ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Half Dozen Tips for Retailers

When I was in retail, managing stores with daily customers numbering into the high multiple thousands I had a formula I followed:

1. The front end is your last line of defense.  A good cashier experience could undo a bad visit to the fish department, or not being able to find an item they wanted.  A good cashier could right all the wrongs and make sure the customer left happy.  Your last line of defense.  How many retailers have this attitude today?  Not many.  Too often I find cashiers who seem like they were pulled out of the nearby bus-stop, given an apron and told to stand behind the register.  Too many cashiers chatting with baggers about their day, or how they need a break or any other manner that doesn't put the customer first.

You ensure good cashiers by training them, often.  Then having a front end supervisor acting as a conductor of sorts to make sure the training is put into play.  Cashiers should never seem like they are hanging out waiting for something-- they should be focused on customer service and only customer service.  It was my idea to install a plastic bag station right next to the cashier so that as they rang up an item they could instantly place it into the bag-- no more pile up on a rotating belt.

2. The cleanliness of the store is a reflection of it's success.  I would hire 'maintenance' who would maintain the store appearance every hour we were open.  They would start at the entrance, sweeping, picking up papers, emptying trash, then constantly sweep the store and clean the bathrooms every 45 minutes.  Yup.  On weekends I would have two of them on.  I had many of my assistant managers argue that those hours could be better utilized elsewhere but I disagree.   The right person in this position pays for themselves by keeping the store looking clean even at it's busiest times.

3. The person at the Service Desk better know what they are doing.  It's the single toughest non-managerial job on the floor.  You handle everything from complaints to returns to lottery tickets.  You have to be friendly, you have to be fast and you have to be able to call for help when you need it.

4. Morale is your most important element.   The retail cliche is the customer is the most important part of your business, I would argue your employee is.  Happy, well trained employees guarantee good experiences for your customers.  Listen to them, explain policies to them and get them on board with the idea that the customer is job #1 for them.  I always had an open door policy in my stores and encouraged people to come and talk to me.

5. Every person in your store has to recognize that a customer is not an interruption of their work, they are the reason for it.  That means I better not see a customer walk down an aisle and be ignored by the kid stocking the shelves.  That customer should feel welcome.

6. Training in all departments starts with Management.  I would hold my management team accountable.  I fired more full time managers than almost anyone else.  When I would get transferred to a new store I always made it a point to arrive the night before I was supposed to report, so that I could get a feel for how the store really ran.  I once showed up and walked the store, surprised to find no manager on the floor.  After nearly an hour I found the Assistant Store Manager in his office on the phone, griping about the new boss.  He didn't last long.

This same store had some issues with the grocery department and I encouraged other departments to send employees there to help out during slow periods.  Walking down one of the aisles with my new assistant in tow I came on a young man stocking an aisle.  Rather than balance the box with his leg against a shelf so he could use two hands to put the stock up, he was holding the case in one hand and putting the cans up with the other.

I stopped and looked at him.

"You stock shelves like a god-damn bagger!"
He looked at me and quivered  "I am a bagger sir."

"Well then, carry on."

I told my assistant to have someone show him the correct way to stock shelves.

Ah, my old retail days.  I miss 'em still.