The Complete Guide to Empowering Retail Teams

How to inspire your store managers to “run it like they own it.”

August 16, 2022

What do we mean by “run it like you own it?” 

If you work in retail, you’re probably familiar with the phrase.

Retail executives often want their store managers to think and act like business owners. They want these store leaders to feel empowered to make in-the-moment decisions that positively impact their bottom line.

But far too often, barriers in communication prevent store employees from feeling truly empowered.

Every member of a company fits into its brand strategy. To do their work effectively, employees have to see why their work matters. To stay motivated, they need to understand how their contributions are connected to a greater purpose and help move the brand forward.

If employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their tasks and also understand how these tasks contribute to their organization’s greater good, they are intrinsically motivated. Intrinsically motivated employees show little need for continual oversight. 

They can, so-to-speak, “run it like they own it.”

Jump ahead:

Why is it so hard to get store managers to act like business owners?

We all know that store manager: the seasoned employee who has built up enough anecdotal knowledge to effectively separate the “signal” from the “noise.” 

These tenured employees can navigate the siloed communication from multiple departments and synthesize goals effectively. They’ve been through multiple peak seasons, they know the drill. They understand when to follow direction from HQ… and when it’s “ok” to ignore it in favor of a strategy they know will work better in their particular location.

But what happens when that manager leaves? The process has to start all over again. The institutional knowledge is lost, and the store team is back to square one.

This happens a lot. Retail is one of the most populous jobs in America, with an exceptionally high turnover rate In fact, 49% of retailers say one of their biggest challenges is hiring and retaining staff. Meanwhile, the average US retail employee turnover rate is around 60%.

There’s a delicate balance retailers have to strike in terms of letting store managers run their stores like they own them, while ensuring there are guardrails and systems in place that clearly explain what’s expected of them. 

It’s a bit like having your cake and eating it too: Retailers want their managers to have a “shopkeeper” mentality, but also want to know that the brand and the shopper experience stays consistent across thousands of stores. They want to support their greenest store leaders, while also empowering their experienced employees to put their institutional knowledge to good use.

How do retailers foster the “shopkeeper mentality?”

There are two parts to achieving that shopkeeper mentality among your store leaders:

  1. Educate your workforce about where the brand is going.
  2. Set clear expectations on how to get there.

These two elements need to be tightly coupled – consistently! Only then can store leaders run their business in a meaningful way that resonates with the local community, but also represents the entire brand as a united fleet of force.

Here’s what this looks like when crafting store communication: 

  • First, tell stores what they need to know about the program, initiative, or best practice. 
  • Next, tell them what they need to do (and don’t forget to be real specific – go ahead and spell it out). 
  • Lastly, explain why that work matters, the impact it’s expected to have on the business, and how their efforts fit into the overall company strategy. Employees will feel needed and valued (because they are) and empowered to get the job done.

This process works because it gives employees a crystal clear understanding of what’s expected of them and why it’s going to make a difference for the overall company. In short – retailers must always communicate the what and the why, together.

Common pitfalls to avoid

If you don’t place equal importance on the what and the why, your brand vision will not come to life in stores. Let’s look at a few examples.

A retailer might say to stores, “This clearance event is extremely important to us. It’s going to drive business.” 

The retailer will then give stores the high-level view and the why, including the impact the clearance event will have on the company’s bottom line, but they do not get specific as to how they want the event to come to life in stores.

So what happens when an executive walks in to check on the event execution in a high-end store and sees that someone has used a red sharpie marker to create a sale sign by hand? 

The information on the sign is correct, and creating that sign is certainly a way to support the broader brand goal (tell customers about the clearance event) but the way it was presented does not line up with the brand. 

The store followed directions in terms of why: They displayed the correct information in pursuit of the company’s higher goal (“drive business through clearance.”) 

But they didn’t do it in a way that resonated with the brand. They didn’t understand the what

Let’s look at this issue another way: Let’s say a high-end athletics retailer secures a deal with a star athlete to represent a pair of their shoes, and throws millions of dollars into the customer-facing marketing campaign. 

But when stores receive the communication about putting out the shoes on the sales floor, the content is so dry and tactical that it fails to clearly communicate the importance of the promotion. 

Without proper context, the stores don’t think the new shoes are a big deal. Customers come in expecting associates to be knowledgeable about the splashy marketing campaign and speak to the sponsored athlete’s relationship with the company, and when the associates look like deers in headlights – well, that’s a huge letdown.

When a retailer separates brand engagement from the actual operations of bringing it to life in stores, there’s a disconnect and stores don’t have the context for proper execution. Stores didn’t know that one shoe was tied to a multimillion dollar marketing campaign and a star athlete—and because its importance wasn’t explained or emphasized, the promotion didn’t receive the special treatment it should have.

How Zipline can help

Think about your store communication tech stack for a minute. How do you get information to stores? Do you put messages on an intranet? Communicate through email? Load direction into a task management system?

In the broader ecosystem of store communication, tasks usually communicate the nitty gritty “what” (like “put display for shoe promotion at front of store”) while the “why” (such as promotional details, or financial goals) are often offered up through messaging and context – what we call communication.

But if you have a task system on one side and a comms system on another side, and the two never meet, execution won’t happen as effectively. 

Why? Because teams have to check multiple sources and can’t easily connect the dots between them. 

While most employee communication platforms think about tasks and communications as completely separate entities, Zipline brings task management and communication together. 

By bringing these two areas together, we can connect what stores need to know (“the why”) with what stores need to do (“the what”) in a way that gives them guidelines about what’s expected of them. They know how their work supports the larger picture and have the necessary context that enables them to be a better store leader. 

This knowledge, in turn, drives a higher rate of engagement. And we all know: engaged employees are better employees.

Ready to unleash the full potential of an empowered, aligned, and agile frontline workforce? Zipline’s Store Enablement Assessment measures the effectiveness of your people strategies, communication process, and technology platforms. Take the 10-minute assessment and see how your stores score today.

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