The ties that bind


February/March, 2017—

Constraints at your store can be good assuming you’re committed to breaking free from them.

Since I’m up against my deadline, I’m glad I had the day I had in the field today because the topic for this column has been brewing in my mind for weeks. If you hang out in the field long enough, everything will come full circle. My boss calls it being present and I’m a big believer in being around.

I’ll start a few months back when one of the Amazon boxes that arrived at our doorstep was addressed to me. My wife completed her holiday shopping a few days earlier and my purchase was in queue with the onslaught of art supplies and soccer gear already headed to the house. But this was something I ordered for myself. It wasn’t a toy or a game. It was a classic business book called The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox.

I ordered the book because I’ve been finding myself spending more time turning over rocks without gaining the perspective I needed from the outside so I could look at my business more critically on the inside. Remember the movie Top Gun? Similar to Maverick, I felt like I was in a flat spin headed out to sea. Being on my own, no one truly knows what the heck is going on in my business but me…and sometimes I don’t even know. When I found myself starting to spin out of control or having crazy thoughts back in my retail days about turning the mattress gallery into a snack bar or putting the delivery drivers on commission (I still stand by that one), I could always count on one of my partners to talk me back to sanity.

I read The Goal a long time ago and it was very comforting to read about the Theory of Constraints, and how having them is part of the process to continuous improvement. Having constraints means you’re doing stuff and outgrowing your current processes. That’s a high-class problem in my book, but one that can be fixed when you relax and recognize it’s happening.

There are all sorts of constraints in retail operations. I’m guessing nobody knows this more than you. There are constraints in sales, deliveries, cash, marketing, management, customer experience, culture, administration—the list goes on and on. Now you experience constraints with YELP or some other social media venue. You can also have more than one going on at a time…Did you feel that? A shiver just went down my spine.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was talking to a store manager of one of the more sophisticated establishments of my territory and I heard something I couldn’t believe. In discussions regarding a Saturday morning training session I conducted the previous month with said manager, it had occurred to me that the only training this store does are the ones the reps do. To borrow from today’s Millennials, OMG!

There was nothing other than administrative and policy discussions going on with management and the sales staff. That’s sort of like having Boy Scouts coming in to teach marksmanship to the Army. I can teach people about my products and how to sell them, but it needs to be taught with some consideration to the culture of the store for it to be taken seriously.

When I was a contract trainer, clients would pay a lot of money to my boss to have me show up and teach their salespeople how to say hello to a customer. The owner of the store made sure the staff listened to me because they wrote a check to have me there.
Nowadays, my message and I come free of charge and sometimes the same message I was paid to deliver is not heeded. Sometimes I get the uneasy feeling management of the store thinks the training is not as urgent as what is in front of them at the moment.

I’m sure whatever the source of the preoccupation is important. But most of us roaming the territory with a bag of goods to offer know some stuff and we want to share it with your team. WE NEED YOUR HELP. If you want our trainings to be effective, try these quick tips to get the most out of our hour of your sales teams’ undivided attention.

  1. Show up. Your very presence shows the team what we’re saying is important and you want to hear what we have to say.
  2. Take notes. We’ll drop some pearls of wisdom on your staff and there may be a few worth keeping in mind.
  3. Support us. If our product is worth putting in your store, don’t you think it’s worth making sure the staff knows how to sell it.
  4. Measure it. If you buy lamps from me and you aren’t measuring the attachments to bedroom and living room sets, you’re sending money that belongs to you right out the door.

I’m a big fan of training, measuring and having expectations. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about it in my adult life to people who wanted to hear it and probably quite a few who didn’t. It’s not easy to train, let alone have a culture of continuous improvement but if you’re going to have a business that requires others to behave a certain way, then they have a right to have crystallized knowledge of what the expectation is.

I had a partner who thought I trained the staff too much and lamented the costs of overtime draining his budget. He complained we spent too much money on people who could leave, and our investment in them would never be recouped. True, but with a smile I said, “what if we didn’t train them and they stayed?”

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About the Author

Jonathan Schulman
Jonathan Schulman is a member of the IHFRA executive committee. His coverage area includes Southern California and Hawaii. He has won several awards including Sales Professional of the Year in 2013 and can be reached at