Running a retail store is complex, and it might be difficult to know just where to start when you’re smoothing out your processes. But making retail operations run more efficiently should be at the top of every retail executive’s to-do list, and the tips below will get you on the path to streamlined success.
1. Create standard procedures and processes
Whether you run one store or five-hundred stores, order and efficiency start with standardization. A set of procedures helps ensure a quality experience — for employees and for customers — and a seamless management process no matter how many locations you have.
Staffing guidelines – Create a hiring team and employee manuals to set standards for training, conduct, and company procedures so that everyone is on the same page.
Cash management processes – There’s no “one” way to handle cash management, but it’s important that every employee knows the rules for everything from making bank deposits to using the POS system.
Merchandising – Establish merchandising standards for properly showcasing your products. You want to make sure that your displays, layout, and promotions reflect your brand and show off your items in the best possible way.
Customer service – Everything from how customers are treated to dealing with returns should be included in the employee manual, meaning less time is spent making sure that the proper steps are being done.
Store cleaning procedures – Cleaning isn’t fun, but it’s vital, and it can be time-consuming. Set guidelines as to what’s expected from employees on each of the shifts — opening, mid-day, and closing.
2. Train your staff and delegate
Recognize that you can’t do everything by yourself — and you shouldn’t try. The first step to streamlining your retail operations is building a well-trained team that can help you get everything done. If you’re stuck having to do the majority of the work yourself or if you’re putting out multiple fires on a daily basis, it’s time to evaluate your employees and the training that you’re giving them.
Next, learn to effectively delegate tasks to your employees. This starts by being a manager that maximizes the productivity of their associates, and coming to terms with the fact that your way isn’t the only way — and that you don’t have to do it yourself.
Figure out what tasks make the most sense for all you to delegate. The key is to let everyone play to their strengths, so you’re not just unloading tasks at random. Get to know the people who are part of your team. What are they good at? What do they like to do? Use the insights you gain to determine how to delegate different tasks.
3. Reduce paperwork
One of the top ways to streamline your retail operations is to look at the flow of paper. Paperwork can quickly pile up and add unnecessary lead times in a variety of areas. When chasing a paper trail, figure out if it was absolutely necessary as part of the process. Most of the time you’ll find that it was done simply because that’s the way it’s always been done.
Instead, look at streamlining paperwork, and even eliminate the physical paper completely by using a document management system and digitizing all of your records, receipts, and paperwork for long-term storage and retrieval.
4. Automate some operations
When you’re running a business, there’s no shortage of tedious and time-consuming work. Whether it’s keeping track of expenses or creating staffing schedules by hand, these tasks keep you from working on the higher-level areas of growing your business.
The solution is simple — automation.
When deciding what tasks to automate, ask yourself:
- Is this a repetitive task?
- Is it a simple workflow?
- Will it save you time or money?
- As the business grows, will it scale?
Some of the most common tasks to automate include using a POS system to track your employee performance and inventory levels, using software for marketing so you can schedule, organize, and prioritize your campaigns more effectively, and automating your cash room which reduces the chance of human error and labor costs, increases efficiency, decreases losses, and improves security.
Task management is another area that can benefit from automation. If you’re already delegating jobs (tip #2), arm your business with a task management system that automates reminders, photo verification, and task completion. Doing so can cut the hours and effort you spend managing your team. Rather manually checking in or sending more emails, you and your staff can stay on top of everything using one platform.
Aside from saving time, a task management system also prevents miscommunication because it can house all your messages and updates in one place.
Note: you don’t have to automate everything. The key is to identify menial jobs that are sucking your time, and then finding ways to put them on auto-pilot. That way, you can focus more on tasks that require a human’s touch and creativity (e.g., customer service, problem-solving, and strategy.)
5. Optimize your POS system
Speaking of automation, one of the best ways to make your retail business more efficient is to use your POS system to its full capacity. They’re more than just a cash register and place for transactions. They improve a retailer’s chances of success by providing them with tools to streamline business processes — for everything from sales reporting and inventory management to customer and employee management.
Make sure your system allows you to have stock and ordering control, up-to-the-minute financial data, and customer tracking and convenience. Work with your provider to harness the full potential of your system and it will save you two valuable things — time and money.
6. Organize your store
While it can be difficult to make sure your store is always in tip-top shape and organized, it’s important for more than just aesthetic reason — but we’ll start there. First of all, an organized store looks more attractive to customers. Nobody wants cluttered shelves and crowded aisles.
But not only will it look better, but you won’t lose valuable time searching for merchandise in the back room or directing customers where they can find certain items. Make time to tackle all the boxes and shelves in your back room, labeling them for easy identification. Then look for ways to improve how items are positioned so that everything is in their proper — and the most efficient— place.
For example, position items that are restocked the most often near the door so that your employees can quickly locate them and restock, instead of wasting valuable time looking for them in the backroom.
7. Use a time management system
Time is money in retail, which means you have to make the most of the time that you have. Doing this starts with a good time management system.
This is common advice, but before you roll your eyes, just give one of the methods below a try for 60 days and see how it works for you and your staff. There is no one-size-fits-all method, so try different ones until you find a solution.
The Pomodoro Technique – When faced with any large task, you break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. Your brain then gets trained to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of tasks.
The POSEC Method – This stands for “Prioritizing by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing and Contributing” and is loosely based around the theory of Abraham Maslow regarding the “hierarchy of needs.” It’s basically a way to break down your bigger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks.
The Eisenhower System – Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This system helps you quickly identify the activities that you need to focus on, as well as the ones you should ignore.
8. Audit your operations
So, you’ve set up your processes, automated your workflows and delegated tasks to your well-trained employees. Great! The next step is to ensure that your team follows the right procedures and that your stores continue to run like well-oil machines.
Accomplishing that requires conducting store audits. Set up checklists for your processes, rules of conduct, merchandising standards, etc., and have your district managers evaluate your stores for compliance.
Aside from ensuring that your standards are being met, audits can also bring your attention to areas that need improvement so you can continue tightening up your operations. Audits, when implemented correctly, can create a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, which ultimately helps you stay competitive.
As a busy retailer, you know that you can always use more time, and the tips above will help you streamline tedious tasks into an efficient system. It involves everything from hiring good staff and delegating responsibilities to automation and creating processes that eliminate extra work. In turn, this leaves you more time to work on growing your business.
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.