Triumphs and Trip-ups from Holiday 2021.

There were many triumphs and trip-ups from Holiday 2021. For the past couple of decades, I have put together a recap of the holiday period to circulate across the organizations where I led Store Operations. Now that I own my own retail consulting firm, Running Great Stores, I still have a point of view on the triumphs and trip-ups from peak period. The notion behind this is so that we can learn and do better!

I have been in retail for the past three decades. Retail was my accidental career (to use the phrase Ron Thurston has coined). While recency syndrome would have us think that COVID was the first thing that turned retail upside down, I can confirm that I have lived through disruptions during every decade. I am not underestimating the COVID impact, but like all the other disruptions, it’s the strong that survive. The strong retailers reinvented themselves again and have come out on top. I couldn’t be more proud of the brick and mortar retailers who have stuck to what they know and love, leaned into the discomfort of finding another way to win and have done just that. Many triumphed this holiday.

Small Businesses Knocked It Out Of The Park.

Small businesses really impressed me this holiday. I saw excellent execution which is giving them top billing on my holiday hindsight list. Many small businesses really proved that with tenacity and resilience, they can make it through anything.

The Team At Green Velvet of Granville

This past holiday, I shopped small business as much as I could.

Here is what they did well:

  • Inventory levels appeared to be healthy and as inventory levels waned, their creative ongoing remerchandising kept the stores looking fresh for customers. They found other vendors to purchase from and their creativity helped them drive volume.
  • Free gift wrapping and gift boxes were a true differentiator for small retailers (great job!)
  • Owners were on the sales floor working, engaging customers and making up for staffing shortages
  • Many exceeded 2019 sales results and in some instances, broke records over even their best years

The Triumphant Retailers (big & small).

  • Green Velvet – Once again they created an environment that captured the essence of the holiday. The front window was spectacular providing Instagram moments for shoppers, they had a constant flow of fresh goods, happy associates and happy customers.
  • Rose Bredl – Beautiful assortment for the garden lover and the owner kept the store fresh and beautiful!
  • Thread – Exquisite assortment, fun events, wonderful service! Love the fresh coffee and delicious treats, delivery service, they are just a “wow”.
  • Shinola – happy associates, wonderful red gift boxes and orange ribbon and excellent service!
  • Tory Burch Boutiques – I love how the staff remembers you and treats you like royalty! Their gift wrapping was amazing.
  • Glenn Ave Soap Co – All natural and no chemicals! Owner and team provided great service! They wrapped every package!
  • Bath & Body Works – love the cello bags and ribbon along with wonderful sales throughout the season, friendly teams in every location!
  • Sur la Table – Great collection of things for the person who loves to cook, affordable prices, great service, and they finally have credit card machines! lol
  • The Edition Shop (Savannah, GA) – What a beautiful shop, in person and online. Just amazing service!
  • JMcLaughlin – Great service, dog friendly, a little bubbly while you shop, what’s not to love?
  • On Paper – Beautiful and unique assortment for the paper lover and free gift wrap on purchases!
  • Oakland Nursery – Gorgeous fresh greens, wonderful service
  • Target – they really won at the front door greeters making customers feel right at home. Well trained associates made a difference.
  • Staples – there was always a warm hello when you walked in and their print shop does a great job at very affordable prices with quick turnaround.
  • PINK – super cute lounge with great quality and friendly associates. If they had staffing shortages, you would never know it.
  • Nordstrom Beauty – special kudos for the calligrapher in stores the weekend before Christmas etching meaningful messages onto every perfume bottle purchased! Their holiday decor throughout the store was lovely too!
  • Lilly Pulitzer – Beautiful free gift wrap including printed gift boxes and reusable bags. For the lilly-lover, this made the gift very special.

What About The Trip-Ups?

No big surprises here…some department stores and chain stores stood out once again as struggling to show up in a compelling way. While COVID and supply chain issues exacerbated the situation, department stores and chain stores have been struggling long before COVID hit. Select retailers had to cut hours during the peak holiday season due to staffing shortages…the retailers in the “triumphant” list above seemed to “figure it out”. Others couldn’t get products due to the ever-so-popular clogged ports issues and truck driver shortages that kept product from arriving. If startups and small retailers can be nimble and quick, so can chain stores and department stores. The question is, what do they have to do differently?

Here are the trip-up’s I witnessed:

  • Inconsistent customer experiences
  • Staffing shortages
  • Messy stores (direct result of the staffing issues)
  • As product sold down, the stores weren’t remerchandised keeping the store looking appealing
  • Marketing messages arriving via email didn’t align with the available inventory in stores causing annoyed customers
  • No gift boxes (again!) come on retailers, customers want and appreciate that small gesture! Add it back into your operating budgets!

Staffing shortages are one of the largest issues retail faces going into 2022.

How Do We Address The Challenges Going Into 2022?

Amazon and other large companies who can afford to pay $18 or more per hour are driving every other retailer to sharpen their pencil and find a way to offset labor costs with other costs in their P&L. $11 an hour isn’t going to cut it any longer. Customers want to shop in stores with engaging associates who can deliver fun experiences. Retailers tell me “I can’t afford to pay that much.” My response – “You can’t afford not to!”

We all know that hourly rate alone isn’t what drives happy associates. While It is part of the equation, people need to earn a liveable wage, there is another component. The culture within the organization and the stores. Purple (the mattress company) does a remarkable job with this. Talk to the associates who work in their showrooms. The brand invests in constant training, top wages, and the field leadership cares about the teams. There are a lot of companies doing it right. And a few more who need some help in this area.

Help My Retail Store Win In 2022.

If you own a retail business and have identified opportunities this holiday, reach out to me and let’s have a (free) conversation. We cannot address the problems of tomorrow with the solutions of yesterday. Running Great Stores can help.

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