The Lifelong Value of Retail Experience

Run a register before you run a company

13 years ago, I traded in the manager’s keys of my gas station for a computer, a cubicle, and title of Operations Analyst.  Many titles and office-based jobs later, I continue to call on the skills and experiences from my job as a retail manager nearly every day.
I encourage anyone with ambitions of leading a retail organization, particularly one that depends heavily on employees from all levels of society, to spend a few shifts working at your company’s retail locations.  I promise you will gain experience and perspective that cannot be obtained any other way.  Here’s why:

  1. Cashiers are the face of a retail brand

A select group of consumers may be able to name the CEO of their favorite retailer, but their experience with a brand is shaped by the people they meet behind the counter.  To effectively guide the people who interact with consumers daily, I believe one must get to know those faces of a brand.  My experience with gas station employees introduced me to folks who don’t say a word and folks who will bend your ear for hours; to part-timers who treat a store as though their name is on the sign and managers who don’t care if the site is out of fuel.

  1. Understand the impact of corporate initiatives

Only by being a cashier for a few shifts can one truly grasp the numerous activities required to keep a gas station clean, stocked, and running smoothly.  I encourage business leaders to assess the impact of adding to/changing operational procedures while setting expectations for results.  Can a cashier serving a shift alone safely perform additional duties?  How does adding a loyalty program impact the amount of time consumers stand in line?

  1. Direct consumer feedback

I can’t seem to collect a receipt from a cashier lately without a plea to fill out a survey using a code at the bottom.  Surveys can provide useful data measuring consumer sentiment, but they can be skewed by disgruntled consumers looking to vent; and by the same person who repeatedly spends a few minutes online in exchange for the chance to win a prize.  Interacting directly with consumers can paint a much clearer picture of how your brand is perceived; how your products stand up against the competition; whether customers are likely to return or take their business elsewhere.  Don’t wait for your company to start trending on social media to decide you need to know what’s really happening in your stores.

What do I do next?

For most retailers, cashiers and consumer-facing staff control a brand.  Working alongside them will reveal underlying motivations that can influence policies and incentives.  Salt Lake City-based Maverik, Inc. recently conducted exit interviews with employees that led to the introduction of an app-based scheduling solution to address a high number of no-shows.  I commend this innovative approach, but wonder how many additional insights could be gained by going one step further?  Placing corporate employees in stores could uncover additional efficiency opportunities to those with the power to enact them.
For any sizable retailer, it is not realistic to work with and meet all consumer facing employees.  That shouldn’t stop you from mandating a reality check for everyone from the CEO on down.  You can learn a lot about how things are really going and how consumers interact with your brand while stocking a cooler and sweeping the lot.
For further discussion about the value of retail experience and how to implement a program for your company, contact Zach Pastko at [email protected].

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