Where have all the retail superstars gone?

For the last couple of day, having to burn some time at the retail stores, I made an interesting observation.

A large part of our retail workforce comprises of very “fresh” inexperienced personnels.

This may had been the effects of having a lower entry requirement, coupled with the fact that the salami-like profit margin.

Are excellent retail experience only limited to luxury brands?

A close friend of mine had a retail store selling some fashion accessories and stuff. It wasn’t something that’s got a huge margin. It was a small time business with a monthly revenue of just about 30 to 40 thousand.

Having to hire someone to be put in charge of that particular store, my friend decided to go with a young, energetic and innovative chap. The decision was made for a very different reason, but it did pay off. She practically picked the cheapest of the lot.

He cost about 20% cheaper than the rest of the applicants!

However, it was a right decision. He was different. Having no previous experience, he practically tried numerous “interesting”concepts and the revenue improved by 40%.

The first thing this chap did was to connect with his customers. It helps that he had a chatty personality. He practically asked his customers for their preference, and the contact info. In no time, he had a small database of customers and their likes/ dislikes.

This allowed him to place varied the orders according to his customer’s preference. In that first few months, he’s successfully dropped a couple of ill performing products and added a range of new ones.

Further to that, his free time were filled with informing customers of new stock and arrivals via the phone.

To top it off, his customers liked him. They thought of him as a friend and enjoyed chatting and catching up with him.

The story didn’t end well. He’s left for a much better job, and eventually moved out of the retail industry. The revenue growth wasn’t sustainable as the replacement wasn’t like him. She was an experience cashier, but that’s all there was to it. Eventually, my friend closed down her shop.

For every successful retail business, we do need smart chap like him. Not one that just tend the store. However, we often find ourself not willing to pay to retain such talents!

Or, is it because that the retail assistance ranks at the bottom of the food chain? Thus, they were never important or critical to the business?

Either way, this chap did made a difference to the business. It wasn’t a great deal of money that he’s made. But from an operational and business performance point of view, he’s world-class. Immense amount of potential to be groomed as a very strong retail manager. But the retail industry lost him.

I believe that the retail industry is a challenging one. Not only does it face a talent drain issue with talented people choosing other industry over the retail business. Also in its justification of putting someone really good at the job, which in turn will cost more.

So, my question to you today is – Where have all the retail superstars gone?

Ps. Do drop me the contacts for any retail superstars you’ve came across and let’s see how many we can identify!

Eric Wong

In the trench with your men. Leadership – military style!

In a recent discussion on the making of a leader, I realized that as HR practitioners, we seemed to have taken on a rather textbook approach on defining leadership.

Let’s go back to basics.

I practice a rather straight-forward and simple form of leadership. It’s called “Will you shoot me from behind?”

Here’s how it came about.

Many years ago, I had to fulfill my national service by serving in the military service. During my basic training, we had a very nasty Sergeant (He’s our Section Leader). Let’s call him Sergeant John.

Being in the Infantry unit, we had to fulfill all sort of “in-humane” training programs. Or rather, it kind of seemed “in-humane” back than.

However, being Sergeant John, being our section leader, had never seemed to be a part of “team” and is often seen baking down at us and pushing us to the limits.

(Yes, I know that this is part of the training, and looking back, I can see the rationale of doing do. However, please read on)

During one of the exercises, one of my section-mate made a comment. “If this is a real war, I’ll shoot Sergeant John first before the enemy”

It was a rather extreme statement, but in all its simplicity, it simply means that, our section leader didn’t command our respect.

Over the course of the next few months, I graduated from training school, earned my strips and had men reporting in to me.

Being a part of the section of infantrymen, we had to spend time training together. Over time, the bond grew stronger.

In a very simple way, I realized that true leadership is not rocket science. It’s about having an aligned objective with your subordinates. It’s about being there and working as a single unit. It’s about the bond and togetherness.

As individuals in an infantry section, we realized that there are times where  individuals puts in a little extra for their own team mate. It’s all a part of being a single unit.

I lead my men with a very simple motto. “With one heart”. I guess for me, leadership is simple. It’s about unity and alignment, keeping your subordinates together and aligned.

On one occasion, after a military exercise, I asked my men the question. “In war, will you shoot me from behind”

The men laughed. I guess I had my answer.

Eric Wong