Sales Slide? Try Role Modeling


A few years ago, an independent natural products retailer with several stores got a new point-of-sale system. Because they had been ordering manually, going from store to store on different days of the week, the owners were very excited that they would be able to remotely track products and sales, and be able order from their central office, saving time and money.

This required a change in the owners’ behavior. Before point-of-sale, the owners were in each store each week ordering. With the owners on the sales floor counting stock, both customers and employees could see and speak with the owners freely. Because they were doing orders, the owners did not intend to train the employees or plan to work with customers during this time, but in fact they spent quite a lot of time doing both of these things.

So here is the lesson: the most important work you have to do may not seem important at the time, and may even appear to be a distraction from the “real” work you intend to do.

It took a year for the owners to get the product files, pricing, wholesale costing, volume discounts, special deals allowances and other product fields accurate and complete in the point-of-sales system. Cash registers, front-end staff, stockers and sales team also took this amount of time to come up to speed using the new system. (No more selling Ms. Smith her nasal B12 out of the order tote before the shipment has been checked in, because that will throw the inventory off!)

In the meantime, the owners, instead of being highly visible on the sales floor in every store every week, were holed up in the back room of the central office, completely invisible to employees and customers. What happened?

Sales went down. Without the benefit of the owners’ role-modeling good customer service, the culture of the stores began to deteriorate. Employees felt abandoned, and customers felt less well taken care of. These bad feelings created more bad feelings.

What should the owners have done? In hindsight, my recommendation would be to hire people for the point-of-sale project, leaving the owners free to do what they were best at: modeling the good customer service they were known for. Order accuracy is important, but customer and employee satisfaction comes first. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 37 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at Jay is next scheduled to speak at Natural Products Expo West on Thursday, March 6 (Anaheim Marriott, Platinum Ballroom 2, 3) on a panel about “Supermarket News.” During this pre-show workshop, Jay will be covering “Lessons from the New Retail Breed” from 3:15 to 4:00 p.m. Cost for the Supermarket News Seminars: $195 for attendees, $95 for exhibitors.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2014