Retail Training 'Joke'

The retail training joke (1)

I follow the fortunes of retailers in the business journals, the web, the news out and about town, also through physically observation. Some come and some go; that is the nature of the beast. As an ex-retailer, it breaks my heart to see small independent retailers close their doors; I can just imagine the shattered dreams and inflated mortgages that invariably go with business failure.

But there is another, harsh reality at work here: those that fail often deserve to fail. I am in the business of retail training (and consultancy) and it is absolutely scary how little some operators know about their business specifically and retailing in general. And when you find someone who knows at least the basics, enough to survive for a while at least, then fail to pass on the basic knowledge to their teams.

Consider just two simple examples:

·         You would think that a specialty retailer would apply some thinking (because science is too much to hope for) to how much space they allocate to different products. The sad fact is that (outside of the major supermarkets/chains) – INTUITION is the main decision making mechanism. Gut feel has its place, but not here…)

·         If the sales team has a sales target, it is a meaningless exercise because nobody OWNS the targets and they (rightly) claim that they don’t really influence it or that it is unrealistic. I have asked many, many people in a range of industries if they know (or use) the average sale to measure performance or set targets. Not ONE does. In fact I’d say more than half the stores don’t even share gross sales (turnover) figures with their staff.

If retailers don’t know how much space to allocate to a product line and their staff don’t know how much to aim for when they are selling, what chance do they really have of succeeding?


The retail training joke (2)

Today I thought I’d share some of the reasons retailers give when they decline to train their staff. 

·         ‘Why should I bother? They will leave anyway.’

·         ‘I told them they need an attitude adjustment, and then they got all upset. I don’t think they are ready for training.’

·         ‘No training will fix what is wrong with them.’

·         ‘Training does not work.’

·         ‘They are trained. The manager makes sure they follow her for a week before they are allowed to do anything.’

·         ‘There isn’t much point. Things change all the time.’ (I don’t understand it either.’)

·         ‘We only have one person on most of the time – maybe two when the store is busy. There isn’t any time to train anybody.’

·         ‘If they want to be trained, they can go to TAFE.’


I am supposed to be a sales professional, but I must admit that in these particular instances I thanked them nicely and left. What would you have done? How do you respond to that? I would love some advice from readers.


My store vs. The competition

I have previously lamented the lack of (strategic) insight into the fundamentals of retailing. Even in reasonably low level TAFE training, students are taught about ‘profiling the retail market’, but in practice few practitioners can actually come up with a simple explanation or demonstration of their market positioning.

An exercise that is really useful is to:

·         Identify two key attributes of your product/offer that are valued by the target market. (Supermarkets would nominate price/convenience.)

·         Draw a high/low matrix with one attribute on each axis.

·         Position yourself on the matrix.

·         Plot your key competitors.

If you find your particular patch of dirt to be very crowded, it will be because you lack differentiation. If you do not have a differentiated proposition, you have to shout harder than all your competitors combined to be heard by your customers. (That is OK if you have very deep pockets.)

Failing that, the only two options are:

1.       Find (or redefine) new attributes that are of value to your customers – and then stake a claim on that new territory. (Apple is a past master at this.)

2.       Shut shop.

The problem is of course that few people do the exercise in the first instance (preferably before opening the store) and then die wondering why sales are lacklustre or the advertising does not seem to work.