Brian Walker


You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you want to be there.

– Howard Schultz

Retail is and always will be a predominantly people business.

And while it is being separated into ‘buying’, which is about commoditised fulfilment models, and ‘shopping’, which is about the art of influencing others to buy from the physical space, the focus on people in our shops and their leadership is only rising to the fore.

Much greater choice for consumers means (or should mean) much greater customer shopping experience within the physical environment.

But is this happening? Are physical networks really investing more in their people to influence greater economic and brand equity and return?

After many years of working in a wide range of retail environments, I’ve learned to determine very quickly if a retail channel really invests in its people or not.

Here are some simple metrics that tell me immediately if this is the case.

Store culture

Are you overtly using your leadership influence/direction to achieve your goals?

  • Does everyone have a similar version of what the organisation’s vision, point of difference and future goals are?
  • Do you have a culture of coaching and providing leadership in a facilitated situational way?
  • Do you make time to facilitate coaching your people to improve their skill sets?
  • Do you embrace active listening and understanding for growth (as opposed to a ‘telling’ environment)?
  • Do you measure and reward continuous  improvement?
  • Do you impart training and test understanding?

In essence, the store culture should be a two-way street that focuses on developing confident, skilful, motivated employees

Context and focus for greater sales

  • How do you train in sales and how do you measure the relative success?
  • What is your ideal attributes, composition of skills and focus areas for managers?
  • What skills do you want your team leaders to have?
  • Is there coaching and skill improvement in their roles?
  • What people metrics do your leaders have? For instance, staff turnover.
  • How do you recognise outstanding leadership and results ?
  • What are the consequences for performance?
  • Are you profitably fun place to work?
  • Do you have a self-regulating  environment? For instance, do new employees get ‘buddied’ and mentored?
  • Do you spit out non-performers easily?
  • How do you approach goal setting, time management/ priority management and conflict resolution skills?
  • What is your sales productivity matrix? For instance, sales vs non-sales tasks.
  • What are your compliance standards?

Measuring to move from good to great

Good is hitting budget and great is consistently exceeding budget (to quote Jim Portas: “They are the enemies of each other.”)

  • What measurement and reward system are you using?
  • Do you have consequences for performance?
  • Can your people manage others with respect and dignity whilst leading results?
  • Do you have a “fair share” approach to achieving store sales and margin returns?

Retail is about people and it’s about detail – always with attention to the process and the parts and, in turn, to the outcomes.

Your ‘feel’ for the business is more likely to be a ‘feel’ for the people.

Think about the top 10 bricks-and-mortar retailers globally, and it will become very apparent – they all have a people edge.


First published in InsideRetail on May 13 2019