’d lead a workshop for any supervisors and/or managers at any Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club for free.

I’m concerned that two things are happening: really great managers are either being beaten down or hammered out. Those managers who maintain excellent stores and are able to exceed their metrics are being promoted out of direct retail leadership. Those managers who sacrifice their metrics for better service and store appearance are being beaten down or driven out of the business entirely.

Retail Leadership Solutions

I’m done complaining to you. Let me show you how to fix it in your business.

  1. Ownership. Sam Walton offered early employees stock options. He called them “associates”. Teach your team to own it. If they treat the store like they own it, they will take care of it. If they take ownership of problems that come to their attention, your customers will get faster, better solutions.
  2. Purpose. Teach your retail leaders that their purpose is to provide the greatest experience for your customers. Some supervisors and managers think their jobs are to make sure breaks get done and the store doesn’t burn down for 8-10 hours. Break schedules and store practices revolve around the customer’s best interest, not the manager’s.
  3. Critical Thinking. If you bind your retail leaders to if-this-then-this thinking, they are set up for failure. Supervisors and managers need to be able to think through problems and create solutions.
  4. Empowerment. Your retail leaders must have the power to more than satisfy your customers. A supervisor once told me that neither he nor the other two supervisors could leave the podium to help a swamped hot dog station. They were to stand there for the entire shift and make sure the breaks got run. What?!
  5. Top-Level Oversight. I don’t know what Sam Walton would have done if he had seen the store that inspired this and my previous post. If it were my store, I’d be hiring new managers and running the place myself until I found the right ones. When I was at Wendy’s, we would get a tip about two days before the franchise owner or corporate inspector was stopping by. Stop in and shop at your own store completely unannounced. Stage your own Undercover Boss— regularly. And don’t stack the deck by allowing for a warning! You’re stacking it against yourself!

None of this starts with a mid-level supervisor who says: “You know, I’m going to single-handedly change the way we operate.” While he or she can make a difference at the store level, true change has to start at the top and be driven down into and through the organization.

The next time I go to Wal-Mart, I know I’ll be right back in the middle of a bumper crop of morons. But retail has been reinvented over the last two decades and will continue its evolution. Hopefully one day that will mean more refined standards of how we’re treated face-to-face.

You can connect with me on Twitter and Google+!

5 thoughts on “5 Retail Leadership Solutions

  1. Interesting thought. I think if I were to propose these at my old retail stores I would have gotten the most pushback on Empowerment. The others could get paid lip service and poor management could move on, but empowerment is dangerous. It is also wonderful.

    When I went back to college I worked selling shoes for awhile. We were told to make the customer happy and we were also told not to haggle because these were high end shoes and a lot of our customers felt somewhat entitled. There was also a lot of misinformation about us like referral discounts and other programs that simply didn’t exist.

    We had a customer come in and just insist that because his doctor recommended our shoes that he was to get a free pair and charge it to his insurance! The manager was out and I was the senior associate. My co-worker was trying to offer him a 10% discount and suddenly it turned into a haggling session. I cut her off and told the customer, “What your doctor told you isn’t true. However, we value your business and I’ll make you a one time offer. You can have the shoes 50% off and if you like them I’m sure you’ll be back when you want a new pair.”

    Now, this guy could have been full of crap, he could have been hitting all of our stores in the area with this story (We were fairly well spread out, so he’d have to hit a few towns to pull it off.) He might have taken those shoes and never come back.

    Or he could have truly had a misunderstanding. My co-worker was stunned and was convinced we were going to get in trouble.

    General manager came in the next day, looked at the log, I’m sure he saw I had discounted a pair of shoes for half off. He never said a word. He told us not to haggle and to make the customer happy. We didn’t make a dime on that pair of shoes but I did what I believe he said.

    For what it’s worth, our store was always a sales leader in our region. I attribute a lot of it to the General Manager’s outstanding customer service policies.

    1. Great story about a manager who walks the walk; this is a rare quality. People think that there’s some sort of price-quality paradox. If you’re faced with a lagging profit, cut your costs (quality) and jack up your prices. You may lose a few customers, but the net increase will make up for it. It’s such a widespread philosophy because it works in the short-term.

      Long-term success comes from leaders who value their constituents (customers, clients, etc.) AND the people who serve them. I applaud you for stepping in and rescuing your team-mate.

  2. Great post Justin! Sam Walton started a great and lasting business. Love reading about him. I think having supervisors and managers who really care about the people below them very key to having quality and committed team members.

    1. Absolutely, Dan. Retail leaders have to find some way to involve mid-level managers in critical thinking and create buy-in for a sense of ownership.

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