What Working In Retail Teaches You About Running A Business

What Working In Retail Teaches You About Running A Business

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Running a business is no easy feat, and while there are many lessons and business studies you could rely on to chart your path, ultimately every firm needs to be slightly different and unique in order to compete and thrive. That’s why even brands selling similar products, like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, can compete and stay in the market because they take different approaches to cultivating their audience. To use example, Pepsi is often highly focused on cultivating the hospitality industry, while Coca-Cola uses brand familiarity, classic ranges, and international appeal to stay on top.

It’s easy to think that only businesses run by people with insider information, forty years of pedigree in a certain field, and an expensive education can ever run a business, but in fact, it’s a life experience that will have the most impact on your understanding of running a company. After all, businesses serve societies and markets at large, so experience with them is nothing if not practical.

If you’ve had a few jobs in retail or retail-adjacent business environments, you may have picked up some important lessons you could use for your own pursuits. Let’s discuss what that might look like:

Time Management

Time management is all when running a business, but especially when managing staff, preparing and packing up either side of your operational hours, and making time for responsibilities like cleaning.

If you have experience in retail, you’ll know what it’s like to manage your time. That said, it’s also important to note that various methods of managing your productive time can work well. For example, allowing staff to use a flex work schedule that provides them more convenience and your business a happy, healthier workforce with a better work/life balance is almost better than anything else.

Moreover, you’ll know that doing things correctly is often much better than doing them quickly. As such, you can better communicate those necessary standards to your staff and move forward with a sense of confidence, knowing they’re trusted to manage their days correctly.

Inventory Is All

A healthy approach to accounting, to understanding the exact assets on your books, to correctly storing the main inventory and equipment of your business is all essential. If you’ve worked in retail you likely know the importance of rotating stock, managing your orders, liaising with suppliers, even managing procurement depending on the needs of the store.

All of this counts when running your business, too. It’s important to source responsibly and ethically, ensuring that your supply chain speaks well of your business. You can also cultivate connections within your particular field so the best deals are found, and building longtime relationships with suppliers can only help that.

Without inventory or the supplies to run your company, it’s true that the operation grinds to a halt. As such, planning capable alternatives that can be fulfilled as and when you need them is always worth your time to plan out, also. The more you can pre-empt gaps in potential supply, the more competitive you may be compared to other firms that haven’t made such contingencies.

Staff Need To Be Invested In

Anyone with experience in retail will absolutely know that it’s those on the shop floor who are most responsible for the general revenue of any business. They’re the front-facing ambassadors of your business, and they gain many skills and insider knowledge of your operations as they become familiar with the company.

As such, it’s absolutely necessary to invest in them and make sure things are operating capably through their insight. This will also prevent them from leaving more often, as staff are always incentivized to work alongside businesses that help them grow in their skills and career opportunities – even if they don’t stay with you forever. 

Being Adaptable Is Key

Retail environments are often fast-paced, intense to keep up with, and exhilarating to compete in. That said, being adaptable is often key. Seasonal stock, inventory that may have a sell by date, running promotions to better reduce overburdened stored items, all of this can influence how you change your plan from week to week, or pivot a course of action if it’s not proving to work out as well as you’d hoped.

Being adaptable is key, then. It’s about learning to alter your output if the necessary materials for their production aren’t necessarily available – such as placing a meal special on the menu that helps you get rid of certain ingredients that won’t last until the end of the week.

It also means knowing which trends to follow and which to avoid. After all, adaptability is key, but it shouldn’t cause you to avoid offering substance in the short term, or being able to stand upright and proudly declare a direction as opposed to trying them all at once. For example, Kodak invested a great deal in cryptocurrencies when they were often spoken about… and we’ve yet to see much of influence from them since.

Never Assume Your Market Share

It’s important to never take your market share for granted. You might be the only store selling discount but quality clothes in a given area, but if another store like yours opens up closer to the residential areas, well, that’s competition you might not have accounted for.

Of course, you can’t plan against anything and everything that could happen in your business life. To think that would be incorrect, and would prevent you from making any decisions worth having. That said, a baseline proposal is important here – to never assume your market share is guaranteed to you, and that if you enjoy some success it cannot reduce. Companies that fail to take their customers for granted will continually try and retain their goodwill and secure their next purchase, be that with loyalty schemes, referral programs, or just keeping the quality and promotional standard high.

The Customer Is Only Mostly Right

Anyone with an experience with retail will know that the customer can be right… some of the time. That’s not always the case. Customers may seem as though they have the final say because after all, it’s their payment that turns into revenue that turns into keeping the lights on.

That said, sometimes you have to say no. Special requests you can’t accommodate for reasons of practicality, rudeness, poor treatment of staff, abusing your goodwill, or exploiting promotions can all be valid reasons as to why you push back, decline or even dismiss a customer from your store.

Teaching this to your staff can help them feel as though they have agency to make decisions, and that they shouldn’t be talked down to simply because they’re an ambassador of your retail location. To idealistic business managers it may seem as though this is a quick way to dismiss a customer base, but you’d be surprised how well common respect can flourish if it’s absolutely a policy to curate it. Anyone with experience in retail will look fondly at a manager who sticks up for them in this way, and a company they can trust professional standards to.

With this advice, you’re sure to see how your experience in retail environments can help you get a leg up in business. Of course, even working in highly competitive industries hardly means you’re equipped for every single lesson, but it does give you a fantastic idea regarding the basic realities of business and how to manage them.

Emphasize your experience, take what you’ve learned and apply those lessons, and you’ll be surprised how your enterprise flourishes.


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