Rocket Bomber - article - retail - commentary - Making it rain.

Making it rain.

filed under , 24 September 2012, 11:52 by

Corporate retail sucks.

And I’m not just talking about the way most corporate overlords treat their part-time hourly employees.

Let’s say you’re the store manager: salaried, bonus-eligible, supposedly given a great deal of responsibility. It should be easy, right? Or at least easier than grinding out a minimum wage shift at a register, standing on your feet for hours and hours and asking the same stupid three questions of a constant parade of customers who don’t care, and often can’t be bothered to stop talking on the phone long enough to acknowledge you as an actual person.

If Only I were the boss,” our hypothetical employee says to herself, “then we could actual change things in the store, respond to our customers, make this a decent place to work and shop”


Merely being the store manager is not being the boss. Corporate makes sure of that.

Corporate Question Number One: “So, what are you doing to increase sales?”

To respond to this question, a store manager is required to come up with some bullshit with the right-sounding phrases (whatever jargon is in vogue at corporate offices this year) and to come up with ‘action plans’ and ‘employee incentives’ and ‘store initiatives’ and all kinds of other crap that has the same net effect as shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic after the iceberg hits.

At the store level: we didn’t steer the ship into an iceberg. Expecting us to magically fix it at the store level is intentionally blind, callously negligent, or possibly both.

Retail locations are dependent on customer traffic. I can’t drive traffic into my store any more than I can make it rain. At the store level, the most I can do is keep the doors open, hire more staff to make the most of any traffic that does come in the door, train staff to be courteous and helpful and then also ensure we are scheduling enough people to work to keep up with sales volume.

Tired and harried staff can only do so much. Cutting back on payroll only limits your total potential sales. If you want to increase sales, let me add staff the store to increase employee interactions with customers. These conversations lead to a better understanding of what the customer needs, to personalized recommendations, and more sales.

Corporate Question Number Two: “Sales are down so we need to minimize our expenses; what are you doing to meet the new payroll target?”

I’m paraphrasing but this is fairly close to the actual weasel words used: They don’t tell me to fire people, or to cut a part-timer from 20hrs a week down to 12. They don’t tell me to make customers wait for 5 minutes instead of 2 minutes, or 10 minutes instead of 5. They don’t tell me to pull someone off of customer service for restocking or merchandising. They never ask me to pull the kids specialist out of her department to cover breaks at the register, leaving one of our stronger departments unstaffed for hours a day — when, once again, if there were an employee there to talk and listen to customers we just might see a sales bump that would justify adding one extra person to each shift.

“What are you doing to make your payroll number?” This thinking doesn’t even consider what the costs of cutting payroll are:

Sure, you save the $9.25 an hour you’d be paying someone — but your customers have to wait. Your employees are overworked, leading to more sick days, more grumbling, fewer smiles, and no matter how saint-like they are and how hard they try, will also lead to ever-so-slightly worse customer service.

Customers who have bad experiences or who just have to wait one extra minute also leave the store thinking to themselves, well, I’m never shopping there again.

Cutting back payroll means spending community goodwill. It’s not a savings, it’s a cost. And community goodwill is only earned slowly, over years. It’s not like you’re going to get it back even if corporate comes to its senses and lets store managers add staff.


Sales are down. You can sit in your executive suite, stare at spreadsheets, lean on your COO, who leans on a SVP, who leans on a junior VP, who leans on regional staff, who send out emails to all the store managers, “So, what *are* you doing to increase sales?”

It’s like asking farmers in a drought to make it rain.

Here’s what can be done: Advertise nationally to drive traffic into stores. Spend years building up a reputation for knowledgeable, helpful service, quality products, and prices that are in-line with the quality and service offered. [One does not have to be the cheapest to be well thought of by our customers; ask Apple.] Build the brand to drive traffic into stores, and then make sure there are enough positive employee-customer interactions to convert that traffic into sales.

My experience is in book sales; our chosen retail niche has a unique service component not shared with other retailers — but some of this has to be universal.

The one thing that could be addressed at a store level, increasing staff, I’m not allowed to do.

The one thing that would actually drive more traffic into stores, national and consistent advertising in major media, is deemed by corporate to be too expensive.

Ask Coke how much they spend on ads. Or Budweiser. Or McDonalds.

Until someone at our corporate offices catches a clue, I guess I’ll go back to shuffling deck chairs and ignoring the iceberg.


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