What makes a great assistant store manager?

Discussion
Oct 25, 2019
Bob Phibbs

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

An assistant store manager is a bridge between the manager, who is frequently unavailable on the sales floor, and associates. They also often become store managers themselves.

Here are seven basic skills for an assistant store manager: 

Attention to detail: Remembering a colleague’s birthday, a loyal customer’s face, and on to special orders and maintenance issues — getting the facts right are key to supporting management. 

Ability to make decisions: If there are customer complaints or concerns, a good shop assistant will offer two choices to the manager instead of asking, “What do you want me to do?” You support management, not just relay issue after issue, expecting them to fix it all.

Ability to suspend your own ego: I’ve always told my assistants, “Your job is to make me look good.” When you do that, and support the manager or owner, you show you are a team player and eligible for additional responsibilities and the opportunity to run your own store one day.

Ability to connect with the customer: Reading body posture and tone of voice and adjusting accordingly will be invaluable. An assistant should also be able to model the best sales process to not just help shoppers but convert them into customers of your merchandise.

Ability to be a second set of eyes — and ears: A store manager needs to have another person who can examine something like an employee performance issue, a customer complaint or inventory problem, but not in a tattletale way.

Ability to sell: As an assistant manager, you will still want to connect with your customers and model exceptional customer service. You must be able to assist customers and make the sale with the use of your interpersonal skills and experience.

Be a running buddy. When I was running track in high school, an invaluable running buddy cheered us on, running alongside us, pushing us to do our best. You’re the running buddy with the manager, someone they can make a plan with and trust to support and encourage them at all times.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should the assistant store manager basically provide back-up to the store manager or does the position entail much more? What other suggestions would you add to the article on skills required for the role?

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Braintrust
"Increased responsibilities should be met with increased developmental opportunities!"
"This list is outstanding! I would add that the assistant store manager needs to evince qualities that sales associates should emulate..."
"The assistant store manager and the store manager should largely be only separated by experience."

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10 Comments on "What makes a great assistant store manager?"


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Ray Riley
BrainTrust

It’s a great list, Bob. Great managers are developed and not born, so where are the comprehensive store management training and development programs? Just because the average retailer may not be opening 10-20 stores a year, doesn’t mean development of store (current and future) leaders stops – yet so it seems. Increased responsibilities should be met with increased developmental opportunities!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Indeed a good list. I would add the ability of the assistant store manager to be empowered, namely to make decisions without the need to “check” with the store manager first. Another is to never stop investing in people development. You train animals and develop people. Understand and develop the additional skills and talents necessary for the assistant store manager to seamlessly become a store manager.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

A good assistant manager should be able to step in to replace a manager. That’s the next step up. I have clients that bonus managers for making their assistant managers “manager ready.” Having a manager in waiting (not a manager in training) gives a retailer great flexibility to move people around to different locations as needed.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

All of these points came up during the Store Operations Council meeting earlier this month. The key finding from that meeting was the importance, in the BOPIS age, of engaging store associates and maximizing their impact on customer interaction. Assistant store managers are key here and are critically important to retail culture.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

This list is outstanding! I would add that the assistant store manager needs to evince qualities that sales associates should emulate: show up (and on time), be positive, look presentable, go above and beyond, and just generally bring your “A” game.

I agree that store managers should be able to make decisions, but I pause at the idea that assistant store managers should provide two choices for store managers about how to resolve customer concerns. In most cases, customer service issues can and should be resolved independently by the assistant manager. They should come back to the store manager with: “This was the problem, and here’s how I fixed it” or even “This was the problem, here’s the solution I tried, and here’s what I’ll do next time based on what I learned.”

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Interesting that every one of the characteristics listed also applies to the store manager, in my view. The assistant. should be as capable as the manager, since their next likely step is manager.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
A good assistant store manager is a store manager in all but title. If they need to constantly fall back to their manager for support, advice and guidance, they aren’t ready for the job. That said — and with all due respect — I don’t love everything on this list. For example is the assistant manager’s job really to follow advice like, “Your job is to make me look good. When you do that, and support the manager or owner, you show you are a team player and eligible for additional responsibilities and the opportunity to run your own store one day?” Isn’t the assistant store manager’s job to make sure things are running like a well-oiled machine, customers are happy, buying and receiving great service, that inventory is neat and maintained, etc.? Making an incompetent manager “look good” not only shouldn’t be part of the job description, it’s working against the best interests of the customer, the other associates, and the owner or chain. Nothing wrong with being a “team player” as long as… Read more »
Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

For the purposes of this discussion, we need to assume the store manager is competent. The assistant store manager and the store manager should largely be only separated by experience. The ASM is the SM in the SM’s absence and a competent ASM is therefore needed to be seen in that capacity by both the SM and the sales associates.

The list is a good one, and my top item is the ability to make decisions. The rest of the list are must haves for anyone in the store: competent sales associates as well as managers, but only the managers (ASM & SM) must be decisive in the moment.

Jeffrey McNulty
BrainTrust

An excellent list indeed. I would add to point #3 that the store manager is responsible for making the assistant manager look good, not the other way around. I would never tell an assistant leader that your job is to make me look good. True servant leaders give credit while accepting and embracing the problems and issues of the store. In addition, a strong assistant leader will have a “total store attitude” that is congruent with the entire store’s success and not just their assigned areas. Finally, an assistant leader should be an exemplary at leading by example.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I’ll propose a shorter list. 1. LEARN. That’s it. One item. Learn. Learn from the manager, both positive and negative examples. Learn from your peers. Learn from the customers. You can see what they are buying. WHY are they buying? Begin to build a portfolio of successes. Fail fast and learn WHY something didn’t work. This kind of job is an incredible learning opportunity and often sets the tone for a future career … or not. There is a lot that be be frustrating at this level. Develop perspective and patience.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Increased responsibilities should be met with increased developmental opportunities!"
"This list is outstanding! I would add that the assistant store manager needs to evince qualities that sales associates should emulate..."
"The assistant store manager and the store manager should largely be only separated by experience."

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