What Every Retailer Needs to Know about Running Multiple Stores
Just like most organizations, the success of a retail business relies on the unity and alignment of three critical elements: people, process, and technology. This is especially true when you’re running several retail locations. With multiple moving parts, stores, and teams, it’s essential that you keep every component in sync to ensure that your business runs smoothly.
To help you accomplish that, we’ve put together some pointers for keeping your teams, processes, and technologies in line. Go through them below and see how you can apply them in your retail stores:
Let’s start with the first critical aspect of running a retail business: the people behind it. As you know, finding, hiring, and training the right individuals are essential to the success of your multi-outlet operation. Here are some tips to help you in each of these three tasks:
Retailers looking to add more team members should hire for attitude first, aptitude second. This is because it’s easier to teach someone new skills than it is to modify their default outlook or attitude. As Bruce Nordstrom put it, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”
When you’re searching for new employees, look for people who are passionate about your industry and who naturally embody your brand or voice.
When it comes to finding applicants, you can always go through traditional channels such as job boards and career sites, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. One great way to find potential new hires is to turn to your customer base. That’s what Good Guy Vapes, a vape shop chain in the US does.
According to founder Shoaib Iqbal, when they decided to expand their business and hire employees, then ended up hiring one of their most passionate customers.
“Our first employee was a customer and we’ve continued that tradition ever since,” says Shoaib. “We mostly hire enthusiastic customers.”
Consider doing the same thing in your business. If you’re looking for great new people for your stores, why not see if your existing customers are open to the opportunity? Bring up the topic when you’re chatting up your patrons, include a “We’re hiring” announcement in your next newsletter, or post an announcement on social media.
It also helps to ask recommendations from your existing employees. As Reese Evans, Content and Communications Manager for Vend U puts it, “If you’ve already hired a great group of people, then you have probably hit a goldmine. Like attracts like, so ask your employees if they have friends, family, or anyone in their network who is looking to work with them.”
During the interview process, Reese says that the answers to your questions aren’t necessarily as important as the manner in which the applicant answered them. In other words, how they answer your questions is usually more important the the answer itself.
“If you are hiring for staff that are customer facing, they should be able to hold a conversation and make you feel like you’re already their friend,” she continues. “That is how you can create a strong clientele that wants to come back.”
Reese also advises retailers to conduct more conversational interviews.
“Start the interview conversationally, allow them to lead the conversation and elaborate on it. Essentially how they answer questions is how they will speak with your customers.”
Another tactic to consider is conducting group interviews. Consider what JetBlue is doing.
To find individuals who have a natural service inclination, JetBlue conducts group interviews and observes how candidates interact with one another. This allows interviewees to assess applicants’ people and communications skills in a way that can’t be done during a one-on-one interview.
Once you have the right people on board, you need to ensure that they’re trained properly.
While you should certainly have formal employee training methods in place, Reese says retailers should also focus on providing “in the moment” training.
“The best way to give feedback and on the job training is in the moment. If you notice an employee who needs extra training–say in an awkward customer service scenario–give them your feedback in the moment, while the scenario is fresh in their mind. You can even walk them through the situation and do a role play to understand how the scenario could be better resolved in the future.”
Great staffing is just one piece of the puzzle. In order for your employees to be able to do their jobs well, they need to be guided by the right processes. And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss in the following paragraphs.
Standard Operating Procedures
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: As a multi-outlet retailer, you need to establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) for how your policies will be carried out in your stores.
These procedures will vary from one retailer to the next, but generally speaking, you should have SOPs for the following:
- Monetary transactions – This should cover anything that concerns monetary handling at your store, including the types of payments you accept, your procedures for processing refunds and returns, how often you close the register, etc.
- Customer service – Outline instructions and policies on how your staff should behave, the things they can and can’t say, as well as what to do when customers get difficult.
- Customer experience – Store environment and other things that contribute to the experience should be standardized. According to Reese, such things could include cleanliness or even the type or volume of music playing.
- Safety and Security – Make sure you have the proper procedures that would keep your staff and customers safe and secure. These procedures should cover basic issues, such as who’s in charge of opening and closing the store, as well as more complex situations, including dealing with shoplifters or what to do in the event of a natural disaster or any other emergency.
- Layout and merchandising – Your layout and merchandising SOP should detail how merchandise should appear at your store. It should answer questions like: How should items be displayed on the floor and what fixtures can you use? Should pants be folded or hung? How often should you update your layout and displays?
Document and communicate your SOPs
Once you have your procedures, put them on paper, then distribute them to employees to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. There are many ways to document and communicate your processes, and it may behoove you to use a combination of tactics. These could include handbooks, organizational charts, regular catch ups, bulletin board reminders, and more.
Reese recommends keeping these materials someplace where employees from different locations can access them. Consider storing them in a shared cloud-based system such as Google Docs or Dropbox. That way, not only will people be able to access the materials easily, but you won’t have to worry about having to update multiple files across different locations or channels.
To figure out which way to go, look to your staff and determine the best way to communicate with them. How would they prefer to receive information and how often? What methods and materials would work best for your type of organization?
Get the answers to these questions, then use them to craft a communication plan for your procedures.
Assigning people to communicate and carry out your procedures
Don’t underestimate the power of people when it comes to communicating and distributing your processes. As you come up with a plan, be sure to loop in your managers as they will play a critical role in it.
Consider what Wine Direct does. According to owner Ryan Quinn, they have a retail manager who’s been key to running multiple stores.
“We’ve found that the physical separation of stores from HQ makes the job of keeping customer service really high and consistent that little bit harder. And that same separation makes it harder to keep staff engaged and motivated and with a feeling of central relevance to the company. Our retail manager has been key to making this work with constant communication, visits, training and reiteration of store-specific and company-wide goals.”
Ryan adds that their retail manager works closely with store managers and part-timers to keep everyone moving towards their business goals.
Do something similar in your business. Once you have a plan for communicating and implementing your procedures, appoint someone who can coordinate with your other locations and ensure that things are carried out correctly.
Last but not least is technology. Arming your business with right tools and solutions can empower your staff and enable your processes to be implemented smoothly.
Tools every Multi-Outlet Retailer should have
There aren’t any one size fits all technologies for all kinds of retailers, so do a bit of research on what tools (or combination of tools) should be used in your business.
To start with, look into the following:
- Point-of-sale and ecommerce – In this modern retail landscape, multi-store merchants (or any type of merchant, for that matter) must be able to sell across multiple stores and channels, so pick solutions that enable you to ring up sales online and offline.
- Inventory management – Staying on top of inventory for one location can already be pretty complicated as it is, but if you’re running multiple stores and channels, the task becomes quite a challenge.
That’s why retailers should look into tools that can give them a single view of their inventory. It’s important that your inventory system allows you to view, track, and update stock levels for several outlets no matter where you are or what store you’re in.
In other words, you should be able to manage your stock at store #2 even if you’re in store #1 or even if you’re on a business trip.
- Customer relationship management and communication – Keep your customers happy by using tools that enable you to save their information and track purchase histories and interactions.
This will allow you to personalize how you communicate and market to them, thus strengthening your relationships in the process. And as Reese points out, having customer information handy allows you to re-engage them during slow periods or when they haven’t been to your store in a while.
- Data gathering (reporting, analytics) – As a multi-outlet retailer, you need to keep tabs on each store’s performance and ensure that everything’s on track with your goals. To do this, it’s important to use adequate data and reporting tools that can give you the information and insights you need easily.
Figure out the metrics you should be tracking, then pick a solution that can generate reports on the data points you need.
Technology is a critical component of any multi-outlet business. If your store is missing any of the above-mentioned tools, you might want to scout around for solutions you can use. Doing so will make things much easier for you and your staff, and will enable you to better serve your customers.