What I learned in retail in my first week - all those years ago

December 1985. It is my first week as a Trainee Area Manager with Truworths – (the company that became involved with Country Road/Sportsgirl in Australia). I am caretaking a store in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

I am being visited by the Divisional Manager, one John Rabbolini. As he walks into the store he asks me to walk around the store with him. The very first large round rail at the front of the store gets moved about six inches. He then proceeds in a loop through the whole store, adjusting things as he goes. He fills in a gap here, moves a rack there and picks up a ticket from the floor.

I follow in a daze. I try and make sense of it so that I can learn and repeat. (I had no retail experience and had just finished a two-year stint as a teacher.) About an hour later we had circled back to the front of the store.

He grabbed the round rail and moved about six inches. Exactly back to where it was at the start.

At the time I thought:

  1. He was just trying to show off
  2. He didn’t actually know what he was doing and was making it up as he went along.

It took many years for me before I realised that what I was supposed to have learned was:

  1. Pay attention to the detail
  2. It is about how the customer experiences the space
  3. It is OK to make a mistake or change your mind (and even to admit it).

Since then I have learned a few more things, thankfully :)