Archive for July 31, 2012

Why Bad Things Sometimes Happen to Good Retailers

There is almost no margin for error these days when it comes to service or operational excellence.  The competition is unforgiving and for the most part, so is the customer.  Loyalty is often allusive and depending upon your definition of the term, is becoming even more so if  you believe much of the research about the next large demographic group of influence, the Millennials.  Earning their repeated business will be tantamount to herding cats.

Someone believable once said that “you are only as good as your weakest part”.  That adage certainly holds true to larger retailers who have great programs and intentions, but somehow do not get them communicated or executed in all stores, everyday.  To complicate matters, I often find that many retailers are in denial about the existence of their “weakest parts” such as inconsistent customer service, poor store conditions, and even execution of chain-wide promotions and marketing programs.

In fact, some of the best retailers I have either shopped, consulted with, worked for, or visited have been subject to bad things happening, despite great plans and intentions.  It happens to the very best.  There are a variety of reasons for these often brand-damaging inconsistencies.  Among them are;

  • The newest, best and brightest stores get the attention of a new born baby, but older, often smaller stores are often off the  radar screen when it comes to both operational and merchandising attention.
  • Tangential to bullet number is the unavoidable limitations that smaller, older stores struggle with vis-a-vis their larger, newer sister stores.
  • With constant cost-cutting becoming the new reality for retailers, there are fewer district or field managers, fewer merchandising specialist, and clearly fewer folks in the stores to support corporate mandated standards.
  • Despite new technology pervading the retail landscape, some retailers are still not very good about communicating to the stores in a manner that is effective and clear.
  • Finally, accountability relating to store execution, (or poor execution from HQ) is often poor.  When things do not happen the way they should, there are not quick-read metrics or reports available for review and remediation.

Most of the operational and communications short-comings are fixable.  Some require investments and still others may invovle tough decisions to close older stores, but others are more about priority alignments.  When bad things happen, good retailers have the following options;

  1. Before branding campaigns are developed, think through how the least of your stores might support it.  If the bottom dwellers do not fit the image and the essence of the campaign, consider adjusting the campaign to have relevance in these smaller stores, or longer term, consider re-bannering them so they do not negatively impact the consistency of delivery.
  2. There are a myriad of new communication technologies out there.  Many can offer hand-held or tablet communications so that store and department managers have access to plans and imperatives directly from HQ. If you are not good at communicating, there are tools to help you get better!
  3. When sales are down and pressure mounts, resist severely cutting labor (at store level) to the point that the “blocking and tackling” execution of customer service and operations are at risk.  All of the great communications and plans are moot if there are not folks on the front lines in position to energetically and accurately execute the plan.
  4. And finally, and most importantly, have the right measurements and reporting in place to understand when poor execution occurs.  Consequently, if you are providing the tools and resources to execute plans, and they are not handled properly, hold folks accountable.  It is the right thing to do.