How to Be a Better Retail District Manager

Retail district store managers have a ton of responsibility — and they play a valuable role in the business’s overall success. A good district manager oversees the operations of all stores within a given district or area. They can juggle everything from staff development, compliance, and sales to customer satisfaction, all while serving as an effective bridge between corporate headquarters and store locations, and more.

According to DMSRetail Research, district managers can influence performance by up to 20 percent.

“In actual numbers, that means, if you have a district of 10 stores with $1.5 million average sales each, [a] District Manager’s influence is about 6 million dollars between -20% and +20%,” – DMSRetail.

The district retail manager wears a lot of hats — manager, sales associate, customer service representative, mentor, social media manager, boss, disciplinarian, website editor, etc. — and they can make all the difference in the stores they oversee, creating a better working environment that elevates the team, the company, and the sales. 

We have discussed on this blog how to become a district manager and the responsibilities of a district manager, but what does it take to be a great district retail manager? There are a few key traits and skills to keep in mind. 

Focus on goals

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As a district manager, you have sales goals to meet. It’s your job to develop the sales teams from each store. Set expectations for each manager. Whether that’s a goal based on something measurable like sales and executing a company-wide merchandising reset or something more abstract like improving customer service.

The easiest way to inspire motivation in employees is to set those goals and reward their accomplishments. The best district managers have a discussion with each of their store managers individually and set achievable goals together. 

Setting goals is the first step, but great district managers also help their employees achieve their goals. Ask your managers if there are ways you can help them achieve those objectives. Be sure to coach them along the way. Track their progress, and if you find that there are issues, take the time to find out what’s going on — and find a solution. 

The best district managers don’t reprimand their manager and employees for not meeting their goals. Rather coach and encourage them to keep going and striving for improvement. Remember that, unlike mystery shopping, the district manager is not just focused on the outcome, but the process leading to the outcome.

Finding site issues is good. Fixing them is better.

Embrace technology 

Times, they are a’changing, and those who don’t embrace new technology will be left in the dust. Adopting new technology can be daunting, but it’s nearly impossible to be a good district manager without taking advantage of the latest systems. 

Much of retail operations can be streamlined with the right tools. This allows you to spend less time on routine tasks and more time dedicated to your team. From choosing the right POS system to finding the best store and site execution platform, technology changes not only the way you can do your job, but also how efficiently your managers can do their job. 

District manager retail audit in a store with a tablet

District managers have to possess the ability to analyze financial reports and make decisions based on the information. Thanks to automated reports, you can determine which campaigns are doing well and which items need a little help. You can see the differences in store trends and look for opportunities to have your managers increase sales.

The best district managers are data-driven. They understand metrics like sell-through rate, sales per square foot, and gross and net profit. Having the right tech in places and putting in automation means you can make more insightful recommendations that make a real difference to the bottom line. 

Be decisive 

When working in retail, anything can happen — theft, a disgruntled manager, frustrated customers waiting in line — and the best district managers know how to always be prepared for the unexpected. The ability to evaluate and assess each situation and make a decision in the best interest of the business and team is crucial to the success of your stores.

Show interest

There’s a fine line between showing genuine personal interest in your employees and trying to become their best friend. To be a great district manager you don’t have to become best friends. But, you should let employees know that you see them as a real person and not just a cog in the retail machine. This will go a long way when it comes to creating a positive work environment for them.

Great district managers also acknowledge the fact that employees have their own lives outside of working in your store. Some employees are still students, some are parents. It’s important to let them know that you understand how important these things are. Also, let them know that you’re willing to work with them and be flexible for each individual situation. 

When you show that you care about employees as people, that can do a lot when it comes to their motivation and dedication to your stores. 

Handle conflicts well

Districe manager talking with chef.jpg
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It’s inevitable that in the high-stress world of retail that there will be some conflicts. District managers need to able to defuse conflicts and turn these work tensions into solutions. Conflicts often arise because of an aspect of the position makes the employees uncomfortable or unhappy. This makes it critical that you tackle these issues directly. And, find a solution that can alleviate the situation as soon as possible. 

As the district manager, you’re representing the company. Stay neutral throughout the situation. Make sure all your decisions and actions keep the best interests of the company in mind. As the leader, it’s critical that you remain level-headed, calm, cool, and collected through the frustrating situation. The best district managers can lead the team through uncomfortable situations with grace and strength.

Along with asking your employees about the situation, it’s important to ask them what they believe the solution should be. Also, make sure you’re fully informed about what’s going on before you propose a solution. 

Lead by example 

The best district managers are role models for their employees by exuding professionalism and inspiring their staff to achieve even more. It’s truly a case of not what you say, but what you do.

Retail staff team in a store


What good district managers do is put in the time and effort each and every day, showing your dedication to both the team and the stores. This means doing everything you expect your employees to do. Show up on time, strive for constant improvement, never miss a meeting, don’t get involved in the rumor mill. Not only do you have knowledge worth sharing, but also the willingness to take the time and effort needed to share it.

Don’t micromanage your managers

It’s key that you let your managers be managers without having to look over their shoulder, all while making sure they know that you’re aware of what’s going on at their location. Perform retails audits, but allow managers to run their locations as they see fit — as long as they’re complying with company standards and hitting their targets. 

If strategies are failing, or if company policies are repeatedly violated, of course you need to step in. But remember that they’ve worked their way into that role. Trust that they can get the job done. 

Support and motivate the staff

Districe Manager encourging staff.jpg
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Retail is known for having an exceptionally high employee turnover rate. In fact, retail is one of the top five verticals with the highest turnover, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to data from the Korn Ferry division of the Hay Group, 29% of respondents said they’ve seen an increase in employee turnover since the beginning of 2018. The survey also found that part-time hourly store employees have the highest turnover rate, with 81% average rate in 2018. That’s an increase from 76% in 2017.

District managers can play a huge role in reducing turnover by coordinating and encouraging the store managers. It starts by hiring individuals who are a good fit and share the mission of your store and brand. 

Once they’re trained and on-boarded as a valued part of your staff, it’s your job to make sure the managers continue to engage with each employee every day. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your staff to check in on their progress with their objectives, and to set new goals when previous ones have been met.

Promote open communication

Remember to listen to your managers and employees, hear their challenges, address them, and inspire them to always strive for improvement and success. When employees are encouraged to speak their minds in a respectful way, there’s less chance of a conflict or resentment in the future. This means listening to both positive and negative feedback and making decisions accordingly. 

It’s also important that district managers let each location manager know that important concerns will be relayed up the chain as necessary. You should serve as an intermediary. Make sure every employee at every level knows they have a voice, and that their opinions are heard. Also, make certain your managers know you’re always available to them if there is confusion with instructions, there’s an issue, or if they just want advice. 

By creating an atmosphere where your team feels comfortable making suggestions about better ways to do things, you’re creating a more efficient — and profitable — workplace.

The bottom line

Along with the tips above, a good district manager needs to be flexible and able to adapt to any situation. In retail, as no two days are ever the same — and no two stores are the same. That’s why a good district manager has to have deep knowledge of the brand culture and policies to promote consistency, all while adding in a little localized flair to each location.  

It’s a lot to have on your metaphorical plate, but at the end of the day — with these tips put in place — great district managing leads to great sales, happy employees, and a profitable bottom line. 

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.

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