I have had the opportunity to work with some great store managers in my retail career. As a group, they are the most underappreciated of all staff in retail. They are responsible for every aspect of running the store, recruiting and supervising the talent, and being the coach that trains and motivates. In major retail chains we have studied with 100 or more stores, the top selling stores out sell the bottom tier on a per square foot basis by a factor of 10x. Certainly, location can be factor. However, when you statically adjust for the store variables, the most powerful predictor of store success is the store manager and the culture they establish.
Why this is important: All too often senior management view staff as a “cost center” instead of an asset. Investing in store managers can pay many dividends in a store’s financial success, as well as making stores stand out with customers.
Conversion is one of the most critical metrics for store success
A critical metric for store survival is to convert foot traffic into sales. Even in grocery stores focused on commodities and consumables, staffing for consumer experience makes a difference. It is not just having “bodies” present on the floor, but having a store manager who can motivate them to engage customers. Even more important is to have a process that differentiates the customer experience to the point that it becomes a “signature” of the store culture and why customers return.
The store manager’s secret sauce for conversion – ASK
It is amazing what you can learn from successful store managers. Unfortunately, they are often buried in paperwork and reports. The sad reality is that far too many in senior management view the store manager as the focal point of store operations and cost center management. The great store managers make the time to engage both staff and customers on the store floor. More importantly, they lead by example and create a culture focused on customer experience.
One of the most successful store managers I ever met developed her own formula for coaching her staff, and building an incredible culture in her store. The genius lies in the customer centric process built around the very simple acronym – A S K.
A – Answers
This store manager made an astute observation that today’s customers come in loaded with facts. They can literally get all the specifications and details online before ever visiting the store. The reason they come to the store is that they want “ANSWERS”. Answers to what?
Every customer is looking for specific answers related to their situation and lifestyle. How will a particular product fit them? Who else uses the product, where and how? How can a particular product be incorporated into their home, work and lifestyle?
Customers can get facts and specs everywhere. What they want are answers about what is best for them. The ASK store manager took the position that if staff in the store don’t know what customers are trying to answer, it is OUR JOB to ask them what they need to make a decision. The store manager summarized it beautifully:
“Our job is not to “sell”. We are there to help our customers buy by answering their questions. If we don’t know what answers they are looking for, it is our job to ASK.”
S – Solutions
Yes, there are times when we as customers know exactly what we want, especially when we buy commodities we have purchased before. What most stores and staff fail to recognize is that customers do NOT buy products in a vacuum. When purchasing an article of clothing, customers are thinking about how it fits with their wardrobe. When a customer buys a smarthome device or other electronic gadget, they are thinking about solving how to hook it up and make it all work together.
Yes, customers buy products, but many of those products are part of a bigger picture – a home, work or lifestyle. Customers are ultimately looking to purchase solutions: security, safety, comfort, convenience, healthy/nutritious, etc. Again, the store manager summarized the role and ASK process very succinctly and genuinely:
“If we don’t know what our customers are solving for, we can’t help them find what will work best for them. It is our obligation to ASK”.
K – Knock your socks off service!
Customers can shop anywhere. They can even be shopping on their phone while standing in the store. The bottom line is that they are literally STANDING IN THE STORE! The enlightened store manager asks how do we as a staff “knock there socks off” with service that they did not expect? How do we treat them in ways that show we truly appreciate their business? How can we engage them, involve them, make their experience less painful and even fun?
The genius of this top store manager was twofold. When hiring new staff she literally had them “audition” and show how they would personally “knock someone’s socks off” with service. Secondly, the store manager challenged the staff in weekly store meetings to describe how they “knocked it out of the park”, AND to identify 3 new things they would try this week. In the words of the store manager:
“The best people to come up with innovation are those facing customers every day. We need to model ASK, and then ask them for their ideas on how to get to the next level”.
The pure genius of the ASK model
Results count. The ASK model store had 10 times more sales volume. However, the real genius of the ASK model is that it engaged both customers and staff. It created new levels of service, and at the same time created a store culture based customer satisfaction beyond the product purchased. The rest of the story is that the ASK model was not a “corporate” program. ASK was created as a grass roots initiative by a store manager who cared about the culture in her store.
The C-Suite would do well to follow in the footsteps of Sam Walton and make visits to stores every week to ASK store managers how they are knocking customers’ socks off with service beyond a sale today.
The C-Suite would be well served to follow in Sam Walton’s footsteps of meeting with store managers weekly to ask them how their store is knocking the customer’s socks off with service beyond the sale today.