Effective retail management requires a vast array of skills. In a broad sense, those skills boil down to managing your time, managing your staff, managing their training, and managing change. But those general categories do little to tell you how exactly to get those jobs done.
That’s where we can help. We’ve created a guide to retail management including the nine specific skills you need to be successful as both a manager and a leader. Let’s dive in!
Essential Retail Management Skills
1. Prioritize Problems
If you work in retail management, you’re going to deal with problems. It’s just a part of the job. Those problems will pile up and overwhelm you unless you learn to prioritize. Ranking your problems from most important to least important, and then tackling them in that order, can help you see where to focus your energy.
For example, your point-of-sale software is cumbersome for your employees and customers and needs to be replaced. It’s still working just fine, it just needs to be updated. In addition, your front door is broken making it difficult for your customers to enter. By prioritizing these problems from most important to least important, it’s easy to see that the front door needs to be fixed right away. Your point-of-sale software update can be pushed off until later because it’s not causing any problems at the moment.
2. Don’t Waste Your Time
Distractions are legion in the retail industry, but you need to avoid them as much as possible so you don’t waste your time. Yes, you may have to work on the computer at some point during the day, but try to stay away from reading the news, checking your email repeatedly, or looking at funny cat pictures. These seemingly innocuous activities can eat up your valuable time and make it harder to get everything done during the workday.
Your employees can come to you with minor issues that can distract you from the larger business issues like marketing and sales. As difficult as it may be, you have to avoid getting involved in these minor issues. Give your employees the freedom to make decisions and solve problems for themselves rather than coming to you all the time. This frees up your time so that you can stay focused on the jobs that only you the manager can do. Being able to discern which issues are minor and which issues are major goes back to prioritizing discussed above. Developing both of these skills takes patience and time. But when you’ve strengthened your ability to avoid distractions throughout the day, you’ll find more time to tackle the big-picture issues like examining customer preferences, improving business processes, improving employee performance.
3. Learn To Say No
As a retail manager, you’re faced with myriad decisions throughout the day. Many of those decisions can be boiled down to “Yes” or “No”. Though that may seem like a black-and-white option, it’s actually quite a bit greyer. Every time you say “Yes” to something, you are, in effect, saying “No” to something else. That can be a problem for retail managers when the “Yes” answers begin to get in the way of keeping your business running smoothly and successfully. You need to be willing to say no to opportunities, options, and changes that aren’t in the best interest of your business. Perhaps you may have to say no to hiring another employee while you focus on providing advanced training to your existing employees. Or maybe you have to say no to updating your POS software while you iron out some problems in your sales flow.
Steve Jobs summed up this notion nicely at an Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference in 1997:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
4. Look For Specific Traits When Hiring
You know what traits your employees should have if they’re going to succeed in your business. Instead of trying to train those traits into your employees, hire employees who already possess the requisite skills. This goes beyond just retail or point-of-sale experience. It also encompasses traits like efficiency, friendliness, organization, and good manners.
Hiring the right employees starts with writing the right job description. It extends into the interview process where you can really identify the traits you need through questions and answers. Keep in mind that it’s a lot easier to train someone to operate a cash register than it is to train them to be organized or naturally friendly. Hire employees for their essential traits and then train them for other tasks while they work.
5. Set Realistic Goals
Every employee needs realistic goals to work toward. It could be something as simple as making one more sale than they did yesterday. That’s a realistic goal for most. It motivates them to work just a little bit harder than the day before.
On the other hand, pushing your employees with unrealistic goals can have a detrimental effect on their performance and their morale. Using the “make one more sale than yesterday” example from above, you, or your employee, might set a goal to make five more sales than the day before. Is that really realistic for your particular business? If the employee doesn’t make her goal, she might begin to get discouraged which can affect her sales even more. You need to know your industry, and your employees, well enough that you can set reachable, realistic goals for everyone on your team.
6. Schedule Employees Effectively
Scheduling in the retail industry can be a nightmare. There are so many variables to keep track of: time-off requests, vacations, emergencies, busy times, slow times, what’s best for the business. But it’s precisely this last variable that can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day. You want to schedule your employees effectively so that every shift has the right mix of experience and skill necessary for that particular time.
Scheduling so as to ensure your business’s success means making use of the right tools. Sling streamlines the scheduling process by providing alerts and suggestions so you can avoid double-bookings, conflicts, and scheduling someone when they can’t work. Sling also helps simplify creation and distribution of your schedule. You can organize everything in the cloud so that it’s available anywhere, anytime. You can also make everything available to your employees online so they can check their work schedule 24/7.
7. Learn To Delegate
Delegating some of your many responsibilities can help you get more things done. It can also help your employees learn and work better together. Yes, some things like scheduling and payroll may need to be your sole responsibility. Other things, though, like training, cleaning, and even solving problems can be delegated to trusted employees. Giving your employees the opportunity to take on these responsibilities in limited capacity means they’ll be better equipped to deal with the ins-and-outs of retail management should the need arise. When your employees know how to handle issues, they won’t have to approach you for a solution. This frees you up to focus on more important matters and boosts the employee’s self-esteem in the process.
8. Encourage Cooperation
Cooperation is the bedrock of every successful team. It can lead to a cohesive unit that works well together under pressure. It’s your job as retail manager to encourage and foster that cooperation in each and every employee. Teaching cooperation is a lot like team-building in that the simpler you make it the better.
One excellent way to engender cooperation is through the shadow technique. Assign employee A to follow employee B around giving assistance where needed or asked for. Tell employee A to look for ways to help employee B. A few days later, have employee B follow employee A around looking for ways to be of assistance. When that exercise is complete, encourage your employees to continue working together to get the job done even though they are essentially on their own.
9. Be Ready To Innovate
Innovation and change are constants in the retail industry. You need to be ready, and willing, to make that change. This may mean investigating and implementing new processes like customer rewards programs that can increase sales. It may mean considering new payment options like Apple Pay, Google Wallet, or BitCoin. It may mean updating your decor or rethinking your marketing strategy. Just because everything is running well today, doesn’t mean it will always stay that way.
As a retail manager, you need to have one eye on the future and recognize when an industry change is on the horizon. If you can see these changes coming—whether they are style changes, customer preferences, or competitor trends—you’ll be ready when they arrive. You won’t be caught off guard and left scrambling to catch up. That readiness, and willingness, to innovate can mean success and longevity for your business.
Master These Skills One At A Time
Instead of trying to do everything all at once, take it slow and learn these skills one at a time. Prioritize these skills by what you need most to make your business a success. Start with the most important and practice it until you feel that it has become a part of your management style. Then, move to the next skill on the list and practice it until it’s second nature. For some of the skills, it may only take a few days to really get the hang of it. For other skills, you may have to stick with it for weeks, months, or even years. That’s okay. That persistence is how we improve as retail managers. Work your way through your prioritized list until you’ve mastered these nine skills for exceptional retail management. You, your business, and your employees will be all the better for it.