A Lesson From A “School Marm” on Retail Management pt. 1

I attribute my quick climb in retail to three key elements.  My obnoxious and infectious laugh my father left me with, my insane high standard for work ethic my mother raised me with(this also worked against me), and the unique perspective my Bachelors Degree released me with.  My concentration in college was not retail, business, finance, or management; my focus in college was Multi-Disciplinary Studies, also known as Junior High Education.

It was undoubted that I would view my store as a classroom.  At the time, with youth and inexperience and imaginary inner criticisms from my mother on professionalism, I thought this to be a terrible thing.  I found myself practicing exactly as I would with my struggling sixth grade readers but instead with my employees.

  • I offered what a school teacher would call “cubbies” on the shelves of the back room, and each held a category of product that was assigned to a particular employee to maintain and gain a sense of confidence from independence and control on a part of the store.
  • I provided individually designed notebooks for personal assignments for self improvement, these were relabeled communication binders.
  • I returned each personal analysis in sales and departments filled out by my employees with notes in red pen and called it redirecting.
  • I held Student-Teacher private conferencing once a month and said it was one-on-one training

Each day I was just ready for someone to figure me out, for some corporate overlord to say, “You don’t know what you are doing, you are not a classroom you are a retailer!”   My old manager’s voice was in the back of my head as each of my ideas I presented to him to boost performance and morale was shutdown with, “You’re just a school marm.” But instead I was met with congratulations on my successful store, pulling a store that had remained in the bottom 20% of the company for the past several years, and in the matter of the first couple of weeks I had taken back my reign raised it to the Top 8 ranking store in the entire company.  Lacking confidence, I was scared that perhaps it was a fluke and when the hype calmed down I would be found out.  But instead the store remained consistent, the bonuses continued to roll in.  I continued continuous coaching with each individual.  Yes, Gold Stars were used for achievements, and a lack in sales, customer service, or the single sign of a grade, I mean store stat, dropping was remedied immediately with tutoring..errr…uhm…employee strategy sessions.

In less than a year they started moving me to other stores as a substitute teacher, or visiting manager.  These were typically manager-less stores whose numbers never seemed to improve despite increases in traffic and sales based on the mall reports. I continued to relabel myself, so afraid my degree would be found out as my methods were exposed to more stores outside my safety net.  In my presence the stores would improve, but after a month or two with my absence they would begin to fade again.  No one was there to continue the training, no one was there to encourage them in person when they felt like failures, and no one was there to offer extra-credit assignments…we will just call it what it is.  At the time I felt my methods were ineffective, not considering how training is an ongoing process, and to learn that requires extensive time experiencing methods of continuous education.  But they continued to utilize me as a traveling manager for a year or two, something I absolutely loved, and then I was promoted to district manager within five years of working for the company.

Education is training, and training is education.  One never stops yearning for knowledge, and employees never stop yearning for further achievements.  Be a teacher at all times, see each difficult moment as a learning/training opportunity.

Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine

12 thoughts on “A Lesson From A “School Marm” on Retail Management pt. 1

  1. Terri Webster Schrandt says:

    I love this whole analogy to education. I read something where you mentioned that you turned you business around (etc) but felt after the hype you would be found out…this is so true about women in leadership (Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg). Great that you use your educator skills in your business and can help others! Love your blog BTW 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cavellemartin says:

    Great story! Before my current job, I worked in retail for 10 years. We could have used someone like you a million times over. The retail industry is not for everyone but it makes perfect sense to apply your teaching skills to something like retail. Good for you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. luciemuses says:

    Fantastic blog ( and I don’t like shopping- I am a hunter, not a gatherer. See something, try it on, buy it or leave, Do not look at anything else. Probably miss bargains and beautiful stuff, but it is quicker.)
    But I do like your writing and common sense!
    Lucie

    Liked by 1 person

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