12 Industry Experts Share Their #1 Piece of Advice for Retail Success

Do you ever look at other businesses and wonder, how do they do it?

Have you ever wished that you could pick the brains of your fellow retailers and ask about the most important lessons they’ve learned?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’ll be happy to know that we’ve done some of the legwork for you. Earlier this month, we asked retail professionals and entrepreneurs to tell us the best piece of advice they would share with merchants.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Involve employees in your strategy.

“Strive to build a culture of employee engagement and participation. Give your employee a forum to state their opinions or ideas. When an employee is part of the plan or strategy, they tend to take ownership versus having a strategy thrust upon them by top level management.”

– Thomas Wyly MBA Servant Leader and Team Builder

Don’t just dictate your plans to your staff and expect them to follow through. Involve them in the planning and decision-making process. Your employees, especially those on the front lines of your business, can have invaluable input and insights into what needs to be done in your business. Don’t discount their opinions. Provide opportunities for them to express their ideas, then seriously consider them.

You’ll find that your staff would be much more empowered to perform when they know that their input is valued.


2. Love what you do.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

– Susie Garcia, Practice Administrator Women’s Healthcare of Kendall, LLC

Running a retail store is challenging enough as it is. Don’t make it even harder for yourself by selling something you don’t like or believe in. See to it that your business aligns with your passions. In doing so, you’ll find that your retail adventure will be much more fun and worthwhile.


3. Listen to your customers.

“Get to know your customers, listen to what they have to say. It’s the best free information you will get.”

– Patricia Belcher, Merchandise Manager, Beall’s, Inc.

Customer feedback is gold. Knowing what shoppers think enables you to make better decisions in just about every aspect of your business, including product, pricing, design, and service.

Recognize that there are plenty of opportunities to gather customer feedback. It can be as simple as chatting up shoppers in-store. Or, if you’re processing a return, you could ask customers for more details on what they didn’t like about the item.


Some retailers are even automating how feedback is collected. ChristeningGowns.com, for example, automatically sends review requests to customers who purchased from their website.


4. Continuously train your staff.

“Train your people to know and love your products. Intimately. Everything about them. And then train them some more. #neverenough”

– Will Gibson, Vice President  Retail, Cable & Wireless Communications

We’ve talked about staff training time and time again, and for good reason: your employees play a critical role in the success of your business. No matter how amazing your products are, selling them will be an uphill battle if your employees can’t connect with your customers.

Remember, these days, shoppers have more choices when it comes to where they spend their money. It’s very likely that what you’re selling can be purchased elsewhere. Your key differentiator is your staff. When you have employees who can serve and sell effectively, the chances of shoppers choosing you over your competitors are exponentially higher.

So invest in staff training and education. See to it that your team members know your products inside and out. A good way to do this is to provide hands-on training. Have your associate’s touch, feel, and experience your products and have in-depth conversations about their features, benefits, and most important, their stories.

Elevator, a jewelry retailer in Toronto has a unique approach to product education. Whenever new merchandise arrives at the store, owner Niko Downie unboxes products with his staff. They carefully examine each item and talk about its materials, story, and how to sell it to customers.

Once your employees are familiar with your items, conduct role-playing sessions where you pretend to be a customer asking about the products. Bring up common questions and concerns, then evaluate how each team member addresses them.

Finally, as Will mentioned above, train your staff well, and train them some more (#neverenough). There are always new developments in product, sales, and customer service. Keep your employees up to date through frequent training sessions and consider sending them to industry events or sales seminars every once in awhile, so they’re always on top of their game.


5. Tap into emotions.

“It is never about the product; it’s always about the emotion. You’re not selling a Barbie doll, you’re selling the perfect start to a daughter’s 6th birthday. You’re not selling BBQ supplies, you’re selling endless backyard memories. You’re not selling a mobile phone, you’re selling facetime with your customers’ grandkids overseas.

Learn how to tap into that emotion, truly connect with your customer, and the rest will follow.”

–  Christian Hogeveen, Category Manager Toys, Museum Gifts and Sport, World of Delights

Let’s not forget that many purchases are influenced by emotions. A woman might choose to buy a dress because it makes her feel good about herself. Or, a family might decide to buy the most expensive car seat because it makes them feel more secure about the safety of their child. These are just some examples of how feelings affect purchases. Smart retailers are aware of this and know how to tap into people’s emotions when marketing and selling products.


6. Tell a great story.

“Ensure your product has a great story and always do your best to make customers feel that they’re a part of it. Most importantly, make them feel proud to be part of it.”

– Chris Henry, Marketing Manager, Breed Creative and Editor of HATCH Magazine

One example of a company with a great story is Hart Schaffner Marx, a brand that sells tailored suits for men. Aside from the superior quality of their products, Hart Schaffner Marx prides itself in selling products that are manufactured in the United States.


Many of the brand’s customers love their “Made in the USA” story, and it’s this distinction that compels them to choose Hart Schaffner Marx over their competitors.

Apply the same principle to your business. What does your brand stand for? What are your values? Use the answers to these questions to tell a powerful story that your customers can relate to.


7. Remember, your employees are individuals.

“Spend time with your employees individually. Get to know them one on one and connect. Ask them how they are. ‘How’s the family?’ ‘Is there something I can help you with?’

They will appreciate your help in situations, and this builds camaraderie and respect.”

– Leah Pruitt Parker, Agent and Advisor, Transworld Business Advisors of North Columbus

Group training sessions and team building are great, but employees could also benefit from one-on-one time with their supervisors. Aside from getting to know them better, you might be able to figure out how to get each individual to work or perform better.


8. Don’t make assumptions.

“Do not assume that you know. Test, ask customers, develop new ideas, adapt, ask again, and follow up the results.”

– Adriana Sotelo, Professor, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming you know what the market wants. The only way to understand your target audience is to talk to them. Get ideas from your customers and then test those ideas to see if they’ll work.


A good approach is to test a product or concept using pop-up stores. By setting up a temporary storefront, you’ll be able to gauge demand and consumer sentiment. An increasing number of retailers are taking this route. Birchbox, for instance, launched pop-up events in select cities last year to figure out where they should set up their next brick-and-mortar store.


9. Embrace innovation.

“Support everything in your business with new technologies and don’t be afraid of innovation. The worst thing you can do is to feel cozy in your existing situation.”

– Krzysztof Heyda, Junior New Technology Specialist in Marketing, Marketing Investment Group S.A.

Keep yourself abreast with the latest trends and innovations in your industry. Are there any emerging technologies you need to be aware of? Should you jump on a particular trend? The world is moving at an incredibly fast pace, and retailers have to pay attention to not get left behind.

This doesn’t mean that you should invest in every new trend or gadget in the market. But you should at least be aware of what’s out there so you can evaluate and decide what’s right for your business.


10. Be present at all relevant channels.

“Ensure that you are looking at all of the relevant channels of purchase and communication. See to it that the customer remains a customer even when they leave your store. Some call this omnichannel, I call it common sense.”

– Ian Irving, Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, HATCH Magazine

Pay attention to the sales and communication channels that your customers are using, and then establish a presence in those channels.

It goes without saying that consumers spend time online and on their mobile devices, but you need to dig deeper to determine the best way to use those channels. Where and how do they conduct product research? What apps, websites, or services do they use throughout their shopping journeys? Get answers to these questions and use them create your omnichannel strategy.


11. Hire the right people.

“Hire the right employees. In today’s transparent pricing environment, you’ll need to compete on service.”

– Tom Robershaw, Senior Director of Planning & Treasury, Big 5 Sporting Goods 

Hiring the right employees starts by finding individuals with the best attitude for the job. As Bruce Nordstrom put it, ‘‘We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.’’

Keep this in mind when you’re recruiting new people. Finding individuals who are genuine, hardworking, and naturally enthusiastic about your field is a big challenge. It’s much harder than teaching someone how to sell or how to work your POS system.

This is why you should hire for attitude before skills. Set up your recruiting process in such a way that makes it easy for you to evaluate people’s natural attitude and values. For example, JetBlue conducts group interviews, and this enables the company to see how candidates interact in social situations.

Another option would be to hire existing customers. This is an excellent way to find people who genuinely like your products. Since they’re already shopping at your store, you can bet that they’re at least somewhat familiar with your offerings.


12. Entertain your customers.

“Give them a little show. A product is just a product, but it’s how you present it and how you make the people feel that will make it stand out. Be genuine, but throw in some fireworks! An entertained shopper becomes your customer.”

– Raphaël Dautzenberg, Wardrobe Stylist, DTZ Style

Having great products is… well, great, but don’t forget that how you present those products makes a huge difference. Invest in visual merchandising and customer experience strategies. Tell stories. Wow shoppers with great design and even a bit of showmanship, if possible. Do what you can to make your products memorable.

Looking for ideas on how to accomplish this? Attend our upcoming webinar, Visual Merchandising Secrets: How to Design Stores That Delight & Convert Shoppers.

V0638 - Expert webinar page for June_Video Title

Presented by Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group and author of The Pop-Up Paradigm, this webinar will highlight all the important aspects of designing a winning retail store.

Save your spot.

Share your best retail advice.

This post may be chock-full of good retail advice, but we know there’s plenty of best practices that we have yet to cover. If you’ve got a tip that has helped you in your business, feel free to share it in the comments. Our entire retail community will thank you for it.

About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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