What It’s Really Like to Be a Store Manager

A day in the life

January 23, 2023

Being an hourly employee is stressful. When getting ready for work, I’d glance at the clock about eighty times. 

Out of the shower – what time is it? Done with makeup – what time is it? It was a race to get out of the house and into gridlock. Typically, I ate breakfast in my car because sitting in traffic is a time-suck, anyway. I’d dump a bowl of oatmeal into an oversized mug and go. Let’s do this thing. 

An opening shift is 9 am, one hour before the store opens, but I’d come in a little earlier. Building relationships with your team is essential, and a lot of this happens before store hours. 

I’d unlock the doors, shaking the door with my left hand while turning the key with my right. We just hoped the doors worked every day because they’d often slide off the hinges, and if that happened, we’d be on the phone with maintenance for the next two days. So, I opened the doors carefully and glided through them. 

I’d head to the cash wrap, clock in, and open all the drawers, usually with my backpack still on. I’d greet everyone who worked in shipment and make small talk, and then I’d look for our merchandiser. She’d been in since 6 am, received shipment, and ran this morning’s team of people. 

I’d walk the shipment racks and boxes as I talked to her about her morning. I’d grab any new stuff off the rack that I knew would sell and tell her, “Get this out first. This is going to fly out the door.” “Oh yeah, I know!” She’d reply. “That’s part of our new floorset.” 

Perfect. Onward. 

I’d finally make my way to the office and throw my stuff in a cubby. I’d find my opening associate, touch base with her, and let her know any extra cleaning or stocking that needed to happen, and then I’d head to the computer to run payroll and read memos. I’d also wade through all the management communication from the day before. With a blank piece of printer paper next to me, I’d start a to-do list for the day that I’d keep in my back pocket all day. 

On an easy day, everyone would show up for work, and we’d open the doors and roll.

A tough day is when the shipment team calls out sick, the merchandiser is by herself, and as soon as I get there, we’re scrambling to clear the floor from all the shipment and get the store in a state where we can open the doors. I’d be texting people to see if they could cover shifts as I ran payroll, read memos, and took out the trash. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed a headset and no walkie to go with it. Some days are like that.

A Typical Morning That Gets Flipped Upside Down Looks Like This

It had been another early morning in the store. An IT team from corporate arrived to install new registers, and they were finishing up as the shipment crew cleared the floor, and my sales team put their walkies on and adjusted their name tags.

Early morning sunlight streamed in from the ten-foot windows that wrapped around the building. 

The IT guys were about to walk me through the work they’d finished when the phone rang. I answered it, thinking I would have the answer to a quick question when a customer launched into a lengthy story about her experience in the store. I knew immediately that this would need my full attention, and it may take a while. 

I listened to her and spoke to her like an old friend. “I hear you. Yes, okay. I can find that for you. Oh, for sure.”

I put the phone on mute for a second and yelled for my merchandiser to open the doors for business. Then I hit unmute, “Uh huh, okay. Gotcha.” I chimed in on the phone call. 

The IT guys stared at me the entire phone call, and my cashier watched me from a distance. 

The first customer of the day dumped a box of online returns on the counter, and the cashier unfolded the invoice timidly. She shot me a look of panic. 

I carried on with my phone conversation. “Okay, yes, that is important. What size did you need in that? I’ll see if we have it.” I caught the cashier’s eye and mouthed, let me know if you need help, as I nodded my head. 

The customer on the phone finally felt heard and had been helped, and she hung up happy. I quickly bounced over to the other side of the cash wrap to help the cashier with her online return. Then I followed up with the IT guys leaning on the counter waiting for me. 

When the dust settled, I made my rounds to all the employees and gave them a quick one-minute meeting on the goal for the day and let them know about new promos. I headed to the back room for a drink of water but was called back to the cash wrap to override a coupon for a customer. Still thirsty, I smiled and typed in the discount.

Pinball Anyone?

A day in the life of a Store Manager is like being inside a pinball game. We start on one thing but are immediately pulled to do something else. Customer service and the well-being of our staff take precedence over everything else. 

Store Managers must remain calm and collected through constant upheaval. 

It can be challenging for those that work office jobs to imagine the agility it takes to do the job well.

It’s different from an office job. 

Imagine sitting in your office, and random people stop by to tell you that they don’t like your company. You must stop your work, listen to them, and calmly move them along. 

Is one of your co-workers stuck on a project? You need to leave your project and help them through theirs. You can only get back to your project once they’re okay. You need to stop and help them again if they get stuck again. Your entire day could be derailed because of this, and you’ll have to push your work off until the next day. Tomorrow’s work isn’t guaranteed, either. 

There have been countless times when I had to scrap whatever projects I had to do (schedules, conference calls, walking a visual update) for the day and be a cashier because we got busy unexpectedly. Or my DM called last minute to ask if I could help another store, so I had to hustle off the floor and rewrite my schedule for the week so we could help someone else. 

Examples like this are endless. It shows why it takes so much work for Store Managers to complete tasks. When your doors are open to the public, anything can happen. Making those people happy is your primary job. 

When the internet goes out, who fixes it? Yep, the manager. We quickly educate the staff on what to say to customers, then we grab our cell phone and a step ladder and dial the number to IT as we race to the back room. 

Were you planning to get ahead on operations today? Well, now you’re not. 

Sometimes, at the end of the day, we look around and think, “Well, the store didn’t burn down today, and that’s a win. The doors are open; some employees showed up, and customers seem okay, so I’m headed home.” I’ve absolutely uttered those words.  

Take Care of the Frontline

From a corporate standpoint, completing tasks seems straightforward. 

Here is a list. Get all this done today. 

Yes, in a perfect world, that would be so. However, we work with humans, and humans are unpredictable. Emotions run high, and customers take stuff out on our staff or us. People get sick and can’t work. Accidents happen, and we have to care for people. 

Communication is one part of the game. Disseminating that information early, giving stores the time to respond, and being flexible is the other part. Otherwise, sitting in gridlock, fielding customer phone calls, and partnering with IT can begin to feel futile. 

Store Managers need true corporate partners who understand their jobs and strive to make them more manageable. When the frontline teams are cared for, your business will thrive. 

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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