For a few years I worked for Tom. He was nearing retirement, but previously held some of the top executive jobs at different retailers. The period I worked for him was at the end of his career when he was leading a single store location.
I respected Tom from day one. His experience spoke for itself and his love of retailing was evident. In my almost 20 years of working in retail Tom was the best merchandiser and owner-operator I ever worked with.
I imagine Tom as being very similar to how Sam Walton behaved when he walked around a Walmart store.
He kept a rag in his back pocket and lead by example making sure there wasn’t any dust on any products or displays. He ensured the entire building facilities were in top working order and would immediately call for repair on a light that was out in the parking lot, a door that needed repainting, a vacuum that stopped functioning, and much more. Even though we were in an older building because of his attention to detail and the priority and pride he placed on running a tight ship the condition of the building actually improved over the years. I imagine Tom as being very similar to how Sam Walton behaved when he walked around a Walmart store.
Driving bottom line profit
Tom cared about the bottom line on the store’s P&L more than any other manager I worked for. He didn’t always care as much about the flavor of the week KPI’s that the district staff were focusing on and always focused on bottom line profit. Smart, right? I would listen to the corporate shareholder calls with our CEO Hubert Joly and hear them talking about bottom line profitability of the company and then go back into my store and hear a completely different focus coming down from our district team. But not the same with Tom. Every decision he made was based on how it would impact net profit on our P&L, he treated our building as if he was the owner. Because of this we didn’t always drive as much top line revenue, but we were always finding a way to be profitable and have the best net profit rates in the district.
By how we managed expenses you would have thought Tom was signing the checks himself!
We managed controllable line items such as labor, supplies, and discounts tighter than I’d ever seen. We virtually eliminated the special discount culture that existed in the store and had to train our customers not to expect special discounts on every purchase. Instead of giving discounts to our best customers we instead gave them exceptional customer service. We became a premium service retailer instead of a discount retailer and it definitely showed up in our margins. Oftentimes, to our detriment in the moment, to save on labor we would ask for volunteers to go home when we were a bit slower than anticipated and we’d instead add shifts back later in the week when we expected the customer traffic to return. By how we managed expenses you would have thought Tom was signing the checks himself!
Retail is a reactive business
For those of you that have worked in retail, you know it can be a reactive business. It is hard for it not to be when you have customers right in front of your face at all times. There was a saying that in the corporate office they worked in months and in the stores we worked in minutes… From my experience this was pretty true! But with Tom it was always combination of the two philosophies. We never took a short term opportunity that negatively impacted our long term goals. We absolutely could have done a much better job in some areas of the business. But we had our own way of driving the bottom line that was an interesting combination of offensive and defensive tactics.
I learned more than I can write in one article from Tom. And am grateful that he was willing to teach me and I am proud that I was wise enough to listen. Since working with Tom I’ve carried his ownership mentality with me and can’t switch it off. It has served me well and has allowed me to stand out from my peers.
When you own a business you are responsible for keeping the lights on and your employees fed. If you have this mentality, even when you aren’t the owner, it will make you stand out and it will help you to be a fantastic manager.