Over the past 2-months I’ve ventured into the field of retail, and by venture I mean actually working on the floor in one of the largest retailers in Canada. I love the rush of the holiday season, and being able to help people find a gift or two for a loved one.
I’ve also come to realize how retail is killing itself. In short (at least as short as I can put it) here’s the state of ‘big box’ retail:
1) Pay your floor employees (the ones who are your frontline, and main touch points for customers) shit.
2) Spend a boat load on marketing to get people in the store for a deep discount sale, and do this repeatedly (once again cutting into your margins), and de-valuing your product in the process.
3) Don’t educate your floor employees on the sale, what’s included, what’s not included, and what the product is that you’re selling.
4) Provide zero incentives for the floor employees to do much of anything (other than the fear of being fired).
5) Poor communication between management, and employees (this happens just about everywhere, so I can’t solely point the finger at ‘big box’ retail).
Let’s elaborate shall we.
The most important asset you have is your front line employee. They are your politician. They are shaking hands, kissing babies, and dealing with everything related to your customers / fans. I can’t tell you how important (and decently paid) my front line employees were in a past life. If they put on a poor performance, my brand suffered. And that’s a BIG deal, so pay them what they’re worth.
Retail has your typical business profile. Pay the most important employees the least, give them the least education, and hope that your marketing, and solid brand covers everything up. Unfortunately, big brands are eroding, customer service is an after-thought, and front line employees don’t give a shit. And why should they? The money’s not there, the lifestyle’s not there, the incentives aren’t there, the management support isn’t there, and on and on. So, you walk into a ‘big box’ store now, and all you see are employees who are overwhelmed, and under-educated on the products they’re supposed to be selling.
In my department, I was the only white guy. There was one English speaking woman, but on a team of 10, that’s not much. And don’t think I’m some bigot here. I can’t tell you how many times people would flock to me and say, “Thank God you speak English.” This happened daily.
I now have a new found respect for these employees. They’re not put in a position to succeed, but ‘big box’ retail has become this fly trap for these type of workers. Here’s the catch – people like to do business with people who they know, and trust. It’s tough trusting an uneducated (management’s fault here) person who doesn’t speak your language on a purchase of a thousand dollars or more. Hell, it’s tough trusting them for anything. But, this is what ‘big box’ retailers are doing, and they think they can throw marketing dollars at it, and win.
As you know, it’s very tough, and expensive to throw money at a shitty product / service. So, let’s stack it up. Sears is pretty much a dead horse, no need to beat it. Target Canada is a joke, the BIG electronic stores are struggling, and companies like Hudson’s Bay have to resort to buying up big American names to keep shareholders happy.
This is where you can win as a small business.
Take on these ‘big box’ stores, and tell a story about how much the ‘big box’ retailers are paying their employees compared to the living wage you provide yours (hopefully you provide them this). Also, fill your customers / fans in on how you educate your employees compared to the ‘big box’ stores. This will be HUGE to your customers / fans.
Also, don’t have sales unless you have to. The price is the price is the price. That way, the employees know what’s going on, you don’t have to market every two seconds about some new “Save the tax” sale, and you don’t have to worry about spending dollars on signs in store, memos to staff, etc… Don’t be a sheep and follow ‘big box’ retail into their own doom.
Be different, by paying your employees a living wage, hell take the living hourly wage and add $5 to it. If you have to mark up your prices a bit more to keep your margins in line then do it, but pay your damn employees! When other’s have sales – do an ‘anti-sale’ and jack up the prices (Cards Against Humanity is known for doing this on Boxing Day or doing something funny around Black Friday). It’s smart, and it gets you press because you’re doing something unexpected, and you’re standing for something other than mass consumerism. It’s down-to-earth, it’s honest, and what make small business so special.
Jordan ‘The Guy with the Bow Tie’ Rycroft