The Journey from Retail Executive to Blogger (Post 2)

My early career was spent working in retail for small “mom and pop” retailers and learning the basics of running a store. It is where my love for store operations began. These small retailers didn’t have robust process in place and it made things so much more difficult than they needed to be. So I created processes. By the time I was 21, I was running a store but also overseeing several other stores in the tri-state area. I was sent in to “clean up” stores and train the managers and staff on how to execute to the company standard and create happy customers that resulted in stores achieving their sales goals. I did this for several retailers…and felt like an expert early on (how little did I know!). By 23 I was a buyer for a small company, while still managing my own store and spent time traveling to NY and LA, driving a fast sports car, wearing fabulous clothes and having a ball.

Then one day I was working at my home store and a man came in looking for something for his wife. He didn’t know her size or what she liked but that wasn’t unusual. So I did what I always do and started asking questions about her, about them, and then pulled some outfits together. My goal was to get him to leave with a great outfit (not just one piece). This store was in a low-traffic lifestyle center and every customer counted. He found an outfit, I wrapped it up (made my sales goal for the day too!). The next day, I got a call from him. He told me he was the District Manager for The Gap and wanted me to come work for him…as an Assistant Manager. Are you kidding, no way! I was an Assistant Buyer, an Area Manager and I wasn’t stepping backwards! But he painted a compelling picture of what my career could be like if I branched out and began working for big brand retailers. He told me if I was as good as he thought I was, I would be promoted quickly. So I bit the bullet and went. By the way, they paid me well so while the title was a step back, the salary was not. I set my ego aside and went to work for The Gap.

Next thing I knew my District Manager made an unannounced visit to my store to talk to me about using my store as the District floor set store. I would set the floorset before everyone else, then the store managers would walk through my store to learn how to set their store. I was excited and flattered. It was my awesome team that made this possible.

I have to tell you a funny story. I was preparing for my first Black Friday in a high volume store. My DM told me to take the deposit from the Saturday before Black Friday and convert it to change. I took his direction at face value and went down to the bank to convert the deposit. The bank gave me a dolly and offered a special duty Police Officer to safely haul it back to my store. Yes, it was as embarrassing as it sounds. Counting the money every morning before we opened and every evening after we closed took forever. The money didn’t fit in the safe, we had to use every locked drawer in the store and get a second safe delivered. My team was telling me this could not have been what he meant. Turned out it wasn’t. He didn’t clarify the max dollars that I should cash out and I didn’t ask. On the bright side, we were the heros of the mall that weekend. Every retailer who ran out of change was coming to see us (yes, word had spread). I guess they call that making lemonade out of lemons. I never made that mistake again. I also learned that there are no dumb questions.

Rule #3: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask.

The cool opportunities kept coming. Next, my DM asked me to take over our downtown location while continuing to manage my store. The location was struggling with store operations and achieving their sales targets. I had a strong team who could oversee my store so I agreed to take on the challenge. I did an unannounced visit to the store so I could see what customers saw. The store was dirty, poorly merchandised, fairly empty and didn’t seem to have enough staff working to wait on the customers. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. First step was to validate my observations. I listened to the management team. I listened to the customers. I listened to the staff. And I knew what to do.

Rule #4: Execute well and win. Execute poorly and lose.

The strong results continued to pour in, and the store ended up relocating to a 12,000 square foot location inside the same center, and I was promoted to the General Manager. One of my Assistant Managers was promoted to the store I had been managing and I became one of the first managers of this new “super store” concept. What did I learn? That moving from small retailers to big retailers was a great decision. And one that I never regretted.

So what actions can you take based on what you have read here?

Let’s revisit the rules:

Rule 1: Are you so focused on the next level position to get a title that you could be missing out on some learnings right where you are?

Rule 2: How are you running your store? Are you choosing excellence every day?

Rule 3: How do you handle situations where you need more clarity from your supervisor? Are you afraid to ask your boss questions for fear they might think that you aren’t smart?

Rule 4: How are you executing your role? At standard? Below standard? Above standard? Remember executing well is a choice you make every day.

If you have questions, email me at or click on “Ask Rachel”. I will respond personally within 24 hours.

With Joy,


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