Once retail stores reach a point where it no longer works to have every buyer maintain the prices for their own products in the point-of-sale (POS) system, the question arises – how shall we staff the POS function?
This issue, I interview Mr. Donald Cranston. Donald has been doing this even longer than I have, so stand by for plenty of wisdom!
Alain: Thanks so much for taking part in this series, Donald. First off, let’s make sure our readers know a little about you and Nutters. Can you give us an intro please?
Donald: I’ve been in this role as a family-owned business since 1984, so 35 years. I was asked by my uncle to invest in and join Nutters. He and his partner were building Nutters as a bulk food concept in Medicine Hat. I was also looking at a Nutters franchise for myself in Calgary where I lived. But my uncle’s partner wanted to sell his interest in the company, so I jumped at the opportunity to become an owner in a new company, and to work with family. I came out to Medicine Hat and our team started building Nutters from six stores, and now we have 24.
There have been tremendous changes over that time period. Over the years, we have carefully adapted to a quickly changing retail market.
Alain: I started in 1985, so you beat me by one year. Indeed, there have been so many changes over that time period.
Donald: Retail is consistently changing. You have to adapt, you have to innovate, you have to figure out what your core strengths are and how to succeed with those strengths.
Alain: Thanks for this intro. The next question is what are some of the top three to five factors that – to you – make for a win-win relationship with vendors?
Donald: No doubt, on-going collaboration is the key; building our business together in a long-term relationship. Other factors include innovation in product development, staff training and field support staff. Most of our locations are in rural areas, so we really appreciate our sales representatives helping us on sales days, product/dinner trainings and overall working with us to get better. The vendors that have helped us grow the business are still with us after 35 years.
Alain: I came to know Nutters back in 2001 when I was doing consulting work with Prairie Naturals. I was so amazed at the Nutters welcoming and partnering approach.
Donald: We work hard at our relationships with our vendors. We need to work together on trouble-shooting, sales support, promotional planning, strategic buying and other operational matters. We highly value our working relationships with the likes of Deborah Callbreath, Deane Parkes, Jean Robertson and other marvelous individuals that have helped us grow our business and be better connected with our customers.
Alain: I am sure most store owners and staff would agree that it’s all about working together. Our third question is this: Can you share an example of a great vendor or great story?
Donald: I mentioned Jean Robertson earlier. She was our business development contact for Natural Factors at the time. Back in 1992, we invited her to a Nutters franchise conference at Kananaskis. We had so much fun. We were so green about the vitamin and supplement business at the time. She was the inspiration to help us get in the health and wellness side of the business.
Jean not only helped educate us on the vitamins and supplements opportunity, she helped mentor me and our company along the way. It wasn’t just about selling Natural Factors products. It was about properly entering the category with product selection, merchandising, meeting customer needs, and how to train our staff. I’ll never forget how important Jean has been to our success.
Jean still sends me the odd email about trending information, merchandising, how to connect with our customers, product quality, efficacy and more. She’s always thinking about us. That really resonates with us and I can’t thank her enough.
Alain: Thank you very much Donald. Thirty-five years of wisdom on a one-pager is not an easy task, but I think we have the most important stuff covered.
In later issues, we’ll be asking other industry experts for their views on win-win. Opinions will most likely vary and even conflict. But it’s always guaranteed to be food for thought.
• Adapt to a quickly changing market
I like picking berries in the summer. It’s one of those memories that lasts into the fall and winter, much like the frozen berries that are hidden in the freezer for a tasty bit of summer on a cold day. I am not sure if I was always a good berry picker but I do remember picking berries as a child and filling my belly as well as my bucket. As a teenager, I spent a few days picking berries for pay and outlasted my brothers who seemed to tire of picking once their stomachs were full.
Berry picking is a lot like retailing; you need to be mentally prepared to stick it out despite the environment. You must have the right tools if you are going to be successful; you have to work through the thorns, avoid the bears, and pick where others aren’t. You need to be ready to work when you find the sweet spots.
Often I see retailers that – like my brothers – if their belly is full, they are content enough to stop looking for more customers. They tend to be satisfied that they can pay their weekly or monthly bills, and rest for a while. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that model of business if it works for you. The problem can be however, that if we stop working when we feel full, we don’t put aside anything for the future. Retailers – like bears – need to fatten up when the feeding is good in preparation for those winter-like off seasons where we need to tighten our belts.
Finding the sweet spot for your store is not always easy. When berry picking, one of the best things I learned from my mother was to look where others don’t. I like to call this “the sweet spot,” because there are often so many berries that picking becomes easy and my bucket fills quickly. I look high where others can’t reach, and I look low and lift the branches to find the hidden berries that others didn’t see because they were so fixated on the berries right out front.
When we have a store, we need to look for customers and opportunities our competition has missed because they were too fixated on the business right in front of them. While this area out front is an area of opportunity that represents easy picking, there are often many pickers trying to fill their buckets with this limited nourishment. When we can pull back the bushes and see the bounty hidden there, it’s often so much easier to fill our business buckets.
As a retailer, when others were cutting back on customer service, we added staff and trained them well, looked for exclusive products and as a result were seen as the experts in our field which enabled us to establish profit centres within the business.
When we look for sweet spots, we need to consider our abilities and build on our strengths, to think about what we can do better than others and capitalize on those areas, to look at our competition and see where there are gaps in the market where nobody is harvesting. When we establish ourselves as experts in certain areas, it allows us to charge premium prices and offer premium service. If we want to fill our buckets for the slow times, we need to ensure that we pick those nice fat berries and seek areas unnoticed by our competitors
The past decade has demonstrated enormous growth in the natural food and supplement market. The supplement category grew from $10 billion to $45 billion in under 10 years while the natural food category grew at an even greater pace with vegan, keto, paleo, prepared and clean foods leading consumer choices.
Although online shopping still causes the most angst among independent retailers, it really is the mass market that has taken the lead in natural health. Conventional grocery, pharmacy and big box stores now have over 55 per cent of the entire natural health product (NHP) category while online is still relatively small at four per cent.
Why should consumers still shop in health food stores when mass is more convenient and online appears so much cheaper? What is so special about a natural health food store? Why do customers return? It is the people working in the natural health food stores that keep people coming back, as they truly care about making a difference in the health of the customer’s life!
Over the past several months, as a business ambassador with Natural Factors/Assured, I have had the pleasure to train over 300 staff, managers and owners on customer service, merchandising, promotions and management. These are some of the visions I took to the trainings.
In a recent article, I suggested it is primarily women working in health stores, taking the time and effort to study and learn about natural health foods and medicines. They are the true caregivers in our society. They teach the local women – who make 75 per cent of the family health decisions – about the benefits and safe solutions of natural health products. What other business in your community has staff who listen with care while helping guide people to a healthier lifestyle?
Whether you own a store in a high-density neighbourhood or a small community, you MUST take the lead to educate the local community on the benefits and solutions of the products you sell.
Also educate on the fact that health stores have had no serious health incidents and zero deaths from vitamins. What we sell is safe and has been for 60 years. Who else will educate the local community on organic, zero waste, homeopathy, vitamins, and botancials if not YOU?! The media? Government? Google? As if. You must control the message of natural health in your community.
I was taught early on in my retail career to always consider the following: How do you know the customer will ever come back? What can you do to increase your chances? How they feel when they walk out the door is always the number one consideration. However, you must stay connected. Always collect a customer’s contact information.
If you find customer counts are lower, perhaps create a one-month in-store coupon. When a customer spends a specific amount, say $50 or more, you give a three dollar coupon for their next visit. “Thank you for shopping with us today. Here is a $3 coupon as a gift off your next visit.” Remember, they may be in the store now, but how can you encourage them to come back?
Most of us have gone to a store like Winners where the impulse aisle is 100 feet long. I have read that if impulse shopping ended, the economy would collapse, with more large retailers depending on impulse as the profit generator. The checkout counter is the perfect place for an impulse sale. It should be under $9.95. Pick a good general solution like sleep, cold and flu, stress, anxiety or digestion.
Have a staff member trained to point out the special – “If you have trouble sleeping, we have a special on XYZ.” During cold and flu season, the staff member could say, “Do you have enough vitamin D on hand?”
One retailer shared with me that in a regular month, sales of a particular brand of product was 44 bottles. By training the staff to suggest an offer at the counter, they were able to bump it up and sell 1,300 bottles in a month!
It seems Health Canada believes clinical trials should be required to justify the claims made for natural medicine. Please read or go online and find out the truth about clinical trials. Become educated on the limited – if even true – results of a drug trial compared to 60+ years of safety with vitamins, minerals, homeopathics, botanicals, super foods, etc. as sold across Canada, in local health stores, for generations with NO serious side effects.
BE LOUD, PASSIONATE and PERSISTENT with the wellness message and products you provide, and if you are loud enough, someone just might hear you and change their life for the better.
Us and them. Maybe it’s human nature for groups to form an identity in opposition to others. In competition between sports teams and businesses, this tendency can be channeled in a positive direction. However, when it emerges within a business or a single department between those who work the early shift and the people who work the late shift, the rivalry becomes destructive to morale and productivity.
Night and weekend workers are the unsung heroes of retail. They really make or break customer service. Yet, they’re often the lowest-paid in the store because they have the lowest seniority. That happens when the early shift is regarded as desirable, sometimes even as an entitlement for those who’ve “paid their dues.”
The unfortunate result can be elitism on the part of day workers and a sense of victimization for night workers, not to mention substandard service for customers. The day shift grouses that the night workers leave work undone and leaps to the conclusion that they must be goofing off because they just don’t care. The night shift feels unappreciated and unsupported when the day shift doesn’t stock up or produce enough output to last through the evening rush.
But this “us and them” dynamic between shifts is not inevitable! Managers can take action to end it.
The first step is for managers to schedule their own time so that they work across shifts, or vary their shifts. That way they have firsthand experience with the performance and working conditions of all their staff members.
It’s common for department managers to prefer to come in early and leave before the evening rush, citing the need to call in orders in the mornings. As a result, they don’t interact much with their later shift workers. However, ordering deadlines need not dictate the quality of supervision. Managers can call in orders the afternoon before, or train others to do this task for at least one or two days a week so they’re free to work a later shift now and then.
Next, cross-train all department staff in the tasks of both shifts. Or in small stores, cross-train all staff. If the early shift emphasizes production or displays, while the late shift focuses more on assisting customers, ensure that everyone can perform both sets of tasks. When training new workers, schedule them to work the opposite shift for one or two weeks.
A manager of an organic meat department in a large natural health retail store took over the job at a time of high tension between the morning and evening shifts. He immediately started cross-training. “Once they walked a mile in others’ shoes,” he remarked, “day and night workers would comment, ‘I never realized all they did.’”
Brief daily department meetings help unify the team. Schedule them at the time of the shift change.
Discourage negative written messages between morning and evening shifts in favour of open, honest, solution-oriented discussion of operational problems in face-to-face meetings.
• Schedule management to work across shifts or varied shifts.
Brian Tracy, the famous sales trainer, has a story that he tells about the importance of great questions. Brian was having a meeting with a life insurance salesman who asked if he had enough life insurance. Since he did not want to deal with this man, Brian assured him he did have enough insurance. As he was about to finish the meeting, the salesman asked Brian the question,“How long will you be dead for? Because” he went on, “with the life insurance policy that you currently have, you are going to need to come back to life after six months to help pay the family bills….”
The reason I bring this up has nothing to do with life insurance, although especially in the early stages of a retailer’s lifetime, life insurance might be a good bet. Unfortunately, most people in our industry don’t consider their untimely death. None of us want an early expiry date, and while we might hope to live to a ripe old age having accomplished all of our objectives, life has a funny way of throwing a wrench into the best laid plans of mice and men.
Often, I have clients who want to work with me because they are preparing for their exit from the business. Some have the foresight to make plans when they hear they have an illness or are approaching retirement age. Unfortunately for some business owners, they don’t have the right plans in place when they die and as a result, there is no one to help their family or employees negotiate through the traumatic days that follow the loss of an owner or founder.
So, what would happen if your staff woke up one morning and discovered that you have died? Hopefully they will miss you and shed some tears, which means that you probably made a difference in their lives. However, without a plan for emergencies, like death or even the disability of an owner or founder, companies that were once going concerns, stumble and begin the downward slide into oblivion. In the following weeks and months – as the family is grieving – it becomes apparent that the vision, direction and strategy that the owner brought is missing . Often key employees who doubt the future without a leader jump ship. Without leadership, many businesses and their employees become paralyzed by indecision. In either case, the future is often bleak for the future of the store.
While a life insurance policy might protect your family from some of the financial losses of your income, does it protect them from the financial liability of your businesses? To ensure that your business can survive you, there are a number of things that you might do.
1) Writing down a plan for the worst-case scenarios and discussing them with key staff members.
2) Talking to trusted advisors including lawyers, accountants or mentors, about what your plans for the business are.
3) Discussing or documenting some options for transitioning the ownership of your business should disaster hit such as:
• who should your management team talk to?
• will they need a business coach or fractional CEO to come in and help?
• what should they expect for leadership from your family?
• how would you value the store if it needs to be sold?
• what happens if they can’t sell the store?
• how should they deal with family?
While the answers to these questions might be included in your will, having backup documentation in your operations manual or company safe, might be a great start as well.
Not many people come back to life after being dead! Chances are you won’t either. If you want to rest in peace before and after you die, it might make sense to come up with some concrete plans that position your business for the benefit of your family and employees long after your untimely departure.
One attribute of a good leader is the ability to sincerely apologize for mistakes. This takes skill and experience. Sometimes an apology delivered with the best of intentions leaves the recipient feeling worse.
Have you ever received an apology followed by “but”? “I’m sorry I forgot to check in with you first, but it was really busy and we were short-staffed.” The implication is that when it gets busy, I have higher priorities than my commitment to check in with you. Feel better now?
Then there’s blaming someone else. “I would have recognized your part in building the display but Jane didn’t tell me you worked on it.” In other words, if it weren’t for Jane, I would have done the right thing. Be mad at Jane, not me!
Most insulting of all is the insincere apology that takes no account of the apologizer’s role in the situation and blames the recipient. “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry you were upset.”
So how do you make an effective apology? For answers, I drew on the wisdom of medieval rabbi and philosopher Maimonides and other guidance for Yom Kippur, the Days of Atonement. I also found insight here: http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/, on teaching children about apology and forgiveness, and here: www.sorrywatch.com, a website that analyzes apologies in the media, history and literature.
Based on these sources, I’ve generated some guidelines for leaders in the workplace. See sidebar below.
1. Say precisely what you’re sorry for. What did you actually do (or fail to do)? Instead of referring vaguely to “recent events” or “what happened,” describe those events. Use I statements and avoid the passive voice. (“I made the decision without getting your input first,” rather than “The decision was made without staff input.”)
2. Acknowledge why your actions were wrong. Did you break an agreement? How was the other person inconvenienced or harmed? Show you understand the impact of your transgression. Sometimes people want to feel understood more than they want an apology. (“I broke an agreement we had. You were expecting that I’d get your input first and I failed to do that.”)
3. If the original wrong was committed in public, such as forgetting to recognize someone’s contribution or erroneously accusing someone of a wrongdoing, the apology should be delivered in public, as well. (Granted, this is not easy!)
4. Say what you’ll do differently from now on. Use positive language to tell what you will do. (“From now on, when I need to make a decision that will impact your workload or your schedule, I will talk with you first.”)
Now that you’ve delivered your apology, the writers and bloggers are split on whether to ask for forgiveness. Some recommend making the ask as the final step of an apology, while others feel this puts the onus back on the person who has been wronged. I tend to side with this crowd. Also consider the power dynamics. Who is going to say no to their boss?
Instead, I suggest making space to just listen. The technique of active listening could help here. Reflect back what you hear without arguing, defending or making excuses. But also be prepared for the recipient to make no more than a brief acknowledgement.
Note that all these steps require face-to-face interaction. If you can’t apologize in person, try videoconference or phone. Tone of voice matters. Don’t expect an email or text to carry the freight of your apology.
Finally, what really matters is what you do going forward. The best apology is changed behaviour.
Are you more focused on purchasing and inventory control than selling or merchandising? One of the biggest improvements in health food retailing is the lower costs of software programs to manage and ‘control’ inventory. Prior to having a proper inventory management system, one of the biggest challenges for retailers was having dead stock on the shelves and not being able to easily identify what stock was moving.
Since the 90s, I have preached the ’90-day rule’ of inventory management: make sure at least one bottle is sold in 90 days from all stock on shelves.
Most stores without a good inventory management system often have 25 per cent plus dead stock, which means not ONE bottle has sold in the past 90 days. So if you have $100K invested in inventory, $25K is wasted dollars on the shelf!
Now with the new technology, you can run a report daily or monthly, showing inventory movement. No product should be on the shelves for over 90 days. I know one store gets rid of the bottom 20 per cent slow sellers each month, and another store works to have 30 day turns, not 90!
As more retailers upgrade their systems to manage inventory, this will mean less product dollars tied up in slow moving items. It will also make it easier for retailers to clean up shelves of dead stock. As the algorithms track the movement of all inventory, I believe we will start seeing less product/brand selection offered in the stores with the focus on the products that sell consistently, exclusive to their business with strong vendor support (like mass market).
Suppliers may find retailers ordering less, more often or discontinuing brands that do not bring value and sell at shelf level. Inventory management is vital to the success and profitability of a retail store so I understand why retailers have embraced and are focused on inventory management.
However, what I am noticing is more attention being given to managing inventory turns than given to training floor staff on how to sell, serve customers and merchandise. Of everything you do to influence your sales, number one must be customer service and number two is merchandising.
Hopefully as you continually improve the ability to manage each sku on the shelf, you are also making a similar – if not greater – effort to train the floor staff on exceptional customer service and merchandising or you just may find managing inventory becomes easier as you will not be selling as much.
The feeling a customer has when they walk out the door, hang up the phone, leave your website, visit your Facebook page, see your flyer, follow your tweets or Instagram determines whether they will come back to the store or follow your social media platforms.
Customer service is all about feeling. We remember some of what we hear or see, yet recall 100 per cent of how we feel after any family, social or business interaction.
Do people feel like doing business with you and if so, do they feel like coming back?
Meatless does not mean good for every body, human or planet! GMO farmers must be doing a happy dance as veganism sweeps the shelves of natural and conventional grocery stores.
The food marketers for these large food producers are creating packaging that looks natural, organic and sustainable but a further look at the label often reveals ingredients full of GMOs, high fructose corn syrup, canola oil, soy or sugar beet - the four main genetically engineered crops.
It is becoming harder for conscious consumers to choose non-GMO food, even in health food stores, as food suppliers with profit as the main driver, find ways to hide and mislabel products to keep consumers confused and uncertain of where their food is coming from.
Follow and support activist Rachel Parent (kidsrighttoknow.com;@RachelsNews), as she continues her mission to convince Health Canada to properly label foods containing genetically altered ingredients or the new CRISP-R technology.
Blogging is successful when it’s done right. It drives traffic, influences people, and develops that odd cult-like following. You’ve probably wondered if a blog could work for your store or maybe you’ve already decided that starting a blog is exactly what you need to do to grow your store’s business and customer loyalty.
Recently, a retail store in my community celebrated 100 years of operations. There was a party, celebrations and even recognition from politicians for their years of service to the community. I honestly don’t know much about the business except for the great service I have experienced as a patron over the years.
When you open a second business location, there may be joy and excitement. But there may also be jealousy and feelings of abandonment. In times of stress and perceived scarcity, that “us versus them” tendency can raise its head among the staff in both locations.
Content marketing is the strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
In short, instead of offering products in your store that may or may not add value to your shoppers everyday life, you are delivering information that makes your shopper more intelligent. The framework of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as health food stores, deliver consistent, valuable experiences and information to our shoppers, they will be loyal shoppers to our store. Content marketing is focused on engagement, unlike other more transactional marketing strategies like sale flyers and brochures.
Knowing who your shoppers are and what they desire from your store, you can start to craft the base of your strategy. We are innately connected to our shoppers, just by the nature of our business model, but we don’t often take the opportunity to use that connection for more organic engagement.
Whole Foods (WF) has consistently been a leader in content marketing for several years. When you look at the complexity of their website, it’s easy to break down their strategy and see why their engagement level is incredible. It makes the lives of the users easier, less complicated, faster and healthier. What more could you ask for as a health food shopper? Let’s take a look at some of the strategies.
Whole Foods does not have much engagement on its Facebook page or other social media platforms. This is probably because customers are not allowed to use the spaces as ‘community spaces’ where they can post ideas, recipes, questions to other users or ideas. Our stores can easily provide that sense of community, something our shoppers crave, without adding much more to what we are already doing.
Having an overall checklist to follow when working on your social media content can save you a lot of time and empower more than just your marketing staff to post, blog, upload and share content. Here are the five areas you need to make your content valuable:
If you’re able to engage your shoppers with carefully crafted and curated content, you’ll quickly become the place to go for all their shopping and educational needs
Brittany Baird recently gave a two-part presentation for CHFA members, “Strengthening Buyer Skills.” As a grocery manager, store manager and general manager, and now as a consultant, Brittany has helped natural retailers increase net profit and sales growth and enhance operational efficiency.
Ultimately, improving sales, profit and efficiency comes down to improving the performance of human beings. And improving human performance comes down to effective feedback systems. Here’s a conversation I had with Brittany.
CC: Why is it so important to quantify feedback, to make it measurable?
BB: When feedback is intuitive and subjective, it may not be helpful to the receiver. It’s not enough to say, “Improve merchandising.” You need SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based). Giving feedback in this form can be an impetus for the receiver to grow – or choose to move on. Also, measurable goals make performance reviews easier, when it’s clearly defined what a good job means.
CC: Could you give some examples of measurable performance goals?
BB: You could set a goal of no more than five per cent out-of-stocks for buyers.
CC: Do you need to maintain a perpetual inventory in order to measure buyer out-of-stocks?
BB: Even without that, store managers can measure with occasional spot checks of the shelves. Plus, customer complaints can be tallied. Another example is to have written merchandising standards such as: end-caps and displays fully stocked, products colour-blocked, shelves clean and dusted, signage visible and products accessible from every angle of approach. You can have photos that show a well-stocked display. That way you can hold people accountable for what the sections of the store should look like.
CC: How can you measure customer service?
BB: Do you know the 10-4 rule? At 10 feet, you acknowledge a customer with eye contact and smile. At four feet, you greet them verbally. Then there’s how the phone is answered. How long are callers on hold? Do callers on hold get followed up on?
CC: A manager could tell that through occasional observation at different times of day.
BB: You can evaluate all the touch-points where staff interacts with customers, e.g. through social media clicks and views, and customer comments submitted.
CC: And special orders. You can record whether customers are notified within x hours that their product has come in, and how satisfied customers are with the service.
BB: I want to stress that you need to write out the criteria, the standards and the expectations if you are going to hold people accountable to them. You cannot hold staff accountable for performing up to a standard that is not written down.
CC: And you have to keep written materials up-to-date. As soon as one section of a manual falls out-of-date, I’ve observed that staff will stop using it. When it comes to maintaining systems, including training, everything is always needing refining and improving. Without that, you get a loss of organizational memory. Interestingly though, I don’t see front-end departments losing organizational memory of systems and standards the way other departments do. Maybe it’s because you have to stick with your systems for handling money and data.
BB: Quantifying is in the nature of POS and cash handling. There are also cash over/shorts and rings per minute. Where it’s more subjective is produce and deli.
CC: You can still measure performance in those departments in terms of accomplishing all the tasks on checklists or to-do lists.
BB: If you define what should be done on a shift, you can tell if you have a person who can do the job. Quantifying performance standards mitigates staff turnover and loss of organizational memory. If standards are clear enough, anyone off the street can understand and contribute to the department’s success
Recently, I asked one of my clients what they had learned in the past year. He said: “I learned that I can earn more by working less!” My response: “You just learned in a year what most MBA students never learn in a lifetime.” Not only had my client doubled his income over the past year, but he also significantly reduced his stress levels.
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