A store missing its targets or failing to meet expectations can derail company revenue goals for the quarter or even the whole year. Additionally, underperforming stores can lower employee morale. This can lead to a further decline in revenue. For this reason, managers should act immediately to improve store performance when they discover that a retail location is underperforming.
The faster you can take action, the sooner you can turn things around. Here are some expert-backed tips on how to successfully breathe life into underperforming stores.
Determine the underlying cause
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is to begin with. That’s why the first thing you should do to improve store performance is to figure out why a location isn’t pulling its weight.
Kick things off by looking at sales and inventory data over. Review the last several months or even years. Have sales been steadily going down? Or, do you typically experience a dip in revenue at around the same time each year? Which products are selling and which ones aren’t moving at all?
To gain even more insights, consider looking at the store’s data in relation to other locations. “Compare the store and all its variables to the other stores performing better. See how it is different, as this could be the cause,” advises Stacy Caprio, founder of AcceleratedGrowthMarketing.com
“You should determine if this is a recent change or something that has been going on for months or years to help pinpoint the cause… It will take some work, but finding the cause is the first step to fixing the underperformance.”
Work With Store Staff TO IMPROVE STORE PERFORMANCE
You should also remember that while numbers can provide a wealth of insights, don’t rely on quantitative data alone to figure out the root cause of an underperforming store. To improve store performance tap into the knowledge of the store’s manager and employees. Work with them to figure out the issues you need to fix.
Note that the key phrase here is to “work with” your staff. You need to make this a collaborative process. Avoid blaming the team for a store’s lackluster performance. Don’t just come in telling them what to do.
“The first error many district managers make when addressing issues of store underperformance is to immediately assume that the fault lies with the in-store team or store management,” says John Moss, CEO, at English Blinds.
“Whilst this is one of the most common causes of underperformance, it is far from the only one. Wrongly assigning blame to the store manager for an issue that they might not even be aware of, much less able to control, is not just unfair but also counterproductive.”
So, what should retailers do instead? According to Moss, you should gather the team’s feedback. Then work alongside them to come up with solutions.
“The in-store team can provide insights and pointers that can assist you in getting to the root of the issue and tackling it; they may not even realize they hold such insights but will be much more proactive about working with you if you don’t alienate them from the get-go.”
Depending on what your research uncovers, you may find that a store is underperforming because of ineffective marketing. Maybe it’s a staffing issue . Perhaps it’s a matter of your inventory failing to resonate with the local market. Whatever the case, you will only figure it out with the right efforts to gather both quantitative and qualitative data.
And if you already know the reason why a store is underperforming, the rest of this article focuses on the common causes of poor retail performance and what you can do to improve.
Boost your visibility
Often, a store underperforms because shoppers are unaware of its offerings. In other words, you have a marketing problem and need to work on getting in front of your target customers.
Retailers dealing with underperforming shops should “get aggressive with local marketing, PR, spot advertising, direct mail, and local news media exposure,” says Baron Christopher Hanson, lead consultant and owner of RedBaronUSA.
“By doubling or tripling reach, frequency, and targeting of local messaging and news, more customers will know about the store and embrace its refreshed image, location, staff, marketing messages, and inventory of offerings. Do not be afraid to expand your marketing territory to reach customers in a larger square mile radius.” he adds.
In some cases, you may need to increase your store’s curb appeal and ensure that it gets noticed.
As Christine Brady of Air Aid Promotions puts it, “It all comes down to boosting visibility.”
“Want more customers walking through the door? Do something they can’t miss when they’re passing by that location. Things like a giant, 20′ advertising balloon advertising a sale or special, pennant strings in the brand’s colors and advertising flags at the street level get customers to NOTICE your location and make a right-hand turn in.”
Revamp your assortment to Improve Store Performance
Dealing with inventory that just isn’t selling? An important action step, according to Hanson, is to eliminate your under-performers.
“Cut the lower 20% of under-performing items or offerings from inventory – lighten the menu so to speak, to help save money and re-focus only on the 80% of products that are still selling OK or well,” he says.
This may involve marking down products, selling them to liquidators, or giving them away — either as freebies and promotional items or sending them to charity. The goal is to unload the stock weighing you down so you can invest in the right products.
Once you’ve taken those steps, “go back and fill 20% of the trimmed inventory with new, more in-demand, and refreshed inventory offerings,” says Hanson.
Remember the old saying, “hope is not a management strategy”. So, don’t just hope that your stores area dealing with inventory consistently with policies and best practices, inspect them regularly and assign corrective actions when issues are found.
Work on the store’s teams
If it’s a staffing issue, then you need to go through the process of “hiring, firing, and re-training employees,” says Hanson. The goal is “to bring in new, passionate, sales-hungry staff who will spread more cheer and good words inside the store and out in your retail community.”
Another approach is to leverage “mentor stores,” remarks Louis Carter, of Best Practice Institute. This is when you invite top performers from your other stores to mentor those in locations that aren’t doing so well.
“Underperforming stores typically have dysfunctional teams or individual performers on the floor who are harming your culture. Bringing in leaders from other stores who are succeeding to work within underperforming stores has been proven to increase productivity and sales outcomes. Learning from successes and best practices from high performers brings under-performers up to a higher standard of excellence.”
Double down on the in-store experience
If you’re driving enough in-store traffic but aren’t converting lookers into buyers, you may need to look into revamping your in-store experience.
Carlos Castelán, Managing Director of The Navio Group, explains that one thing retailers can do to help underperforming stores is “create experiential shopping experiences.”
“Retailers that provide a strong customer experience or find a way to create a shopping experience that doubles as a medium of entertainment will attract and win shoppers and boost sales,” he adds.
To improve store performance, Castelán says retailers should make the in-store experience more than just buying a product.
As an example, he talks about how the mattress company Casper has nap pods in its New York location that people can rent for 30 minutes. These nap areas are equipped with a Casper mattress, pillows, and sheets, which allows people to truly experience the company’s products.
Another excellent example, says Castelán, can be found in a Canada Goose store in Toronto, which “features a 10-degree cold room with real ice and snow and lets shoppers try on its $1,000 parka.”
According to Castelán, stores like Casper and Canada Goose are successful because they go beyond simply selling stuff. Instead, they’ve come up with ways to make shopping interesting and experiential.
“When a retailer can win on experience, they have more of the customer’s attention and that means a higher likelihood of purchasing products and becoming more loyal,” he adds.
Don’t forget about out-of-store strategies
Remember that driving sales isn’t just about what happens within the four walls of your retail store. The strategies and tactics you implement beyond your physical shop play a big role in generating sales.
“Don’t forget about your out-of-store experience,” says Jacquie Young-Sterling, director of customer experience at Bindy.
Start by evaluating your online presence, she advises. “Is your Google My Business up to date, with correct information, phone number, hours of operations etc.? Do you have reviews, and if so, are they positive? Walk a block away from your store and Google your type of business. If you are a florist, search for ‘Florist open near me.’ Does your business come up in search results?”
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to beef up your listing. Claim or update your Google My Business listing and enter as many details as possible. If you don’t have a lot of reviews, email your best customers and encourage them to post their feedback online.
Ziba Beauty does a great job here. In addition to being one of the top results for “eyebrow threading near me” (I live in Cerritos, CA), Ziba’s listing offers a lot details about the business and features several photos and reviews.
In addition to having a highly visible listing, you should also ensure that customers can find and purchase your products online.
“Is your inventory online? Is it searchable? Can a customer quickly search your website to determine if you have what they need?” continues Young-Sterling.
Again, if the answer is “no” then you’ll want to sync your online and offline retail platforms. This is so customers can easily search your catalog and purchase what they need.
And when it comes to fulfillment, try to offer as many options as possible. This may include same-day delivery, BOPIS, curbside pickup, and more. Implementing one or all of these options will improve store performance.
Taking all of the above steps will boost your brand presence beyond your brick-and-mortar location — which can ultimately lead to higher traffic and revenues.
Visit and audit your stores regularly
As a final thought, the best way to handle underperforming stores is to not have them in the first place. And while this is certainly easier said than done, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that you catch issues before they become too big.
For starters, stay in contact with your stores — and no, we don’t just mean keeping in touch via email or Slack.
District managers need to be present in-stores regularly to check-in and see how things are doing at a store level.
Managers should also conduct regular retail audits and assessments. You will be able to spot repeat issues, trends and lookup past visits with comments, photos and videos. Often, stores underperform because they aren’t complying with the brand’s standards around displays and merchandising. It’s essential to audit these things regularly. Immediately take corrective action if something is amiss.
Looking to start or level up your retail audit and assessment program? Here are some resources:
- Retail Audits – The Definitive Guide
- How to Build a Retail Audit Checklist
- Store Operations Checklist
- Merchandising Checklist
- Retail Task Management – A Comprehensive Guide
About the author:
Francesca Nicasio is retail expert, B2B content strategist, and LinkedIn TopVoice. She writes about trends, tips, and best practices that enable retailers to increase sales and serve customers better. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores.