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One Small Step at a Time

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Whether we’re small retail business owners, store managers, or multi-unit field managers, we always seem to be under pressure to handle multiple things all at the same time. Sometimes more than any human being is capable of. It’s called multitasking. I won’t argue that being good at this can be very helpful, and often, just plain necessary. In today’s business world, it’s just the way life is. However, the best way to handle this is to prioritize. Determine what is most urgent (must be done very soon), determine what most important (over the long haul, these things will produce the best results), and determine what fits into the “other” category (would be nice to get done, but can wait until I have spare time). There will also be other things that just aren’t worth our time, effort or even consideration. While this article isn’t about those items, do yourself a favor and just forget them. It’s always good to clean your mind by just forgetting about any item that doesn’t fit into the other three categories.

While there will always be things that are urgent (fires we have to put out, last minute requests from your supervisor that came out of nowhere, etc.), we can help eliminate a lot of that by putting the right processes in place. If the process is in place and trained, and our people know what, why, how, and the expected results, a lot fewer fires will have to be put out. Building, training and implementing the right processes can fall into the “urgent” category sometimes, but it always falls into the “important” category.

What does that have to do with one small step at a time? No matter how good you are at multitasking or delegating, in reality, you can only do one thing at a time. Maybe you actually have to do something yourself, or, maybe you can delegate the work or various pieces of the work to someone else, but you still have to do it one piece at a time. Here’s a quick story that will explain how this can work once you realize you can only do things one small step at a time.

I worked for quite a few years for one of the “hardware store” co-ops. Depending on when you asked, I worked with somewhere between 35 and 48 co-op owners (called dealers from now on). In referencing this story, I was brand new with the company, had been placed in a district that hasn’t been worked well for years and is in serious trouble. More stores than not are failing. How can I fix 48 stores? I couldn’t fix them all at the same time, nobody could.

Fortunately enough, as I visited my stores, there was an opportunity to help almost every one of them, and I was lucky enough to pick up on it. There was a program available with the co-op company, from one of its suppliers, that would bring in up to twenty lineal feet of product with no cost up front to the dealer. Merchandise, fixture needs and signage were provided. All the dealer had to do was agree to do it, build the display according to the plan-o-gram, and reorder the merchandise as it sold. I studied and learned the ins and outs of the program, started suggesting it to every dealer on every visit, and in five or six months, every dealer had done it.

As I was getting close to getting that program into each store, another similar program became available that was very similar. The supplier would send (at no cost to the dealer) enough merchandise to fill an end-cap, with some fill-in product included, and a plan-o-gram. All the dealer had to do was agree to build the end-cap according to the supplied plan-o-gram, and buy more product as it sold. Once again, I visited all my dealers and got them on the product. This took about 4 or 5 months. Both of these programs were completed within the co-op’s 12 month fiscal year. All of the stores were able to sell more of each product because they had it, and it was merchandised properly. The 12 month fiscal year ended with the district having a 33% sales increase. Pretty phenomenal year!

But in reality, how did it happen? One small step at a time. One program, implemented one store at a time, over a long period of time (months). Then, a different program, implemented one store at a time, over another long period of time (once again, months). One small step at a time is the only way things are going to get done. No matter how great you are at multi-tasking, no matter how good you are at delegating and getting processes started, you can only do one thing at a time. Maybe the first one small thing you do is to create a process to train and implement so you can eliminate some of the fires or urgencies you have to handle. That would certainly eliminate some time you have to devote to them in the future and give you time for other small steps. You’ll certainly have to determine what the items are that fall into the “important” category so you can decide what needs to be the next “one thing at a time” project for you. But decide you must!

Choose something important, focus as much energy as you can on it, take one small step at a time, and you’ll see great results!

Retail How-To Consultant: Edward Fox

TAGS: retail, management, retailers,
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