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Being a Thief!


I admit it. I am a thief. You should be, too! No, we shouldn’t steal money or merchandise, or copyrighted material. That’s against the law. However, processes (what to do and how to do it) are fair game. I learned this many years ago from a gentleman named Sam Walton. Yes, the same one we all think about if we’re seriously contemplating Walmart or Sam’s Club.

He was in a meeting with his store managers and field managers. As the meeting went on he noticed that everyone was discussing the negatives they saw with their competitors in their various markets. Brilliantly, he brought that meeting to a halt and said, “I don’t really care all that much about what they’re doing wrong. What concerns me is what they’re doing RIGHT.” He went on to say that the reason the competitors were still there and doing business (getting dollars that should be coming into Walmart) was that they were doing some things right, and that kept customers going to their stores and spending money.

He also said that if they were doing something that kept customers coming in and spending money, should / could Walmart do the same thing? In other words, when it comes to processes that work, why aren’t we thieves? I wasn’t at that meeting, but the whole idea was put in an article I read somewhere, and it was a heck of a lesson for me.

However, this thieving of ideas and processes works two ways. Yes, we can steal great ideas and processes from our competitors. But we can also steal them from our own company. Here’s a quick story to illustrate how this worked for me with a franchise automotive service company (I’ll be using it in my next article called “One Small Step at a Time”). I was the District Manager working with 35 franchisee owned locations (yes, 35). The latest recession had taken hold and our company was seeing serious sales declines. When this happened in the past, the company had always relied on marketing / advertising to run sales on oil changes, suspension, brakes, and exhaust. In the past, this had always worked, at least to some extent. In other words, increase the number of customers. This time, the economy was so bad that people just weren’t willing to take advantage of sale prices. They just wouldn’t come into our shops until something broke that had to be fixed. No increase in customers and no increase in sales dollars. Now what?

Fortunately for me, I had shops in my district that were still getting sales dollars. I decided to visit every one of them, find out what they were doing, and take notes. My original assumption was that they were just in better markets where people had money. But, as I looked over the list of my shops that were still doing well, I realized that they were spread across a wide spectrum and market types, even some really “bad” markets. As I visited the stores, I realized that they were working on the other side of the sales mix – dollars per transaction. You can increase the number of customers or you can increase the dollars you get from each customer. If you can do both, great. But just because one isn’t working doesn’t mean you can’t make the other happen. In automotive service industry the emphasis had always been on customer count. That wasn’t currently working, so my stores that were still performing had taken a different route, go after the dollars per transaction (referred to as “ticket average” in this industry).

So, I visited each of my stores that were still performing, took notes, and finally created a document that I simply called “The Process”. It was quite a few ways to find needed work, present it to the customer, and simply ask them if they wanted us to fix it. We offered a $10.00 discount on the total invoice since we already had the car up on the hoist. I took this around to my underperforming stores, got a few to allow me to train and implement “The Process” and watched their sales immediately start to climb. Eventually most of my underperforming stores asked me to train and implement “The Process” and sales were climbing in the district. The district’s ticket average went from $191.00 to $231.00 in six months (yes, that’s a $40.00 raise in ticket average in six months for the entire district). I was a hero. My supervisor “stole” the document and put it in one of our quarterly newsletters to our franchisees. He also required all District Managers in the company to start using it in their districts. How fantastic was I?

Fact is, I only did one thing that allowed me to have that success. I stole every piece of what was in that document from one or more of my successful franchisees. I was a thief. If you’re a District Manager, this is an example you can follow to help your underperforming stores. You surely have stores that are performing. Visit them, find out what they’re doing, train and implement the processes in your underperforming stores. And yes, you can steal great ideas from your competitors, too.

If you’re a store manager, visit other stores like yours and visit your competitors. Find out what they’re doing right, bring it back to your store, train and implement.

The big lesson here? Be a thief!!!

Retail How-To Consultant: Edward Fox

TAGS: management, work in retail, retailers, retail,
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