Employees and metrics and ops, oh my!
April 28, 2010 11:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I become a rockstar store manager?

Background: I am a relatively recently-minted retail store manager. I have a small staff (one assistant manager, one keyholder, three part-time associates), and we cater to a relatively specialized demographic.

I have had a lot of experience in multiple facets of retail (10+ years and multiple titles), and as such, that makes me pretty good when I'm on the sales floor and balancing that with operational responsibilities. My boss, so far, is pleased with *my* performance, but, as he says, I cannot run the store alone. During a particularly hectic week (my first week out of training, no less), most of my store was let go, and I did have to run the show all by myself, and I nearly quit.

I want to give the rest of my store the benefit of my experience, as well as the tools to succeed at other jobs in the future. I want my little corner of the mall to be an awesome place to shop for the customers, a great place to work for the employees, that hits all of the metrics my bosses want (for example, a high sales average) and I want to get a promotion (basically, I'd like to be LUSH). And while there are tons of great management resources on the Internet, there's not a whole lot geared towards retail specifically. Anecdata, resources, links, and books are very welcome, but something more than "don't be that dick boss you had when you were sixteen... and eighteen... and twenty... and twenty-four... and from twenty-five to twenty-seven..." I've had more than my fair share of dick bosses, and that's already running through my head.
posted by mornie_alantie to Work & Money (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
First, be sympathetic to your employees--their needs, their schedules. Understand they have robust lives outside the store.

Otherwise, if you try too hard to do what you state in your post you run the risk of going into Michael Scott territory.
posted by sourwookie at 11:23 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't miss retail. It was a hellish job, but I remember one really good manager.

He was always chill. Power outage? No problem, he'd be the first one making calculations and busting out change. District manager coming in? The store was already in decent shape, no reason to go crazy trying to impress someone who'd only be there for five minutes. He didn't suffer fools, but he had realistic expectations -- he was working with teenagers, and he staffed accordingly. A sick call or two didn't completely impact operations.

Most of all, he had a life outside of the job, and he expected us to have lives as well. The worst bosses were obsessed with numbers, metrics, and performance. If their supervisor was coming in, then we would stay overtime to polish the damned shopping cart rails. If I called in sick, then it was a personal affront to them. They came in with IDEAS that needed to be IMPLEMENTED without any input from the employees who had been there for years, and it bred resentment.

So, I think what you're aiming to do is totally admirable, but keep in mind that for many of your employees, it's just a job. And that, really, for you it's just a job as well. Don't neglect the rest of your life, because that will nurture you as you develop your career. Then lead by example: be positive, nurture your employees' interpersonal relationships, and encourage communication. You never know when you might learn something from someone you didn't expect.

Beyond that? Pay attention to the customer. Know what they want before they do. Organize merchandise effectively. Take care of your employees, and they'll take care of the customers.

And good luck! I wouldn't work retail again if it meant starving to death.
posted by jnaps at 11:48 PM on April 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

You have to realize that it's a huge joke -- customers and upper management taking the shit you sell seriously -- but that you are telling this huge joke. You're the comedian.

Then let your employees in on the act. It's a live show, a dumbass live show that you put on daily for the customers and upper management (the district managers and so on). It's all presentation, all appearances. The store is your stage. You put on your face when you punch the clock and you step out on to the stage. But your pay checks are not a joke. The show must go on every day without fail, everyone must know their lines, no one can step out of character for even a second, and the audience must be satisfied. All that or the producers will get new actors and you'll lose the gig.
posted by pracowity at 4:55 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Back up your employees. Even if you're in the situation where "the customer is always right" and you have to give the customer what they want at the expense of what your employee thinks is the Right Thing, make sure you're not doing it at the expense of your employee's pride, or they will resent you for it.

Be friendly and accommodating. You want your employees to be working, but you also don't want your employees to scramble into a panic every time they see you coming.

Praise your employees when they're doing well.
posted by litnerd at 5:40 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was a retail store manager all through my 20s and into my 30s, and the most contentious issue is always scheduling.

Most employees really appreciate consistent scheduling that they can rely upon weeks out. Most retail managers (in my experience) don't ever schedule consistently enough, and move their employees around as if they are just waiting in some salespersons' bullpen.

Make sure your employees are getting the hours they want, both in terms of time of day (don't make your daytime employees work nights, if it's at all possible to avoid) and in terms of how many hours they want to work. The part-time guy who only wants the employee discount shouldn't get the extra hours that the woman who's trying to work as many hours as possible in order to get herself out of debt would be thankful to take.

Also, when nobody wants to or can fill in a shift, you need to take that shift. It sucks, it happens all the time, and it feels like you're being punished for being the boss, but it's also necessary. Do it consistently enough, and your employees will be loyal to you and it'll happen less often.
posted by xingcat at 5:46 AM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

One of your most important functions as a manager is hiring. You need to find the best people you can (hard in retail), and then be of service to them in doing their jobs, whatever that might take. As the manager, you're the force-magnifier for your staff; you have the time and attention free to clear up problems and let them excel. But you also have to find people who WILL excel in that kind of environment, and that's not always easy.

Also, what pracowity says about the dog-and-pony show has a lot of wisdom to it. But you don't want to mislead either customers or management. Spinning the truth, especially for upper management, is one thing... outright lying is not okay. And that's particularly true with customers. I don't know what kind of business you're in, but ALL businesses want customers to come back, so you NEVER want to screw them.

It's very hard to find young people that have that kind of perspective, and teaching it is hard. Young people have small pictures of the world, and don't usually understand the greater implications in their day-to-day actions. And they may honestly not care very much about the store, the larger business, or you. If you can accelerate their growth into understanding the bigger picture, you'll be helping everyone involved... them, the customers, upper management, and yourself.

In my personal opinion, one of the worst crimes in retail is lying to customers. I would suggest being extremely intolerant of anyone doing so.
posted by Malor at 6:09 AM on April 29, 2010

Lead from the front. Whatever the most mundane job is in retail, do it side by side with your employees. The best boss I ever had was in a pizza joint. It was never beneath him to clean to grease trap or the toilets. Be an example of excellence while at the same time having fun.
posted by jasondigitized at 7:08 AM on April 29, 2010

Also, what pracowity says about the dog-and-pony show has a lot of wisdom to it. But you don't want to mislead either customers or management.

I hope it doesn't sound like I was recommending lying lying. Making up numbers and stuff. Because that will just get you fired or jailed.

But there's a lot of make-believe in retail.

Say you're managing a women's shoe store. Do you believe women should be buying sharp-toed, high-heeled, uncomfortable shoes? Maybe not, but you need the job, and your store makes a lot of money selling sharp-toed, high-heeled, uncomfortable shoes to women. Your hands are tied about mentioning this minor-league foot binding. Do you believe that your store's sharp-toed, high-heeled, uncomfortable shoes are something to get excited about? That they are superior to all of the other sharp-toed, high-heeled, uncomfortable shoes for sale in the mall? And the best buy for the price? Do you actually believe that the customer in front of you will look good in these (or any) shoes? There's a good chance that you don't, but you won't say anything to indicate your true beliefs because you're in it for the money.

Being in retail forces you to pretend that the only products in the world are the ones your store sells, and that those products are definitely worth blowing your spare cash on and even going into debt over. If a customer says the price is pretty steep, you aren't going to agree that they are in fact quite overpriced, and you aren't going to mention that the same stuff can be had for a lot less at a store down the mall or on the internet. That's part of the live retail acts on stage that you participate in when you run a store. People commit many sins of omission to get the commission.

But it's OK to let your employees know that you don't really believe the party line, that you know it's a big show, and that it's not much more real than a Broadway show. Just make sure they know that the show must go on and that they have to stick to the script as written.
posted by pracowity at 7:30 AM on April 29, 2010

I worked retail for awhile. My favorite manager was an artist who had kids and had to work to pay the bills. She took an interest in our lives outside work, and actually cared. I felt like a person working with her, not an employee working for her. She also had the attitude that pracowity describes. She knew that there was a whole world of more important things that didn't involve our shop, but she knew we needed to take care of the customer and put on a good show. She taught us to be professional with the customer, but not to take things too personaly when they didn't go exactly right.

She gave us the tools we needed to succeed. She made sure I knew what I was talking about when I was with a customer. Instead of spending the down time doing mindless stuff she would do role play type exercises with us pretending to be different difficult customers so we would know what to expect. Not just drilling us on procedure, but actually being 'in character' as the customer.

She also made sure to praise us when we did something well. While I was still green I dealt with an older gentleman who others had trouble with in the past. The day after I took care of him I found a card in my locker thanking me for my good work with a difficult customer. I think I still have that card ten years later. I felt like my effort actually mattered. Now I'm not saying you should give your employees thank you cards, but if you can really appreciate them and let them know that you do I think it will make a huge difference.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:32 AM on April 29, 2010

Best answer: Don't ever ask your staff to do something you are not willing to do. If you want them to work the pain in the ass shifts, make sure you work them every now and then. If you want them to leave the shop spotless, let them see you scrubbing chrome. If a pain in the arse customer comes through, don't farm them off onto your staff. Lead by example.

That said, learn to delegate. If you have a staff member who does bitching displays, make it their job to rotate them in a timely manner. Staff members with suspicious minds make for great stock control, and so forth.

Tell them what they need to do, not what they shouldn't be doing. "Make sure you wipe down the counters and vacuum the shop every night" will work better than "Don't leave a mess." Clear instructions are great - I've had a lot of retail managers who expect me to read their minds. Knowing exactly what is expected, as far as non-selling minutiae goes, is great.

Praise them when they do well. If you have staff who struggle with upsell, or with closing, or whatever, praise them for it when they do it well, and praise them publicly. The shop I manage has a daybook that staff keep track of customers and whatnot in, and notes on good sales or beautiful merchandising get put in there. Conversely, criticise them privately, so the don't feel like they're being picked on in front of their peers.

Finally, have faith in them and stand behind your staff when the need arises. They will reward you for it.
posted by Jilder at 8:54 AM on April 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks a lot, you guys!

This is a lot of sound advice, and I'm very glad I asked. I'm back in the workforce after a brutal unemployment stint, and not only is this a new turn for me, I really, REALLY want to be successful because I do NOT want to go back there.

And FWIW, I am so a retail person... I thrive on all of the different stuff I have to do, and the fact that every day is different, and I love being up and around... I tried the office thing for awhile, and no, not my show at all.

Anyway, thanks again, and all of your advice is being very taken to heart.
posted by mornie_alantie at 5:26 PM on April 30, 2010

I just want to say that your spirit is awesome! I love that you didn't let all these jaded people get you down. It's not all a show. You sound like you really believe that you are adding value to people's experiences, and that's huge. Nobody delivers true customer service anymore. Yes, the "stuff" you're selling may be undifferentiated from the store down the hall, but the service is key. People value being listened to, cared for, and treated like human beings. And sadly, that's hard to find these days. I have started several successful companies and we only hire people that believe in what they're doing. They are dynamic people and WE WORK AROUND THEIR SCHEDULES (school, etc) to keep them. And we pay them well. My current company has grown to over 100 people in under 3 years and continues to grow. Totally service-based.

Stick with your positive attitude and trying to push the envelope and learn. Your customers will love it, but even more... you'll benefit from it. You'll benefit from pushing yourself and not giving up. You can always be a lame-o and just say "I'm lame, I'll put on this charade for the masses and turn my mind off"... but WHY?? You waste your life that way.

Good luck! But, you won't need it.
posted by sharingideas at 8:31 PM on May 2, 2010

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