May 18, 2023
“How come everyone in your store gets along? How do you do that?”
I ran retail stores for over twenty years, and I used to get this question often. My reply was something along the lines of, “I don’t know. I’m cool to people.” Not a helpful answer. The truth is, I didn’t think about it all that much from a day-to-day aspect. I know, again, not helpful. It’s important to look back to see why my “be cool to people” mentality took such a hold.
Being in retail for over two decades meant I’d had my fair share of bad bosses in my career, and I wanted better for my teams. I wanted them to look forward to coming to work. I didn’t want them to be scared of me or worry about asking me questions. I knew what it was like to be drowning in work and have your store manager pull you to do something else without asking if you were free (grrrrrrr).
I’ve been locked in a store and told to get back to work (not kidding). I’ve seen retail chew up and spit out the most extraordinary leaders on the planet, but for some reason, I was determined to stay. I would make my store the place to be. I would run a store where everyone wanted to work.
I did it. Here’s how.
What I mean is you’re at work to do a job. Okay, great. But you employ humans with lives that are important to them. That fact needs to be number one in your mind. Are they safe? Are they supported? Are they hydrated? Seriously. After establishing this baseline of human connection and support, you can get to work.
This is empathy. If you don’t care about your employee’s basic humanity, how do you expect them to be motivated to do any work for you? A paycheck only goes so far. They’ll head for the door soon, and you’ll be stuck filling a position you just filled, which is a massive waste of time.
Nothing in my store was more important than the people that worked there – not customers, not the workload, none of it. When I say, “Take care of your people,” this is what I mean. Everyone in my store was on equal footing with me. I was in charge because I had more experience. That’s it. I did not see myself as “above them.”
Once you shift into this mindset, you can practice top-notch leadership skills.
This one seems obvious, but most people don’t do this well. If you talk about someone when they’re not around, it needs to be positive. When your team overhears you talking about how great someone is, it makes them want to be at work and continue to do a good job.
If your team hears you complain about other people, they will assume you complain about them too. Why wouldn’t they?
Now, they don’t know if they can trust you. Now, they may not ask you for help because they think you’ll gossip about what they don’t know.
See how this gets wild quickly?
The same goes for your leadership team. Do not gossip about them to the other leaders. If one of your leaders is struggling, only address it with them. If the other leaders notice and bring it to your attention, tell them you see what they see and you’re working on it.
“Nothing I do is a secret.” I used to tell my teams that all the time. “If you want to know how or why I do what I do, just ask me and I’ll show you.”
Almost any team member could perform most tasks that need to happen throughout the day. Let them do it. When leaders hoard information, teams get stifled. This also leads to leader burnout.
When you teach other people how to help you, it benefits the whole store. You’re showing them that you trust them. You’re showing them that you believe in them. You’re sharing ownership of the store with everyone that works there.
Don’t take this lightly. It’s the key to employee retention. It’s the reason I always had a bench of talent. I knew who was in line for a promotion months before I had to fill the position. When people are allowed and entrusted to contribute and to keep learning, they will stick around.
When we hired new employees, I often overheard the seasoned people greet the new people in the back room. “Hi! Are you new? I’m _____; what’s your name?”
I never told them to do that. They just did it.
Why? Because they felt like they were part of the store. They knew they owned part of the success and wanted the new people to feel the same way. They could also relate to the new person – they had been there not that long ago. Starting a new job can be intimidating, and they let the new person know they were in good hands.
Retail can be an unrelenting landscape of doing too much with insufficient resources.
That won’t change anytime soon; however, you can build a team of people that gels and supports one another. Keep sight of the big picture. You work with humans – ensure they’re safe, well cared for, and included. Don’t gossip about your employees when others are around (for real). Empower everyone in the building to do more, learn more, and contribute on a larger scale.
This is what being cool to people entails. This is why my teams got along and supported each other even when we were sixty people strong. It’s achievable, and once it clicks, your customer service will improve, and your volume will increase too. Go on, give it a try. Be cool to people and watch your team gel.
Zipline is how best-in-class retailers bring brand strategies to life in stores. A unified platform for operational excellence, Zipline brings together frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more—so everyone feels connected to the brand and inspired by their work. Today, nearly 80 brands like Rite Aid and Sephora depend on Zipline to align and empower their store teams worldwide. Reach out to learn how Zipline can help you outsmart your competition today.
Kit Campoy is a former retail leader turned freelance writer based in Southern California. She covers Retail, Leadership, Web3, and more. Join the waitlist for her upcoming book, Leadership Field Guide, and connect with Kit on LinkedIn.
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