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Retail Leadership Skills for a More Successful Store

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By Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor
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Retail Doctor Bob Phibbs

Management has the ability to make a team of employees excel, but only if they have skills for retail and leadership. During the pandemic, your sales leadership skills will be tested as you navigate a new reality of cleaning, lower footfall and employees needing more rules of what they can and can’t do.

Too strict, and few will want to work for the retail store manager. Too lax, and the store can become the wild west with everyone doing their own thing. Too unfocused, and the sales manager won’t communicate effectively. Business owners, managers and shift leaders alike need to demonstrate good retail skills and rally sales associates into providing the absolute best service to customers. Strong retail leadership is required to keep morale up and represent your store in its best light.

All levels of management should train these four skills to lead your store to success.


1. Making Difficult Decisions

Most retail managers are required to make tough decisions every day. It’s a necessary, though undesirable, part of the job. Shift leaders will face the task of dealing with difficult customers, making split-second decisions and guiding other sales associates to make their own right decisions.

Managers have to handle employee evaluations, recruiting decisions and terminations. They also need to make decisions that could have larger financial repercussions — such as scheduling and promoting.

When faced with a critical decision, your leadership qualities in retail will be tested; looking at the facts objectively can be hard. The old adage we see what we want to see allows some retail leaders to procrastinate or avoid the tough choices.

The question to ask yourself is, “Is this affecting our customer loyalty in a negative way?” If so, make a decision — provide more training, establish more concrete processes, or make a change to solve problems.


2. Getting Everyone on Board

In the retail environment, a lot of factors dictate what happens:

  • You overbought too much merchandise that isn’t selling, so now you have to find a way to convince people they want it.
  • You decided everyone needs to wear masks due to an outbreak of COVID-19, but some push back that it isn’t necessary.
  • Your management team has decided to offer a new loyalty program that staff doesn’t think is very good, but they still have to promote it. You get the picture.

While there are bound to be disagreements, having leadership skills in retail means you have to find a way to get everyone to agree to a course of action. That doesn’t mean every employee will agree with the course, but they must agree to work together.

One thing that can help retail leadership is to make change a part of every day. Associates fight change when things have been left static too long and they’ve been told to just deal with it. Leaders need to take the time for one-on-one conversations if they want to lead their team in one direction. Make sure
you listen, give the whys of a new practice,
and get buy-in.


3. Giving Feedback

One thing we have heard is that Millennials want to know how they are doing more than most other generations. This is a good thing. It’s important to remember that positive

feedback should be given just as often as negative feedback.

Shift leaders need to know how to give feedback in a positive manner to keep the crew customer-focused. Managers need to give more formal feedback about overall job performance and connect with every employee on every shift. Business owners must know when to speak up if the manager or team is performing poorly and to reward them when goals are exceeded.

If this seems difficult for you, put a reminder in your smartphone for every morning: Who did you connect with today?


4. Listening

Shift leader skills also include balancing. They need to listen to other employees’ concerns as well as remain open to management advice if they want to drive sales.

The retail store manager and owners need to listen to feedback from the team — especially their shift leaders — for issues on the sales floor from a policy that is not working to a product that is defective to employees who are not doing their jobs. While it is easy to accomplish tasks, retail leadership is seeking to understand what is in their employees’ heads.

A good way to do this is to take the employee off-site to a coffeehouse and simply ask for feedback such as:

  •  What would you like more of from me?
  • What would you want less of?
  • What do you feel you’re not getting from me?

   Don’t get defensive with your answers, just thank them and take action.

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