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What is retail management? + 5 tips for retail business success

Whether you’re a new retail manager or one with years of experience under your belt, there’s a lot of informal, “on-the-job” learning that comes with the territory. And while that’s helpful, you may feel that, at the moment, you only understand your job in terms of what needs to be crossed off your list every day.

You’ve noticed that sometimes you’re a salesperson, a coach, a master organizer, and most of the time, you’re a multi-tasker. But what is retail management? And what does a successful retail manager look like? 

The best retail managers are strategic, detail-oriented, empathetic leaders. But we know there’s a lot more to the job, so we put together this list of six practical retail management tips that will give you a better understanding of the retail management role and set you up for success.

What is retail management?

Retail management is the day-to-day process involved with running a department, a store, or even a retail branch. Retail managers streamline and make decisions around improving customer service, budgeting, moving inventory, meeting and surpassing sales goals, and overseeing staff duties.

5 business tips for retail management success

You don’t need a degree in business administration or even a retail management certificate to be a retail manager. And retail managers aren’t just salespeople: they often have to act as employee coaches, brand advocates, and liaisons between departments. 

Here are 5 tips to help retail managers get into the right mindset.

1. Be an empathetic leader and a mentor

Successful retail managers know that leadership is a big part of their job, but not all managers understand the differences between a boss and a leader

Boss Leader
Drives employees Coaches employees
Places blame for breakdown Fixes the breakdown
Uses people Develops people
Takes credit Gives credit
Knows how it’s done Shows how it’s done
Depends on authority Depends on goodwill
Inspires fear Generates enthusiasm
Says ‘I’ Says ‘we’
Commands something Asks for something
Says ‘go’ Says ‘let’s go’

Outstanding leaders are great mentors, so retail managers should be ready to leverage their retail industry expertise to guide employees who are inexperienced and less knowledgeable. 

Leadership also takes empathy for your staff and new hires. Most retail managers start out in the same role as their new employees — as part-time sales associates. Remember what it was like to walk in their shoes and be the coach you would have wanted when you were an inexperienced new retail worker.

2. Teamwork makes the dream work with communication

Every great retail manager or leader understands the value of teamwork, and they know there’s a human resource component to what they do. But how do you turn your employees into an actual team?

In a word: communication. And using a team communication tool consistently will help you track your team performance and share important information about shift, policy, or schedule changes so team members always know where to go for the latest update and nothing falls through the cracks.

A skilled retail manager also promotes teamwork by creating a culture of continuous feedback and employee praise. They build in a ‌routine of checking in with team members who might be struggling, they shout out team member contributions, and — most importantly — they encourage team members to do the same. 

3. Be innovative

Retailers have openly embraced technology ‌to scale their operations, so problem-solving retail managers should be forward-thinking and ready to offer innovative, tech-based ideas and suggestions to their own supervisors. 

If there are new tools and technology that can help the store or branch run more efficiently, don’t be afraid to experiment. 

For instance, trying out a scheduling tool that integrates with your payroll system is a great way to save time and stay compliant with tax and labor laws when payday comes around. 

And the way we used to track time — with employees ‘punching a clock’ to start their shifts — has changed. Today, mobile time clocks and employee scheduling software are the most efficient methods of employee management, and the right time clock tool can help a retail manager avoid time clock errors and time-tracking hassle.

4. Master your layout and inventory

Merchandizing — the promotion of branded products — is one of the retail manager’s core duties. And it’s hard to excel at retail operations without mastering your store layout and inventory management. 

Here are some layout and inventory management techniques you should know:

  • FIFO (first in, first out): Your goal with FIFO is to push older products first before they become obsolete or expire.
  • JIT (just in time) inventory: In this system, you keep as little inventory as possible to avoid the risks that come with storing a large amount of back stock.
  • ABC inventory analysis: This system helps you identify which inventory is earning your store the most profit. Knowing what products to push first can help you with inventory and layout prioritization.
  • The 5 S’s: This is a Japanese system that is used in many workplaces to create an efficient, lean, and organized work environment, and you can use it to keep your store orderly. In English, the 5 S’s are 
    • Sort
    • Set in order
    • Shine (or clean)
    • Standardize
    • Sustain

5. Offer unforgettable customer service

As with all businesses, providing excellent customer service and customer experience is essential if you plan on staying in the retail business for a long time. In fact, research shows that 1 in 4 customers will pay 10% more for a better customer experience

The foundation of great customer service is employee training, and if you spend extra time training your employees effectively and continuously, it’ll pay dividends.

And, from an operations management perspective, being customer-oriented means staying ahead of staffing so that there’s always enough staff on the sales floor to accommodate all your customers during peak times. Nothing is worse for a customer than waiting for too long to get an answer to a question or check out.

6. Set goals and celebrate success

If you don’t give your retail staff goals to work towards, how will they know when they’ve had success? Individual goals give employees purpose, and they increase a sense of buy-in with  company-wide goals.

The beauty of a goal is that it can be short-term or long-term. They can be as short term as driving an increase in sales revenue by $25 from the day before. Or they can be as long term and strategic as gaining 500 new customers for the fiscal year. Whatever they are, your individual employee goals should be SMART:

S – Specific: I want to sell most of our summer inventory in time for fall.

M – Measurable: I want to sell 80% of our summer inventory in time for fall.

A – Attainable: Since we usually sell about 60% of our summer inventory before fall, I want to increase that to at least 75%.

R – Relevant: I want to sell most of our summer inventory so that we can focus on promoting the new fall inventory when it arrives.

T – Time-Bound: I want to sell 75% percent of our summer inventory by the end of July, and I want to be on track to have 80% sold by the end of August.

As a leader, you need to communicate when your team meets their goals so they understand their purpose in the company’s context, and so they learn what works and what doesn’t. 

And the bonus of celebrating big and small wins? You’ll foster greater employee engagement.

Manage it all with Homebase

As a retail manager, it helps to have a broad skill set so you can manage your broad range of management and operational tasks.

But that doesn’t mean you have to master it all. Homebase’s management tools help you automate most of your day-to-day management tasks so you can focus on leading your team and hitting your daily sales goals. 

Frequently asked questions about retail management

What does a retail manager do?

A retail manager oversees and handles the daily operations of a store or the department of a store. Retail manager duties include hiring and training new store employees, managing and ordering new inventory, ensuring that retail employees are staying on track with the store daily sales goals, and making sure that store or department is generally functioning smoothly.

What are the types of retail management?

Depending on the size of the store or the brand you work for, retail management positions can range from managing a department to managing an entire brand, and they open up career opportunities to people from unique skills backgrounds. Types of retail management roles include 

  • Cashier management or head cashier
  • Assistant store manager
  • Store manager
  • Customer service manager
  • Warehouse or inventory manager
  • General manager
  • District manager
  • Human resources manager
  • Brand manager

What’s most important in retail management?

No matter where your store falls in the retail industry, the most important factor in successful retail management is organization. But being organized isn’t just about keeping the floor orderly and stocked with inventory. It’s about creating a system for every kind of retail management task. Whether you’re coaching and training your staff or setting the right goals to track your store’s successes, retail managers should have a “why” behind every organizational process they put in place.

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