Archive for the ‘Managing Projects’ Category

How to Set up a Low Cost Mystery Shopper Program

Friday, July 19th, 2013

inventoryHow to set up a low cost Mystery Shopper program that any savvy manager could create.  First, you cannot alert your staff to the mystery shopper program.  Putting them on notice will have them ratchet up to “best behavior” levels.  Second, select people who your staff will not recognize.  Then:

1)   Identify your main competitors. Be honest and include the tough ones as well as the easy ones.

2)   Ask for volunteers in your personal network to complete a mystery shopping survey in return for something of value. The best is to reimburse them for up to $20 of whatever they purchase at their assigned store.

3)   Provide your mystery shoppers with specific questions to answer. (see sidebar.) And a mandatory deadline for completing their store shops – 2 weeks at most.

4)   Assign a specific store (including your own) to each shopper. Do not tell them which other people nor which other stores are included in the study.  Each store should be visited by at least 3 shoppers at different times of the week/day.

5)   Give each shopper the same task so that each store is tested in the same manner. (ex: ask for assistance in finding the best solution for setting up a network printer to connect 4 devices, the best printing options for a home office under $175, etc.)

6)   Compile the answers and evaluate them analytically (in a spreadsheet or with a numeric measure that can be constant across all questions such as 1=never, 2= sometimes, 3= usually, 4=always.) Look for patterns.

7)   Share your findings with your staff and discuss specific ways to address each issue.  Set targets and measure against the new targets every day. For example, you can institute a new policy that all customers must be greeted within 20 feet of the door.  Change how you evaluate your people and reward them to ensure compliance with new targets.  Find people who are meeting the new targets and make them heroes.

If your business does pass the customer mystery shop experience with flying colors, it is time to do a similar survey evaluating assortment (count number of choices by SKU, brand and price points.) Evaluate promotions by comparing at least 6 months of advertised promotions to promotions in your stores during the same time. Evaluate prices by comparing prices on several dozen key SKU’s across competitive stores each week.

If you make an effort to remove your blinders and see your stores in the same framework as your customers do, you can ascertain how you truly stack up – and determine what to change to stay ahead of the competition.

A Mystery Shopper Program Can Point Out Blind Spots

Friday, July 12th, 2013

inventoryHow do you REALLY stack up?
Recently a client with three stores asked for help to create a strategy for the next 5 -7 years. They routinely talked to their customers and employees; there was even a customer survey two years ago. They concluded:

1) They were the best among their competitors. As evidence, a local business group had selected them to lead a conference round table on leading retail practices.
2) The two main obstacles to improving store traffic were poor locations that were selected over 25 years ago and lack of convenient parking.
3) Their customers were high-end shoppers who did not mind paying more for the high degree of customer service they prided themselves on.

Nevertheless, they felt pinched by new competitors opening nearby and lower profit margins as more sales skewed to discounted goods on promotion in their product of the month program. After listening to management’s point of view, I set up a mystery shopper program to see what customers actually experienced in their stores.

The findings uncovered that the stores were beaten in critical areas:

1. Customers were commonly ignored for up to 15 minutes upon entering the store.
2. Inquiries about products were met with direction to the product location but any additional conversation quickly revealed a lack of product experience or knowledge.
3. Store associates were more surly and unkempt than management observed.
4. Prices were competitive but not enticing, locations were convenient and product selection was appealing – but high-end customers were happy to drive further to have cheerful, knowledgeable staff help them make their purchases.

Think you can’t be fooled? Think again. The management team was on site six days a week. Their interaction with store associates had become so close that they no longer saw the lapses in service. Management rewarded task completion like putting away deliveries, making bank drops and completing the work schedule more than helping customers. At least, store associates believed there was more retribution for not completing tasks than for not assisting shoppers. And customers could grasp that in a single store visit.

Up next: how to create a simple Mystery Shopper Program any manager can administer.

The Best Retail Problem

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

MSa_110906_345.jpg.cms copyLast week, I outlined ways to evaluate expense reductions against a retail strategy when tough cuts need to be made.

Let’s look at the other side where sales are above budget and there is the opportunity to purchase more than expected.  Again, there has to be the same judicious eye to evaluate every spending opportunity as a chance to reinforce the strategic plan for the company.  Too often, store owners are attracted to a new marketing idea: Let’s sponsor the town bike parade or invest in Google adwords or buy a billboard or take an ad in a local magazine.  But each additional investment must be evaluated against delivering the core brand message that the company believes differentiates them from the competition.  If your competitor sponsors the town carnival, that may not make sense for your shop.  If you are targeting small businesses, it may make more sense to sponsor a coffee break at a local meeting of business owners than to participate in a parade.

What is critical is to create a budget each year and the strategy that will deliver the budget.  The budget must be based in the strategy. The choice between investing in a website or investing in an employee training seminar are both great ideas. But only one makes sense if your strategy is to beat the competition by making each customer transaction an excellent experience that builds loyalty.  It is normal for most businesses to have more spending ideas than cash during each budgeting cycle.  Place the items that didn’t make the cut on a prioritized list.  Share the list with your employees and let them know that if the budget is exceeded, those items can be reinstated.  It’s a good way to develop employee engagement and make them feel their efforts tie into the overall destiny of the company.

How to Delegate

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 6.00.40 PMLet employees know the outcome you expect and why it is important.  There is nothing more demoralizing than being given a task with no sense for why it matters.  Many managers spoon-feed projects instead of giving employees the perspective of the work they are doing.  For example: “We are going to repaint the interior columns to match the new corporate sign package and we need to clear off all the old signs and tape residue so they are prepped for the painters tonight.” sounds a great deal more reasonable than “Clear off those columns and scrape all the tape residue off them.”  Give employees context and a sense for why their tasks (however small) are important.  Without a frame of reference, delegated tasks can seem pointless.

Take time to inspect what you expect.  Delegating is not abdicating.  Your role is to hold people accountable for outcomes and then providing helpful feedback on how to deliver the outcomes more quickly, more consistently or more accurately.  Acknowledge good efforts and give people some level of safety to know they are able to improve through practice.  Conversely, be pointed and direct if work is not up to standards and repeat the training triangle with consequences, if necessary.

For managers who need to expand how much they can accomplish, the only reliable strategy is to delegate.  While delegating can feel like a loss of control, it is actually a better work balance that allows you to focus on what is critical and allows other capable people to contribute their talents more fully.

To leave behind a legacy of leadership – and not be a mere manager – delegating is essential.  With practice, you will become more comfortable delegating and your staff will recognize that you share responsibility and rewards.  It can become a way to boost productivity while keeping yourself sane.

When to Delegate

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 5.42.00 PMDelegating begins for an employee the first day on the job. Show them how to clock in, check the opening checklist for tasks to complete, demonstrate how to complete the tasks and then explain that you expect them to complete the same steps the next day.  Review their work the next day.  Then move to the next routine activity: accepting inventory deliveries, counting backroom stock, stocking shelves, assisting with phone orders.  Whatever the activity, teach and then stand back and let your “student” learn. (The training triangle.)

For more seasonal items, take the time to document your steps.  Create a checklist and use it to train staff as well as to guide the seasonal work.  Allow yourself time to answer questions and to provide helpful feedback.

And remember, once delegated, do not take the task back.  If it is not being completed to your standards, re-communicate your expectations. Then help your staff understand the standards, where they are falling short, how it is inspected or measured and give a closed-end time frame to meet standard and the consequences of not meeting the standards.  Take emotion out of delegating the task and measuring its completion. Reward great work.

What to Delegate

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 5.49.26 PMGreat managers know how to focus on what is important.  They stay focused, not just busy.  I like to advise mangers struggling with delegation to use this simple 2X2 grid to map out their TO-DO list.  Items that are in the upper right quadrant should get a manager’s attention.  Easy items to delegate are in the upper left quadrant.  Even items in the lower right quadrant can be delegated, especially if there are several steps involved such as researching alternatives or testing several variations.  Frankly, items in the lower left quadrant should be dropped.  If they are not important for a customer or a regulation, there is no reason to do them.  Those are the “busy” items that prevent people from focusing on the most impactful activities.

Simple? Yes.  Powerful? Absolutely.

The Obstacle to Good Delegation

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

778alarm_clockMany managers simply will not slow down enough and take the time to explain and document how to complete a task.  Caught in a situation where time is tight and there are limited opportunities, the manager will continually complete the task on his own and then sulk because there is “no one else who can do it.”  Again, this reflects the management skills of the manager – not the staff.

It reminds me of when my boys were small.  I could tie their shoes in under 10 seconds.  Or I could show them how to do it and wait for them to tie their shoes.  Which took somewhere between four minutes and forever and was rarely done well enough to even walk to the door without the laces coming undone.  My mother called teaching kids to tie their shoes “investing ten minutes to save ten seconds.”  But, as a parent, I needed to teach my children how to tie their shoes on their own.  Yes, I could do it better and faster than them, but as long as I continued to do it, they would never learn and gain that sense of accomplishment and independence they needed to mature.

The same is true with managing people.  You must invest a long amount of time to teach someone how to do something you could do better and faster.  But as long as you do not teach and delegate the tasks, they will fill your day and you will never get the truly important items that will expand your business.

How to Tackle Extra Projects: DELEGATE

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 5.42.00 PMA true measure of your leadership is how well your operation runs without you.  A company that requires the owner to direct every action and check the accuracy of every step is poorly managed. Only the owner can change the situation.  People who are stressed, overloaded and behind schedule are commonly poor delegators.

As an owner/manager it is your obligation to hire the right people, document and train the essential processes to succeed and to reward the correct behavior.  With those fundamental elements in place, it is now time to delegate.

Delegating routine activities is critical for a manger to be able to tackle extra projects.  Trying to find time to build a new social media community, research a second location, streamline bookkeeping or penetrate a new market through direct sales calls? Improve your delegation. Delegation is the endgame of the time-tested training triangle.  The training triangle requires the manager to explain an activity or process, demonstrate how it is properly done and then hold the employee accountable for doing it correctly.  That means allowing the employee to do the activity on his own and being in a position to observe if the outcome is correct and if the proper steps are followed.  Once, completed, the manager should provide appropriate feedback and allow the employee to have opportunities to practice and perfect the routine.

Making Sales Forecasts A Game

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Draymond GreenWant more accurate forecasts?  Here is a low cost and FUN way to capture the benefits of crowd sourcing to improve your sales forecasts.  When you need to place your inventory bet on new products or promotional sales, consider creating a contest!

Give your store managers, store associates or inventory analysts the chance to give you their best guess at what sales will be for an upcoming new item launch or holiday sale. Do it over and over.  Give an award to the person or team that is closest to the pin.

Then dive in and analyze: Who is consistently near the actual?  Find out how they estimate.  Then integrate their approach into your “official” forecasting techniques.

This method has been positive for many organizations who decided to loosen up their Father-knows-best approach and dive into Moneyball results.  Plus, it creates an authentic “let’s make work fun” activity everyone can embrace.

Executive Prioritization – EVERY Company’s problem

Friday, April 27th, 2012

I’ll make this short: The greatest issue I see in EVERY CLIENT I work with is Executive Prioritization.

The Challenge: Executives that want 100 things* when their resources can only deliver 50.

What they get: 100 things done 50%.

What they should demand: 50 things done 100%.

–You know who I’m talking about….I’m looking at YOU.

Make 50 things done 100% your message of the day.  It is THE ONLY way to deliver.


A group that moves out 100 yards in every direction every day geographically moves nowhere.

A group that moves 100 yards in one direction every day moves 20 miles in a year.


*New products, New campaigns, New stores, New media plans, New Business Intelligence Reports, New Financial Metrics, New Hiring Plans, New Promotional Evaluations, New Vendors, New Data Warehouses, New Training, New Government Lobbying, New Customers, New Retention Programs, New Forecasting Tools, New Merchandising, New Process Streamlining, New Cost Savings, New Vendor Reviews, New Travel Policies, New Security Measures, New Safety Programs, New Theft Monitoring, New Employee Engagement Measures, New Investors, New Public Relations Campaigns, New, More, Better?