Retailing Tip: Get Closer to the People Who Matter Most

Over the past year, I have been addicted to the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss.”  This is a reality show where a company CEO, or other senior leader goes undercover as a new employee in order to see what is really happening in their company.  In almost every case this is a real moment of truth – and surprise – as regards what is really happening in the company.  It is always interesting to see when smart people realize that they really do not know it all.

Not too long ago, our retail consulting firm was engaged by an owner of 50 retail specialty locations.  We were engaged to help him improve the productivity of his sales associates and store managers.

As part of almost every engagement we like to spend a few days in our clients’ stores and on the road with their field managers.  Our customer observations and conversations with team members let us get a deeper understanding of what areas can and should be improved. 

As often happens in these cases we found a number of things that could be addressed to improve productivity.  These including simplifying compensation programs, optimizing store schedules, implementing retail sales training and improving performance management practices.  But the biggest take away for us was that the top management of the company was unaware of and surprised by the root causes of many of their productivity issues. 

They thought that their problems were with poor policies and procedures.  Instead, the biggest challenge was that they had not visited a store in over a year and were unaware of the issues that front-line sales representatives and their customers were facing on a daily basis.

Hiring retail consultants is a great way to get an impartial and unvarnished view of your business and the opportunities you have for improving it.  Mystery shopping and point-of-sale data are also great tools for getting feedback about your business.  Many retailers are also utilizing social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers, but in the end, you cannot forget the human element.  That is getting into your stores, working alongside your retail sales representatives and speaking directly with your customers. 

The moral of the story…If you do not want to be surprised about your business, get closer to the people that matter most – customers and the people who serve them.

–          David Goodwin is the Principal of the Retail Advocacy Group.  As a 30 year veteran of the retail industry he has hired, trained, and performance managed thousands of retail sales representatives and retail managers.  You can learn more about instructor-led and e-learning training solutions for retailers at