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What's Wrong With This Picture?

Providing the necessary ingredients to develop great store managers

It was a busy Saturday afternoon that will be long remembered even though it happened many years ago. There was nothing unusual about it, and all was normal until our friend Ron the manager of the nearby grocery store, came into the store. He was rolling one of their grocery carts, but it was filled with personal belongings and an 8 by 10 photo of him that had hung on the wall for customers to see.

The message had gotten around that the chain he worked for had decided to move their managers around again. Since their company built the new store near us in 1986, we had seen at least six managers assigned to this store and then relocated. Two of the managers, the last two, had been very effective in making the store a strong part of our community. They made sure that their store was a participant in supporting a new program for the police department, raising funds for the nearby high school, and working with our store to hold a bicycle safety rodeo for the elementary schools.

We also had the joint misfortune of experiencing a shopping center with an absentee owner. Using the strength of the grocery store corporate structure, pressure had been put on the landlord to perform the duties that he should have been doing. This help came about due to the effort of these last two managers. Ron was a welcome addition to our shopping center.

In addition to the items listed above, he convinced his management to upscale the merchandise in an effort to become more of a draw to higher income homes. He made an effort to raise the quality of his staff by hiring new personnel, and terminating many less qualified and non-customer oriented people.

But, now he was leaving the company instead of accepting another transfer. He wanted to be able to make a difference, but found that his efforts were stifled by corporate red tape. His assistant manager, a finance major from Notre Dame, had expressed many of the same feelings. Both had been gifted and trained with the necessary management skills. Skills that any store owner would be thrilled to see in an applicant.

But they found themselves spending a tremendous number of hours in the store shuffling papers, overseeing a large number of employees, and left each day feeling they had accomplished little. Ron's parting comment was, "it felt like having your finger in a glass of water. When you take your finger out, there is no hole left in the water for anyone to notice."

A different type of management experience was noticed with a sizable variety store that had closed within our town. It was a family operation. Because it was an independent, our family made an extra effort to shop there. But the service was worse than any other store. We remember the visit where a purchase by check required the approval by a manager. The cashier explained that the father and son were both in the store and that one would come to authorize the check.

You could hear the two in a side room having an argument. Even though they had been called to the register, it was five minutes before one of them came to authorize the check.

The store is now closed. But, we have observed the father shopping in other stores. It is easy to see that he is a very demanding customer.

He expects a level of service far higher than he was ever willing to give. The father currently works for one of the chain stores and mentioned when we spoke to him recently, that he doesn't like working there. The chain store, like the grocery store chain, is very demanding of their management, and the rewards are not there. The father is planning to leave his job and open another store within the next year.

These two scenarios come to mind whenever we have had the opportunity to coach a retailer. In our joint efforts, we have worked to design the retailer's management style so as to allow the individual working in their store to have the freedom to make decisions and be creative. One client told the story of their cashier supervisor having resigned to move to another city.

When they advertised for her replacement, they found not one, but two individuals with experience as store managers. In hiring each, the client decided to terminate several part time employees to make room for the two new hires.

The terminations showed to other employees his commitment to improving the store. And the addition of these two individuals created challenges to harder work in each of the current employees.

So, why don't these grocery store managers get into your shoes and own a store, or at least manage a store for a progressive owner? And why doesn't the individual that demands quality service give it when he owns his own store?

The first answer may be a lack of money, or not having the desire to go out on his or her own. As for managing a business, the difference may be in the benefit packages that are offered.

Frequently, the chains can create an attractive benefit program that the independent retailer will find difficult to match. And, as for the last question, there probably is not a valid answer for the actions of the former independent retailer.

If you were looking at the possibility of hiring a quality chain store employee for your business, you would find many independent retailers already have a competitive salary if you are comparing apples to apples. Often times, a person from a chain can report that he earns $32,000 per year, which can be $16.00 per hour.

However, this salary is making a false assumption of a 40-hour work week and 50 weeks per year. In reality, these people commonly work 75 to 85 hours each week. And when you calculate the amount of hours that these people actually work, the pay is only $8.00 per hour.

Perhaps, with the benefits that many retailers have, and an incentive or bonus program, you can be in the ballpark of competitiveness. When you interview these candidates, ask what they perceive to be the difference between your store and the chain store.

Hopefully your interest in a candidate is peaked when they express an interest and need for "growth", "opportunities", and the desire to "demonstrate their skills". And then it is your responsibility, and opportunity to deliver what this applicant is looking for.

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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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St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
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