Guest Blog by Chip Averwater

A well-oiled, smoothly operating retail store is a beauty to behold. Its people are professional, they like what they do, their systems are efficient and reliable, the store is organized and everyone is happy with their transactions. People like doing business with them, and many do. The keys to putting together such an organization aren’t secrets. Most retailers recognize them. Yet most of us struggle to get them right.


Here are five of the “truths” of building a better retail organization:

1. A company is the people it hires. Almost everything that happens in a store is through its employees – displays, selections, organization, sales and customer interactions. Good employees find ways to make the right things happen; poor employees find excuses to keep anything from happening. Our task isn’t finding people who will work for the wages – it’s finding people who will share our values and make the right things happen.

2. Employees want and need training, early and often. A new hire is eager to learn and contribute; he just needs information. Give it to him quickly and he becomes a valuable team member, but if you make him wait, his enthusiasm and motivation will dwindle. Writing out operations and sales manuals makes them easily accessible. If you give them to new hires before they start on the job, they’ll learn them and thank you for the head-start. Ongoing training keeps skills sharp, updates information, reminds people of common goals and allows brainstorming for improvements.

3. Respect and recognition create commitment. We don’t have to create motivation; our employees have it when they start. We just have to be careful not to kill it. Our responsibility is simply giving them the tools and information they need, then offering feedback and encouragement. Everyone wants to be recognized, respected and appreciated for what they do. Providing it costs us little and offers amazing dividends.

4. Only simple systems succeed. We tend to overestimate the operating systems our people can remember and execute. Steps that seem obvious and simple to us as we design them are puzzles to those executing multiple systems on the diverse and busy frontline. When we see the same mistakes multiple times, the problem is probably not the people but the system. We have to design systems that are apparent to their users and easier to do correctly than incorrectly.

5. Everyone needs to see the scoreboard. More important than what to do is why; it engenders a commitment that instructions alone cannot. When our people understand our goals and how we’re doing, they find ways to contribute. Progress and outcomes are easy to share as graphs and numerical comparisons. Financial statements are the ultimate feedback and are seldom as sensitive as we think. We’re often pleasantly surprised at the many ways employees can help us reach goals they see and understand.

Chip Averwater is chairman of Amro Music Stores, Memphis, Tenn., and author of the book “Retail Truths: The Unconventional Wisdom of Retailing.” For more information, visit Retail Merchandiser magazine is pleased to present the points of view of many different industry stakeholders. If you would like to contribute your own guest blog to our site, please contact the editor at  


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