It was just as all the stores in the central time zone were shutting down when I stepped out of my flight from Phoenix and onto the bright shimmering white ceramic tiles of the DFW airport. The layover would be about an hour. I loved traveling late at night, the airport seemed to slow from the chaos of morning and afternoon, but not quite yet a ghost town. I found a spot away from any gates where I could plug in my phone and check in on a manager I had grown close to over the years.
She asked me how Sedona had been, and I was filled with exciting tales from over the top customer complaints, feet obsessed creepers, and the most hilarious interviews I’d ever conducted. The stories also ranged on the great business of the store, the unique sights and sounds of somewhere I had never seen before, and the excitement that I held that the company chose me as the perfect person to correct a minor fiasco.
Her response to these tales was a simple question:
“Isn’t it easier to run a busy store than it is to slowly die in a dead one?”
I knew the answer I was supposed to give as a friend, she had been suffering with a store in a dying mall for years. Her every word was the bitterness she felt over the lack of traffic she had. ‘How can you make these pressing goals if you don’t have the customers’ she would cry out on con call after con call. I myself was presently located in what is referred to as a “lifestyle mall”. These are the outdoor centers that cities find a novel idea, filled with movie theaters, community centers, shops, and restaurants. Though from the outside brilliant, most of the patrons’ time and money are spent in the lingering experiences of food and entertainment and the shops are forgotten. I should have agreed with her to be in the least empathetic.
But before I was manager of my “lifestyle” location I was manager of a large location and the pressure was greater to top out each year. Our goals were not based on the economy but instead strictly on set percentage we sold from the year before. I remembered the stress as the economy began to topple, and I kept waiting for the bottom to fall out, larger numbers means you have much further to fall.
“No,” I answered.
A simple two letter word that would bring, what I thought was an indestructible friendship to its quick and bitter end.
Even in my slow store I didn’t look at other stores and wonder what kind of manager I could be there. I focused on how to bring my location to its fullest potential. Those other stores were not my concern, unless of course I was told they were my concern.
When I became a district manager I heard these same comments over and over and over again. Managers who could not manage their store to their fullest potential because there was not enough traffic, or pay, or inventory. They did not have the product some other location had, their traffic would be comprised of kids and they wished they had adults, or their traffic was comprised of adults that didn’t buy and they wished they had adults that bought.
If we all just stopped focusing on how our situation is different than others or worse than our fantasies but instead just focused on our situations, perhaps we could really make a greener world everywhere.