If I asked you to think of a retail worker, you’d probably picture a sales associate wearing an earpiece and a name badge. Maybe next you would picture a grumpy manager directing the employees to refold displayed merchandise. However, the worker you might not picture is the one who is often running the show behind the scene. A job that is often overlooked in the retail industry is the area or regional store manager.
An area store manager manages multiple stores in their region, often spending a few days at one location before traveling to the others. Because of this schedule and their constant travel, how can area managers make a positive impact on each store location’s employees, and leave enough of a lasting mark to have their influence stay after they leave to travel to other stores?
If you’re an area manager wondering about the same things, I’ve compiled a list of 5 strategies to follow to ensure that you can effectively manage your stores when you’re not there by knowing you’ve made a positive, lasting impression on each location’s staff.
Here’s a breakdown of the 5 strategies we’ll mention in this article:
- Lead by Example
- Set Clear Goals
- Build Relationships
- Don’t Micromanage
- Keep an Open Line of Communication
1. Lead by Example
In this situation, leading by example means handling situations in the way you hope sales associates will while you are gone, whether it is interactions with customers, each other, or their supervisors. It is true that actions speak louder than words, so being a good example to your staff even in small everyday tasks will resonate with them in ways that simply telling them how to act will not.
Problem-solving and being decisive in open-ended situations will create an example for associates to follow long after you leave for the next location. For example, if a shopper comes into your store demanding a refund on a product, take initiative to calmly walk them through each step of the process and try to not let them leave dissatisfied. Every moment can be a teachable moment while you are managing a store, even if you do not display that it is to the other employees.
Leading by example can also mean demonstrating the pride you have in your work to the other employees. Take pride in the work you have done by being confident in your achievements and not being afraid to let your personality show through in your interactions. Not only should you have pride in your own work, but in the company as well. Make it clear that you are working as hard as you can to improve the welfare of the company, and other associates will surely take after your drive and effort.
A lasting example of leadership should not only have an impact on the sales associates, but on the store managers as well. The goal is to create a sense of community among all workers and leave your visit feeling confident that you have exemplified outstanding leadership to all employees and trust that they are able to do the same.
2. Set Clear Goals
As a regional manager, you are likely to have certain goals to reach at each store location under your jurisdiction. These goals may be quantitative and easy to measure, such as raising sales statistics, or they may be harder to measure, quantitative goals like improving upon customer service.
Whatever kind of goal you are tasked to enforce, it is important to not simply tell your employees what the goal is, but to give them the resources to understand how to achieve it and the importance it holds to the company. An example of giving resources to help accomplish a quantitative goal would be to set smaller objectives that lead to the bigger goal. By doing so, the workers and managers can have a clear path that seems more attainable, and they can feel more accomplished and motivated on the way.
Another example of helping employees feel motivated to achieve goals is to provide recognizable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for qualitative goals as well. This could be information taken from customer feedback surveys, or more complex data such as tracking customer satisfaction and retention through return rates.
It may be a good idea to set smaller goals that are obtainable within the next couple days while you are visiting. This can show the employees that the task is not difficult when broken down, and they will feel as though they have a handle on the situation after you move onto your next location.
Not only will your staff feel more accomplished when they achieve goals, but expectations being met will also give you a clear indicator of the impact you have had on the stores as well. If you give the employees all the tools they need to succeed and help guide them through the goal setting and achieving process, your impact will surely remain on the store until your next visit back.
3. Build Relationships
Arguably the best (and most effective) piece of advice to leave a lasting impact on a store as a regional manager is to remain genuine in all your interactions with employees. As previously mentioned, let your personality show through your hard work and let the associates see that you aren’t a big bad corporate manager.
It is certainly okay to set the precedent to have fun at work. By letting the employees let loose a little in the store, they will feel more relaxed when interacting with customers and be able to relate to them more. I don’t know about you, but if I had the option to choose between a store with a light-hearted and fun environment, and one that is a very stiff environment, I would choose the first one every time.
I would also suggest showing genuine interest in your employees’ lives. Get to know them on a more personal level and have real conversations with them about topics that may be out of the realm of store operations. This way, if you leave the store and come back in the following weeks, you can pick up where you left off with the employees. If you remember what they had to say to you, the opposite is also very likely to be true.
However, although it is very beneficial to remain relational with your employees, it is important to not lose a sense of professionalism in the process. Having too much of a relaxed environment may hinder productivity levels instead of boosting them. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with considering a staff member a friend, as long as there is still a level of professionalism and respect during work hours.
4. Don’t Micromanage
While you work on building personal relationships with each store’s employees, hopefully you are building a mutual trust between you and the workers as well. Not only trust the associates, but also have trust in yourself that you have given them the right tools they need to reach their goals. Don’t sit over their shoulders or use fear-tactics to try to make sure the staff isn’t slacking off. Instead, it is crucial to empower all of your employees and let them know you trust that they are doing good work.
This holds especially true when dealing with the store managers. While you may have had longer experience working as a manager, it is important to keep in mind that the store managers are the ones who are present at the store on a daily basis. Trust that they are the ones who understand the daily operations of the store, and that they have earned their job title for a reason.
With this being said, while you are visiting a location, give them all of the keys for success and goals to reach, but let them continue to do their jobs afterwards while you are taking care of your responsibilities. If a problem does arise while you are present, by all means interfere (and set an example by demonstrating those problem-solving skills like we talked about in the first step!) to ensure that no company policies are being violated and that goals are being met. Otherwise, let them go about their shifts until they specifically ask for assistance.
5. Keep an Open Line of Communication
Finally, it is important to keep an open line of communication with your staff. While you are in store, make it widely known that anyone can go to you with whatever problems they have, and know that there are no dumb questions regarding store operations or policies. If a sales associate has major concerns, let them know that you hear their concerns and will relay them to upper management positions. This will not only give a level of respect to managers and sales representatives, but they will also feel heard and more empowered in their work. With this open line of communication, staff will also feel more inclined to reciprocate respect back to you.
Breaking down this communication barrier will ultimately encourage the staff to operate more as a team if they believe they are being heard and that their opinion matters. The key to this step is continuing the line of communication after you leave for the next location. Make all of your contact information widely available to the workers. Especially regarding store managers, emphasize you are at their disposal for help, advice, and anything in between.
This open communication will allow for an efficient work environment and even improve communication between workers and shoppers at your store. Ultimately, this will make for more profitable shifts each workday.
No matter your travel schedule, as an area manager you should be able to lead your stores from miles away. To do this, you have to create a lasting impression on the staff of each store location before you travel to the next. There are 5 main strategies that we discussed in this article in order to achieve this status.
First, it is crucial to lead by example in all situations. If you are dealing with a customer, remain calm and personable, and handle conflicts among staff members with neutrality and poise. Second, set clear goals for the store to achieve. Whether these goals are quantitative or qualitative in nature, break down the large goal into smaller, more attainable benchmarks, and set recognizable key performance indicators to let the workers have a clear measure of their success. Third, it is important to build lasting relationships with the staff members at each location. This means creating a fun and comfortable work environment while also retaining a sense of professionalism. If you achieve this, it is also important to show genuine interest in your employees. Fourth, a key to your success as an area manager is to not micromanage your employees. Do not stand over their shoulders waiting for good results. Instead, give them the tools they need to succeed and let them come to you for any assistance. Similarly, the fifth and final practice of a successful area manager is to keep an open line of communications with all sales associates and store managers. Let their opinions and concerns feel respected enough that they can come to you for any needs, whether you are in store or not.