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Lessons from Opal, Pearlie and Fred

Learning from three store managers

This past week found this writer traveling through the communities where he grew up as the son of a local merchant. Having the opportunity to visit each of the three towns, it was a trip down memory lane.

There was an occasion many years ago when we were driving from one store to another. Initiating a conversation, my dad asked if I knew which of the three store managers his favorite was.

There was Opal who managed the biggest store which was located in the community in which we lived. Pearlie managed the store that was the second location my father acquired. It was the smallest store in the smallest community.

And, there was Fred. This location was the newest, located in the largest community which also had the highest economic base. Three stores each of a different size, with different customer bases but with the same owner. As a youth it was very challenging to attempt to figure out the basis for which my father made his decision. Being stumped, I was as much interested in how the decision was made as I was in the decision itself.

The answer was that Fred was the favorite manager of my dad. The reason given was that Fred was always trying something new. Fred might try something in the store that my father might not do, and likely it would be done in a manner that would be different from how my father would do it. However, Fred was always being creative.

True to the explanation my father gave, when we arrived at the store Fred managed, we saw Fred’s newest attempt at improving the way the store was merchandised.

Fred gave an explanation of how he was concerned with the way certain merchandise could easily fall from any displays in the store. While it was a rather crude solution, it did solve the problem.

Dad made note of the change in display and continued with the usual tasks of his weekly visit to this location. The conversation about the three managers continued as we began our drive home.

My Dad talked about what Fred had seen and how he worked to find a way to solve it. There were several aspects of Fred’s idea that could quickly and easily be improved when implemented at each of the other two stores. As each of the store managers visited the other two locations each month, Fred would surely see how his idea had been utilized by my father in the other stores. When handled properly, Fred would take what he saw as a compliment and be challenged to develop another aspect of the store, but at the same time would want to work to make his next idea be harder to improve on.

Seeing the lesson play out as a youth, there has remained a tendency for me to watch other dealers and how they interact with their employees.

Some do a wonderful job by first encouraging their employee to find ways to improve the store. One of the best observed is the employee who is asked at the time of employment, “What would you do if you had a day all to yourself?”

The answer is going to give you an idea of what is important in this employee’s life.

We, as children, and even our pets, have all been taught to respond to rewards. Recognition can be as simple as the “pat on the back” or recognition before their fellow employees. Recognition can be as complex as finding a way to answer that question the employee was initially asked.

Watching employees being given recognition is a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, we often see owners and managers who believe it is their job to come up with the ideas that are implemented in the store. Employees are relegated to simply carrying out the instructions given to them.

When a business is fortunate to have a “Fred” come to work in the store, there is always the question asked about the “Opal” and “Pearlie” people that are in our business.

There are few times that your business is the first job a person has ever had. Just like individuals in relationships with other people in their personal lives, most employees have the experience of having worked with others. If they come from businesses in which the owner or manager has been one that believes they are responsible for all of the ideas.

Creativity has been discouraged and when this employee comes to your business there is an expectation that your business will be the same as their previous experiences.

We all advertise that we give great customer service. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to deliver on that advertised statement. Maximizing the opportunity for each employee to excel pays great dividends. Fred, Opal and Pearlie were all great employees in our family business. Some employees just need that bit of encouragement from the owner or manager to demonstrate their talents.


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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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