In major retail department stores today, the average effective selling time of a full-time employee is approximately eight hours per week. The entire system is far from ideal, and not conducive to selling. Many smaller scale retail stores are now coming dangerously close to department stores in this area.

Most owners and managers are aware of the problem but are too busy putting out fires to do much about it. They are constantly reacting to each day’s new dilemma.

There are two basic types of people in this world: those who are causing things to happen, and those who are at the effect of what is happening. Unfortunately, many retail owners and managers fall into the second category. Instead of running their stores, their stores are running them.

How do you stop all of this nonsense and gain more control? How do you begin taking steps to increase productivity and profit, and develop the ideal store? First of all, you need to know what it is you are trying to achieve. Then, determine what is keeping you from achieving it, and make a commitment to correct or overcome those obstacles.

So, what is the ideal store?

The ideal store is a retail store with a fully trained staff
who are free and clear to sell and held accountable
for sales performance based on objective measures.

Why are there so few stores that fit this description? What stops a store from becoming ideal? Let’s examine some of the biggest barriers to a store’s success.

Barrier #1: The store is not in perfect order to do business by itself.

You probably realize that fixtures, merchandise, displays, and decor are there for a very specific purpose: to create a buying atmosphere that people feel comfortable in, and to make it possible for them to select the merchandise they want without assistance. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as the security of high-ticket merchandise such as e-cigs and vaporizers, but an inviting and easy-to-buy-from store is the goal.

Have you ever been in a toy store where you couldn’t reach the toys, and you couldn’t find anyone to help you either? What about electronics stores where electronic toys and keyboards aren’t plugged in so you can’t try them? Or how about this one, a women’s apparel store where you need a salesperson to unlock the dressing room to try clothing on, only there are no salespeople in sight? Aaaaaaah!

In a sense, the store should be able to sell the merchandise all on its own. Ideally, you should be striving to set up the store as a perfect self-service store. If this can be accomplished, the salespeople helping to sell the merchandise are icing on the cake.

Barrier #2: The staff is not fully trained to accomplish the goal of turning shoppers into buyers.

People will avoid doing things that they don’t feel they will be able to do well. This includes things like selling, taking returns or merchandising a new display. Training gives salespeople the information they need to do a good job and eliminates salespeople avoiding things that they don’t know how to do.

In addition, many stores do not have clearly defined job descriptions for every position, which makes effective training difficult, if not impossible. Specific behaviors for performing every job should be clearly detailed so there is no chance of misunderstanding how you want tasks done.

For example, buyers order merchandise but don’t convey the quantities ordered, expected delivery dates to the stores or information regarding the features and benefits of the goods. Salespeople then don’t know what is coming or when it will arrive, yet they’re expected to drop everything to get the new merchandise up on the shelves when it does show up. Even though they aren’t given any product knowledge training on the new merchandise and don’t know much about its selling features and benefits, they’re expected to quickly sell it to their customers. Neither the buyers nor the salespeople are contributing to your success in this situation because of improper training.

This lack of training has a tremendous effect on the operation of the store. The job descriptions for each person in your organization, from the president to the salespeople on the floor, must be clearly defined. If they are not, lines will continually cross and it will prevent people from doing their jobs.

Another common mistake made by growing retailers is adding more forms to accommodate the extra information and paperwork generated, when simply revising the current forms would prevent unnecessary paper and confusion.Soon, the actual system for getting a particular task done is taking more time, more paper and more people than necessary. You have to sit down and take a close look at the efficiency of your operational systems. Ask yourself if there could be a better way to do it and make those changes.

Barrier #3: The staff is not free and clear to sell because the manager bases accountability on completion of tasks and conveys mixed messages to the staff.

Nothing is worse than a manager reprimanding a salesperson for incomplete paperwork before finding out that the tasks were not finished due to a large number of customers in the store. It should never happen, but it happens all the time.

Owners can be the biggest offenders. They walk in to visit a store, and the carpet is dirty or the whole store seems to be messy. They come down on the manager for it. The manager now becomes more obsessed with making sure the store is clean (for when the owner comes back) than taking care of the customers.

Now, when the manager walks in the door, instead of asking the salespeople how much has been sold for the day so far, he yells at them for a dirty store. As a result, the salespeople are given the same mixed message that the manager received from the owner.

Now we have an epidemic on our hands. Please don’t misunderstand; it is definitely important to have a clean and neat store. If the owner comes in and finds out that the store has not been busy, he should bring up the store’s appearance. But, if he comes in and finds that it has been the best day of the month, he should reinforce a job well done on the selling floor and save his comments about the store’s appearance for another time.
Barrier #4: The staff is not held accountable for the quality of their sales performance.

Most stores track individual sales volume of their salespeople and that’s about it. But does knowing this single number tell you anything about what kind of feedback will help that person improve? About all you can say is, “Salesperson, you need to sell more!” This statement does nothing to help the salesperson improve. The details of a salesperson’s performance must be tracked to provide solid information that can be analyzed and turned into real help.

It is possible that the very salesperson you perceive as outstanding because of high sales volume, may turn out to be your greatest liability. You may find out from more detailed statistics that this salesperson is never adding on and dropping more customers than he or she is helping. The high volume comes from skating and handling laydowns. Without a detailed system for monitoring each individual’s weekly sales by a variety of appropriate measurement statistics, you’ll never know what’s really going on or how to improve each person’s sales performance.

Barrier #5: The staff is not held accountable based on objective measures, because the manager manages based on opinions.

When you manage based solely on opinions, there is too much room for mistaken judgment. You can end up punishing the top producers and rewarding the poor producers.

Just because Mary looks busy, does not necessarily mean she is busy. Selling is the most important part of working in a retail store. If Mary is not good at selling, she will avoid doing it and become your handy little helper. You, in turn, think Mary is a terrific employee and always give her extra tasks to do since she is so eager to do them for you. You are rewarding Mary for not selling without even knowing it, because you are basing your judgment only on your opinion.

If you actually tracked Mary’s sales, it would become evident that she is not profitable for the store. Now you need to help her improve so that everyone will win.

My hope is that owners and managers will someday become totally committed to nothing being more important than selling. After all, everything done in a retail store is done as a result of someone selling. You only keep buying more merchandise because it is being sold. You only do paperwork because merchandise is being sold.

Imagine what could happen if everyone in your organization became totally focused on selling and developing a chain of ideal stores. Sales would explode. It can happen. It’s up to you. SSA

Harry J. Friedman is an internationally acclaimed retail consultant and Founder/CEO of The Friedman Group.  Since 1980, his retail sales and management techniques have been used by nearly one million retailers worldwide. For information on upcoming free retail webinars, seminars, training programs, on-site training or eLearning, call 800-351-8040, email [email protected] or visit