By Josh Strutt
Business & Strategy Consultant – Deployment, Retail Doctor Group

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.

– Henry Ford

Have you ever asked an owner or manager of just about any business what the biggest challenge to managing their business is?’ Our experience is that the majority will answer ‘the people’.

Yet it is often this crucial investment that we overlook by either over managing the detail or underleading the direction. More than we give it credit for, strategy is simply about people.

‘Fit’ retailers have a deployment strategy where people are at the core. They understand who their customer is, what they want, where they want it and how they want it and they develop the rest of their strategy to ultimately fulfil the needs of this customer. Walk into one of these highly ‘fit’ retailers and you will see clarity in communication, alignment of purpose, articulated expectations, staff feedback and above all else a culture of performance, mutual respect and winning.

Creating a people-focused strategy starts with an understanding of the customer, follows through to management and leadership creating a great people culture and ends with the front line sales staff who are the face of the retail business.


As retailers, we must understand the forces driving customer decisions and choices then explore new ways of responding and doing business in order to capture a larger, more loyal customer base. We must then converge all touchpoints and channels to market to meet the needs and desires of our savvy, time-poor consumers.

Consider the consumer forces at play:

  • Consumers are demanding ‘make it about me and make it now.’ ‘Fit’ brands are changing to be more ‘navigational’ – helping consumers through all the complexities in modern retailing.
  • With less disposable income, we are seeing a reduction in impulse purchasing to the perceived ‘must have’ items. The retailer’s goal is to trigger the emotional attributes of their offer to move the purchase motivation from the “like to have” products to “must-have” products. ‘Fit’ brands are therefore basing their strategy on emotion – not price.
  • We are seeing ‘choice overload’ and there is growing evidence that customers are seeking ‘edited choice’ rather than complete choice. Ensure your offerings are personality-based so consumers can lock in instantly to their edited choices.
  • You obviously would be from another planet now to see the rise of the mobile from phones and multi-channel distribution points. We can purchase, process credit cards, accept payments, and link to our social network and online research with our mobile devices. Are you making it easy and accessible for your customers to do business with you when and where they want?
  • Network opinions and crowdsourcing are becoming increasingly in vogue. ‘Fit’ retailers are actively using social media channels to gain live feedback and opinions on a wide range of topics from preferred catalogue styles to consumer trends. Best Buy in the US does a great job of using social media to listen to their customers and gain valuable feedback and opinions.

More and more research that we are conducting for clients is about getting to know the customer. Through the use of customer exit surveys, demographic research right through to in-depth customer analysis we are able to find out exactly who is shopping with you and how to develop the marketing of products and services that align with their exacting needs.

Know what your customer wants, how they want to buy it when they want to buy it and be there for them!

Management and Leadership

Once it is clear exactly who your customer is, the next step is for management and leadership teams to develop the strategy and align all operations of the business to meet these customers needs.

Those who see the landscape and have the gift of sight into the future will always be at a decided advantage to those who can’t. Avoid the trap of short term thinking by having a clear vision of the future. Leadership is not defined only by the monthly profit and loss account.

Here are some ‘fitness’ tips for management and leadership:

  • Focus on the issue at hand:  Strong attention to detail is important. I saw this first hand where the leader who understood the detail of the business could know with absolute clarity whether they were being snowed in or not or simply know what it took to fix the situation.
  • Communicate: The wonderful quote from the then CEO of Merck “I spend 99% of my time communicating the same message over and over.” No leader was ever vanquished for communicating too much. These ‘fit’ leaders are very high on an influencing style of leadership and can easily make the tough calls.
  • Independent Counsel: While this seems a shameless plug, in reality, the independent counsel is a highly valuable and common feature amongst the more enlightened leader who looks for the view of the business without all the trappings of the internal perspective.
  • Succession and security: Knowing when is the time to quit and move on is as much skill with these ‘fit’ leaders as knowing what challenges to take on. They are secure within themselves and prepare the business for their succession, looking for the next generation of leader who is better at the job than they are.
  • Clarity and Decisiveness: Weigh up the options intelligently, invite the right counsel and make the decision are hallmarks of ‘fit’ leaders. Procrastination and lack of responsibility are not in their dictionary. These leaders get to the heart of the matter and have an innate skill in removing the clutter.
  • Dignity and Kindness:  ‘Fit’ leaders are humans displaying humility, empathy, dignity and kindness in the way they are. A ‘fit’ leader is welcome on the front line and takes his/her place there with ease, is informal in style in this environment and doesn’t rely on the fabrication of the ‘royal tour’.

Ask your managers and staff to anonymously nominate their top three goals in the business. If 100 per cent of your staff are not nominating sales and customer satisfaction in their top 3 then it’s time to think about increasing your cultural alignment to strategy. The Front line!

Our research tells us that engaged, motivated staff deliver an average of 20 per cent higher sales and margin improvement to the fitness of a business. Great people make great businesses, we all know that. Ask people in many businesses whether they feel great working for the boss and you will get a very mixed response. Over 70 per cent of exit surveys, we do show that staff who initiate leaving, do so because they did not feel ‘engaged’ with the business.

There should be a clear path for staff through recruitment, training and ultimately retention and/or succession.


Recruit from a base of clear, sales aligned behavioural questions with the adage of ‘recruit the will, teach the skill’ applying. Clear and standardised recruitment guidelines will help align your team to a common goal and create a real sales culture in your business

While finding the right people to represent your business is challenging, it is essential to a successful trading period. With the right recruitment and training your team will be one of the most essential investments, you can make over this period.


Investment in staff training is a must – not only will it give them the knowledge to do a better job of selling your products, but it will also give them confidence in their ability.

The start of every new team members’ involvement with your business should be with an induction program that introduces them not only to selling skills and the day to day running of the business but to the culture, history and goals of the business so that your team are aligned to your brand from day one.

Whether it be a buddy or mentor system, simply making sure the new team member has a clear ‘go to’ person (who is not the boss) is a helpful step to inducting them into the sales focus of the business. Match your new employees with someone they are comfortable asking questions and expressing their concerns to and who is able to communicate the alignment of the sales!

More extensive programs and refresher selling skills courses will help build on their existing skills. A simple routine of daily start up meetings supplier training sessions, in house training and coaching on product features & benefits will help to keep staff up to date with the goals of the day as well as new products and campaigns. For more in-depth learning opportunities, the RDG Retail Academy has recently launched and aims to impart and embed key retailing knowledge, understanding and tactics for success in its user base.

Set clear performance standards and goals, provide coaching, training and feedback and offer reward systems for excellence. You will then not have to worry yourself about making sales or delivering great consistent customer service as it will happen as part of your winning culture!


We were speaking with a prominent CEO recently who lamented that his company staff turnover was approximately 35% – they lose one out of every three new starters at all levels of the business.

After all your hard work in finding and training the right staff for the job, it would be a shame for them to leave you. Monetary costs aside, you may be letting your best staff walk straight in the door to your competition and taking your loyal customers with them. Retaining your best employees ensures customer satisfaction, product sales, satisfied coworkers and reporting staff, effective succession planning and deeply embedded organisational knowledge and learning.

Employee retention is critical to the long term health of your business and here are a few of The Retail Doctor’s management rules of retention.

  • Celebrate Success
  • Communicate
  • Be positive
  • Promote continuous improvement
  • Have fun!

Since Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store, staying close to your people and their results have always been the recipe for ‘effective people’ success. With a plethora of new channels and technologies surrounding us, we should never lose sight of our all-important customers.

We have hundreds of other fitness tips and our ‘Fit for Business’, Effective People training programs, in conjunction with our online learning platform that is guaranteed to guide you towards an environment where you can increase your sales, systems and profitability and we welcome you to contact us for details.