Between staying on top of a seemingly endless pile of office work and the need to monitor the store floor, retail managers struggle continuously to balance the many demands on their time. Retail consultant Tom Shay, author of 100 Profits+Plus Ideas for Power Promoting Your Retail Business, says that when confronted with the competing draws of the office and the floor, most store managers choose the desk chair. The results can be comical, as he observed when visiting a large chain store once.
"A customer was attempting to make a purchase," he recalls. "There were no employees in the area. So the customer took her cell phone and called the store, asking for the manager. Within minutes of telling her story, the customer was surrounded by four management people. They struggled and were all asking each other if any of them knew how to ring up the sale on the register."
Let Your Managers Manage
Such lack of facility with the store's basic functions is a clear sign of an overly hands-off management style. In contrast, independent store owners tend to devote too much energy to scrutinizing activities on the floor. This style often has the unintended effect of stifling independent store managers' growth, Shay says. "In these cases, the owner is often doing the manager's job by making all of the decisions," he explains.
Whether you're a chain-store manager or an owner, you should not be making decisions that someone else in the store can be making. "If you are the owner and your store manager is also on the floor, have him or her make all of the decisions as if you were not there," Shay says. "This gives you an opportunity to watch managers in action. You will see what they are capable of and where they need additional guidance. It also shows your people firsthand that you trust them."
Choose Your Floor Routine
How can retail store owners and managers find an ideal balance between office and floor time? Shay says there is no golden formula. "I don't think you can dictate a certain number of hours for yourself each week," he says. "There is an advantage to working on the floor in a random schedule so that you can observe the best days as well as the slow days. And because of the varying schedules of employees, this will give you the chance to work with everyone in the store."
Based on his 25 years of experience as a retail manager and owner, however, Shay says his preference was to spend at least Saturdays on the floor. "I planned so that if I got all of my office functions completed, I could enjoy that day with customers," he says. "And any other day of the week when I could get office functions completed early, I would spend the rest of my available time on the floor."
Have Fun Out There
View floor time as a luxury to be enjoyed -- as a respite from the office tasks that tend to consume so much of a retail manager's time. "This is all based on the premise that the owners and managers enjoy talking with and working with customers," Shay says. "If this is something they don't enjoy, I would suggest they find work in another industry."
Shay says he found working the floor relaxing. "As a fourth-generation retailer, I stayed in the family business, because I watched the generations before me enjoy talking with customers and employees," he says. "I definitely did not get into the business, because I wanted to sit in an office and do paperwork."
Learn more about retail careers.