Five skills every retail manager needs to succeed

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Sep 19, 2017
Bob Phibbs

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

Most retailers promote from within, and while that can be good for morale, many times it is bad for business. There are certain skills that go a long way to ensure a retail manager has what it takes to succeed:

  • Multi-tasking. A manager must be able to oversee all the employees, keeping their abilities and weaknesses in mind while prioritizing multiple projects. I call this “being up in the blimp” — looking at the action on the field rather than being in the game.
  • Decision-making. Retail often means actions must be acted upon quickly, but making the right decision rapidly without mistakes means evaluating information to weed through what is important and what isn’t. You don’t want a manager who looks at a situation over and over without making a decision — right or wrong.
  • The best managers know how to get the most out of their employees while building them up in the process. That means using judicious, constructive criticism instead of belittling. It means treating others with respect instead of “my-way-or-the-highway.” It means leading by example instead of “do as I say.”
  • Business development skills. Streamlining procedures, hiring the best associates, training them correctly and cutting costs are several ways a manager can help.
  • Effective communication. Only a small percentage of communication is spoken word. Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice all combine with words to convey a message. The best managers have developed the ability to not only communicate the points they are trying to make but also to truly listen to those around them. That means smartphone off and eyes looking at the person as they strive to hear, rather than speak.

This is on top of the most basic expectations: to be on-time every day, stay late when needed without grousing, and pitching in when it is busy without having to be asked.

And any potential raises are achieved by raising sales. Period. “Bless his heart, he’s trying” is fine for a grandma to say of a child, but not for you to say as a manager’s boss.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which skillsets foster the best store managers? What advice would you have around promoting staff to managers?

Braintrust
"If there is one overarching skill of a successful store manager it is the ability to create and sustain customer experience excellence in their store."
"A rock star leader! Someone who inspires staff to forget about the challenges of living on low wages, changing the focus to the pride of ownership..."
"The other managerial dilemma is how to balance being involved without being so hands-on that they end up “doing” more than managing..."

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16 Comments on "Five skills every retail manager needs to succeed"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I would have liked to see something about being good with customers.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Spot on Stephen. Whether we’re talking about employees or customers, it’s all ONE thing. A favorite phrase of mine is, “how we are managed is how we serve.” The customer experience is born out of the employee experience.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Promoting from within is good for morale and something I like to see. However, if promoted from within, the individual still needs to have the necessary training as if they never worked for the company to make sure they have the skill set to do the new job effectively. Companies are always trying to cut corners, so the individual who was the assistant manager and has done a good job is now promoted to manager. Sounds fine but like the article points out, there are skills needed. Too often the individual in their former role may not have had an opportunity to develop those skills and without the proper training will not be effective in their new position. So whether you promote from within or hire from the outside, make sure that you have the right store manager training program, one that teaches the skills necessary to do a good job. You’ll save money in the long run, and your stores will do more business.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Nothing wrong with the five essential skills listed by Bob … they are still essential in retail stores today. But today’s marketplace requires even more.

In today’s omnichannel environment, the primary differentiator of stores is the customer experience. Customer experience goes way beyond effective communication. It is everything that happens before, during and after the sale — especially after the sale. Quite literally, the customer’s experience in the store starts and ends with the store manager. Far too many store managers are burdened with operations and paperwork and rarely set foot on the retail floor.

Success is about a sale made today, but the more important goal is the customer experience that creates loyal customer relationships and lifetime value. If there is one overarching skill of a successful store manager it is the ability to create and sustain customer experience excellence in their store.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

In the age of the customer, a key missing attribute here is a passion for customer service. The skillsets described above are more tactical and operations-focused, however the key differentiator in this area is the store manager’s abilities to understand and build strategies around customer needs, desires and expectations.

All of the other core competencies and behaviors are critical for managing a team. However the customer needs have to be at the heart of all managerial strategies, plans and operations. In today’s digital-first world, the store essentially has become a showroom, a playground so to speak for the customer. So the expected attributes for retail managers should shift accordingly.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

As a former retail store manager, I learned very quickly that setting a good example for your associates was one of the best ways to effectively manage a group of people with varying degrees of commitment and experience. If I, as a manager, demonstrated how important customer service was to me personally, it was much easier to communicate that message to the troops and expect good results.

The other managerial dilemma that many are faced with is how to balance being involved without being so hands-on that they end up “doing” more than managing. Knowing when and how to effectively delegate is sometimes very difficult, but also a skill every good manager must ultimately acquire.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
There is one thing that is left off most every list like this … THINKING! We’ve all heard managers say, or we’ve said it ourselves, “I don’t even have time to think.” Why would people follow someone who doesn’t have time think? Of course there is reptilian thinking going on all the time or you’d run smack into a wall. But chances are if you ever saw someone sitting quietly at their desk or, better, just going for a walk, you’d immediately conclude they aren’t doing anything. Contrary to popular opinion, “thinking,” and the ability to see possibilities others don’t see, can be taught. Sadly we know surprisingly little about the role of thinking. People who think scare us half to death, especially if they’re an employee. My other comment is that “leadership” cannot stand without adjective. Many a retail enterprise has disappeared because a “leader” led it into a black hole never to be seen again. My favorite cartoon comes from “Animal Crackers,” in which a long endless herd of moose has been led up to the edge of a huge cliff with nowhere else to go. The lead moose turns to his buddy and says “I don’t want… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

These are skills and talents everyone should develop in their profession. I’ll add empowerment to the list. Managers need to learn how to teach and empower their employees to make decisions on their own to serve the customer and the brand. All the policies in the world won’t address real-world situations that arise.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

Bob provides a relevant and valuable list for store managers. Having a bias for serving the customer is an important one for me. The customer has made an effort to enter your store to address a need, want or desire. The store manager needs to never lose sight that the sale is the consummating win/win of the retail formula where the customer gets what she needs and the retailer recognizes revenue while moving inventory.

Cristian Grossmann
BrainTrust

Effective communication and empowering your employees are some of the most important skillsets for store managers. It’s particularly hard to communicate with employees who don’t sit at desks and email all day, so communication takes an extra level of skill and creativity on the store floor. The turnover rate in retail is generally higher than most industries (and very costly) so building up your employees and helping them in their own professional development is important. Managers should lead by example and show employees that they’re valued. And as the article points out, constructive criticism is good to give along the way but managers should also be open to feedback so there’s two-way communication.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

While all of the traits listed are important, without a good team that is willing to work hard and engage with customers (and each other) you fail to reach your full potential. Therefore, I go with the “nameless” third trait on the list, which is the ability to lead by example and build up the employees’ morale.

One of the best companies I’ve worked with in my speaking/consulting business had an interesting management requirement. At any given time, the manager must be training at least two other people on his/her team to be “manager-ready” in case another store’s manager leaves or they open a new store. Great concept that works.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I don’t disagree with any of this, but there is too little emphasis on people. Retail is one of the most people-centric businesses, and any manager worth their salt needs to be a people person.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

A retail manager needs to encourage their store staff to “shadow the leader.” That is, the store manager should lead by example, such as acknowledging each shopper they pass in the aisles, asking if they found what they need, creating awareness of the one special promo that the store manager wants to push. The store manager should maximize time on the sales floor, and stay out of the back office/storage room.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Let’s see, most retail employees make minimum or just above minimum wage, which can range up to $12 or so dollars an hour depending on the state. Most staff is capped at 30 hours a week making them not eligible for benefits. Most staff must work nights and weekends. In specialty chain stores, managers usually have benefits and make around $50K a year. Neither the managers nor the staff has a big upside. So what is going to motivate staff to give their all every day, and in every way? A rock star leader! Someone who can inspire staff to forget about the challenges of living on low wages, changing the focus to the “pride of ownership” in his or her piece of the pie at work.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

I have before that if you want good employees you have to treat them good. This incorporates the five points outlined. It does not mean simple being an employee pleaser at the expense of the company.

There are good and less good points about promoting from within. Many have commented on the good. One of the less good is that the employees may have only experienced one environment. This may work well when that environment was one that utilized the five points and provided excellent customer service, but what if it wasn’t? Then what the company gets is more of the same.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Leading by example, especially in how to treat customers. Customer experience is everything in a retail store, and managers need to have a strong understanding of how to deliver it and be able to impart that to their associates. Retailers just can’t underestimate the importance of their store associates, even in this age of digital experiences.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If there is one overarching skill of a successful store manager it is the ability to create and sustain customer experience excellence in their store."
"A rock star leader! Someone who inspires staff to forget about the challenges of living on low wages, changing the focus to the pride of ownership..."
"The other managerial dilemma is how to balance being involved without being so hands-on that they end up “doing” more than managing..."

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