No education can prepare us for all the situations we face in retailing. Even if we could memorize exactly what’s needed in today’s environment, it wouldn’t be useful long. Education is valuable, but not because it teaches us specific job skills; because it teaches us how to learn.
We don’t have to know everything, but we do have to be willing and eager to learn what we need whenever we discover we need it.
Education is a head-start, but in the retail marathon learning along the way easily overtakes it.
A leader chooses the direction and goals for his company, then organizes the company to best pursue them. Organization entails structuring jobs and functions to fit the abilities and personalities available to him. And such job design includes his own; he must shape his job to make use of his own special skills and abilities, and delegate wherever he perceives his weaknesses.
Retail leaders who are charismatic often serve as the public faces of their stores; many others shun the spotlight and appoint staffers to public roles.
Some retailers like formulating detailed plans; others prefer broad strokes and strategies, relying on staff to work out the details.
Some enjoy making deals and working out compromises; others lack the patience and diplomacy for negotiation and assign it to more social personalities.
The essential of retail leadership is choosing what’s to be done and organizing the company to do it—not necessarily doing it ourselves.
We don’t have to have all the specialized expertise our business needs. We only have to know where to find it and be able to distinguish the feasible and helpful from the unrealistic and harmful.
Professional advisors (CPAs, lawyers, bankers, systems consultants, etc.) are experts in their fields because they specialize—they spend their careers immersed in the details. But that specialization is at the expense of other knowledge and skills; they are not retailers and cannot understand retailing like a retailer.
We have to choose our advisors and advice carefully, and discriminately meld the advice into our business in the correct proportions and with the appropriate emphasis.
Following advice because “My accountant said …” is foolish and dangerous. A good advisor only points out the considerations; a good retail leader weighs them and decides whether and how to integrate them.
Retail leadership is not a math problem with one absolute and incontrovertible solution. Business situations have many facets, markets are diverse, and customers have different needs. Sometimes an innovative and unexpected approach is the differentiation a store needs.
The plan with the best chance of success is almost always the one management believes in passionately enough to make it work.
Experience helps us rule out ideas that have little chance, but only trial separates what’s left into winners and nice tries.
Trying many ideas adds to our experience base and often shows us what could work if we tweaked it or combined it with other ideas and lessons.
Successful retail leaders aren’t successful in everything they do. They just try enough things to find some that work.
It’s easy to forget how small the margin is between success and failure.
A hot new product, an innovative promotion, or a new twist to an old marketing concept can reap sudden and unexpected rewards. Profits fund store and operational improvements as well as experiments with fun new ideas, attracting the attention of customers, peers, and the industry. Everyone is eager to listen and learn the secret of the Midas touch.
But new competition, changing technology, a shift in fashions, or simply overlooking any of the fundamentals of retailing can reverse fortunes quickly. Suddenly everything that worked so smoothly and easily is fraught with problems. Red numbers suck the fun out of retail leadership.
Pride has a painful inverse in humility.