Retail Lessons Learned.

When I started Running Great Stores, I blogged day and night.  As the business ramped up, clients got all my time and the blogging slowed way down.  Life is about balance so here I am going back to my roots and writing again.  I can’t guarantee how often the blogs will post, but when they do, they will have meaning for my retail friends who want to run great stores.  It is a little surprising but many people have been requesting that I share more of my personal retail story, so here goes.

Life as a Retail Store Manager.

I was approaching five years at The Gap, had just gotten married, built a house and needed a new challenge. While The Gap had offered me a District Manager role in another state, I was not relocatable due to my husband’s career.
The Regional Manager for Ann Taylor recruited me to be a Store Manager of one of her high volume stores that had a bit of untapped potential, so she thought. While I felt I was ready to be a District Manager, once again I had to determine if title was going to matter or if new opportunities to learn were going to impact my decision. The role of District Manager would happen in time. I was impressed with her personal brand, her high standards and I knew I was going to learn from her. I ended up accepting the position…and it just reinforced what I already knew,  people work for people not for companies.

Fundamentals of Running a Great Store.

I quickly realized that the core of how I had operated stores in the past would work here too – the fundamentals of running a great store worked everywhere, regardless of prices or selling model but I had to move fast. With every day that we missed our sales goal, we couldn’t get that day back.

The first thing I had to do was get the store team on board with what it was going to take to turn the business around, evaluate the current talent and hire and train additional team members who had a passion for the customer. Then it was about building operational excellence into how the store operated. There was not a detail left untouched. We re-merchandise the selling floor, create a more crisp visual standard, organized the backroom, steamed and layered face outs and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.

Is the Store Ready?

Want to hear about the routine that I implemented at The Gap and then used at Ann Taylor?  I would go into my store every Monday a couple hours before it opened and walk the store looking at the windows, selling floor, cash-wrap, fitting rooms and the backroom.  My insights became a to do list that we addressed throughout the week and then evaluated the store again on Thursday to prepare for the weekend. During my first week at the store, I went back into the fitting room and closed the door. I sat on the bench and looked around. There was dust around the baseboards, straight pins stuck in the carpet and the wallpaper, fingerprints on the mirrors. It was not good but it was easy to fix. At each associate’s chat in for the day, we walked back to the fitting room and I asked them if they would get undressed in there. The answer was “no” each time. They got it. The fitting rooms were never dirty again.

Getting a customer back to the fitting room was and continues to be the best way to sell them something. Once they get undressed and try on clothing, chances are much better they will make a purchase. Another common mistake store teams make is forgetting about the customer who went into the fitting room. There is nothing worse than trying on clothing, needing another size and having to get redressed to go and get it because there isn’t an associate available. You have heard me say this before, retail isn’t rocket science. Everything you want is on the other side of consistency.

There is no “I” in TEAM.

Back in the 90’s, Ann Taylor was one of the few apparel retailers whose associates worked on commission. My philosophy, and what had driven my success, was “we work as a team” to achieve sales results. Commission based associates don’t think about it that way, and individual commission based pay does not incentivize teams to work together which often times negatively impacts the customer experience. Having a couple top sellers is nice, but if the entire store misses its target, what is the point? Taking time to understand what each member of the team believed about the store and it’s future success, as well as reinforcing how critical their role was to the success of the store was the focus. Some got on board, others did not. The ones who could not, left to go to other retailers. Over time, the model changed to team selling but the lessons I learned about getting individuals on the same page to work together for the greater good of the store lives on. There is no “I” in team.

Clienteling Drives Volume.

We began to actively manage our customers through clienteling. There weren’t apps back then that organized customer data. We used small three ring notebooks, with A-Z tabs and a page for each client. Imagine tracking everything she bought, by hand! We called her every time something came in that would complement her wardrobe. And our customers loved us. Our store volume went through the roof. The team learned to work their client books in order to drive traffic when no one was in the mall. We didn’t stand around complaining that traffic was down, we created our own traffic. Today this activity has been replaced by technology solutions; but whether clienteling is done by hand or through technology the key is consistency and so few retailers are consistent in contacting their clients to invite them in or tell them about new products. Big miss. In a world of “down traffic” (which by the way isn’t a new phenomenon), contacting customers about new merchandise that complements her lifestyle and wardrobe is a no-brainer. Clienteling isn’t new and yes, it does work.

Our store exceeded our sales goals, we were the top store in the district and region and working to be the top in the country. I was given the responsibility of overseeing the new shoe store concept in our mall. Soon after I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. Running the store was hard with the worst morning sickness ever, so thankful for the team that I had in place.

Keep on Reinventing.

Beating your own sales numbers can be hard year over year. (can i get a witness!) so we continued to reinvent how we ran our store. In talking to my management team, we decide to establish a wardrobing program. Visiting clients homes with a simple wardrobing worksheet to help them sort through their closet became our routine.  It required additional payroll, but we were able to flex our payroll due to increased sales. We created a master list of what they needed to purchase in order to complete outfits. A photocopy of the worksheet went into the client book. Many of our customers made appointments right away and bought the outfit-completers and felt like they had a new wardrobe! This new approach helped us continue to drive sales to beat our prior year’s numbers.

The program was something we created to help our customers feel confident.  The result was increased sales and  loyal customers! Customers loved that we weren’t telling them they had to buy all new clothes! They loved being able to spend a little and get entirely new outfits! Where did this idea come from? The customer would say she had all these pieces but nothing goes together and an idea was born. Provide service that makes your customer want to shop your store again and again.

Seasons of Life.

After I had my daughter, Alexandra Elizabeth-Sara, I decided it was time to stay home and be a full time mother. I wasn’t sure how

we would survive on one income, but we did. I was worried about what might happen to my career after taking time off. Five

years later, when Alexandra started kindergarten, I was recruited to Bath & Body Works by my Regional from Ann Taylor.

You see, your reputation precedes you. Time off to raise a family isn’t going to stall your career. One of the important keys then

and now is to stay connected with colleagues in your industry. When you are ready, so will the roles.

Within a few months of starting this role, I became a District Manager. It may have taken longer than I hoped, but life isn’t a

sprint, it is a marathon.

Your Next Steps.

So what actions will you take from this blog to apply to your own store?

Leave me a note below and let me know your progress! If you get stuck, email me at Rachel@Runninggreatstores. Happy to help.

If you haven’t signed up for the blog yet, I encourage you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.

With Joy,


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