Employee Engagement is Key to Rebuilding a Retail Business

It Started with a Bad Meeting

A few years ago I walked into a meeting with a Fortune 500 retailer.  I was there to present a new product line and close the sale. Like many companies, this retailer had been struggling in recent months.  In fact, they had just gone through a round of lay-offs at their home office.

The good news is that I had a long-standing relationship with this retailer and knew that my product line met all of their requirements for retail price, gross margin, packaging and more.  My primary contact was a VP of merchandising, but I would be meeting with one of his subordinates and then meeting him for lunch afterward.

It was, without a doubt, one of the worst meetings I had ever been to.  The merchant was down in the mouth, would not make eye contact and barely looked at our products or presentation.  He told me numerous times that his company was in the middle of reorganization and that he could not make any decisions about bringing in new products.  In fact, he said that they were putting their entire line under review because they needed to eliminate further costs.  In effect, any new initiatives were on hold.  He then asked me if I knew of any openings at his competitors!

At lunch I told my friend – his supervisor – about my meeting and he confirmed that the Company was seeking new ways to cut expenses beyond the recent lay-offs.  I asked him why he did not want to consider new products and new opportunities for revenue and his response was that the Company was solely focused on cutting expenses.  After lunch, he also asked me if I knew of any opportunities that would be suitable for him.  The bottom line was that the team members of this retailer had quit.  Quit on the company, quit on themselves and quit on their partners.

Three years down the road, this retailer is no longer in the Fortune 500.  They have closed 20% of their stores.  Their gross margin is down by 10% and they have turned over their home office staff at least twice…including my friend and his subordinate and…the only main players who are still there are the CEO and the CFO!

Every Business Runs Into Challenges

That is right.  Every company and every retailer has a difficult month, quarter or even year.  The key is to fight your way out of it and a key to that is to keep your team members engaged.  If your business is struggling, here are some quick ideas on how to fight your way out:

1.       Get input from your people – They are often closer to the problem than you are and you will need their buy-in to execute your plan.

2.       Don’t blame anyone but yourself – You need to address the causes of the problem and that may involve changing your headcount, but make sure that your remaining team members feel like they are part of the plan.

3.       Don't get hung up on planning – In this case, the retailer took over a year to come up with and then begin implementing their plan.  In the meanwhile, everyone’s morale tanked and the best people left for greener pastures.

4.       Get involved at every level – All business owners need to handle the back-office activities – finance, planning and more.  But the people that execute your plan are on the front lines with your customers.  That is where you belong too!

Rebuilding a business is always a challenge, but it is one that you and other retailers can overcome by getting your team members bought-in and involved in executing your plan.

Are you looking for new ways to get your team members engaged and productive?  Contact us for a free one-hour consultation and learn how our retail training programs can helpyou to get your business back on track!