Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Experiences of a store manager

When i left my job at Croma, as a store manager, after 3 years to join my dad, i left i with a bitter sweet feeling.
It had been a great experience, but there was so much more i could have done and learnt. Education does not prepare you for what you have to face.

Here is an article i had written after i left.

I started my work at Croma on 1st June 2009.

I remember sitting at the conference room at the SO, writing on the green pad 1/06/2009…my first day/my first job. It was scary but at the same time I was excited. I knew I was about to enter a world I had no knowledge of but a world that I would fit in anyway. And so wrong I was.

The project at Mumbai taught me about the retail world and what should I expect from it? Did it teach me how to run a store? No.
Did I make an effort to learn how a store should run? Honestly No. I was busy trying to understand the little details..the products, how to sell them, what customers expect…the discounts, or markdowns as they are called in retail. Was that wrong? I don’t think so. It was my first job, in a unknown sector, with lesser known products. I felt the way to go about this was down to up. Know everything I have to know about the products, and then other things like handling the store could be learnt – MY FIRST MISTAKE. I placed learning about the products and learning about the processes to run a store on an equal platform. Now, after  19 months I can confidently say, process knowledge is 60%of the job, handling people 30% and product knowledge 10% or even lesser.

I took over 'M' store, I knew I was not ready but I also knew I would learn to sail once I was put on the boat. I relied on my ADM who had been in the system for 3 years. I thought he was the final authority on everything. My area manager, in fact told me to not rely on him but on the SOPs - MY SECOND MISTAKE. I did not understand the significance of what my area told me then. Processes are at the heart of running a store. Processes form the order in the chaos. Processes maintain consistency. And it is true not just for retail. Not even then did I go through and try to understand the SOPs.

What I did learn from Megamall was how to set up a store. It was store I had set up with my own hands, with my young team of 20 staff. We had taken the store from a mere block of furniture to a well merchandised store. The store manager of Juhu, the flagship store was the closest to my store and he dropped in to help me understand how to merchandise – MY THIRD MISTAKE. The fact that the operations head asked hin to drop in and help me I took it on my ego. Did they think I was not capable of handling a 8000 sq foot store on my own? Honestly, of course I wasn’t. Shouldn’t I have welcomed the help and learnt as much as I could from him? How many people got the chance to interact and understand from a guy who handles a 20000 sq foot store, a flagship store?
My learning – no one gives a damn about your ego in the industry / company, especially when it is misplaced. That is how the professional world works. Did I really expect my operations head to call me and say that it was not the lack of belief but business need that he was being asked to look into my store? No. and I should have been mature to realize that I needed that help. Ego has no place in the industry. You show results. Results speak for you and your efforts.   Of course, I met store managers who themselves spoke / boasted about their stores in the hope of getting attention / promotion for themselves and you cannot be judgmental and say that what they did was shallow. It wasn’t. In a space of 40 store managers, you have to open your mouth and blow your own trumpet. But I understood that there are some things you cannot do, because they are dead against your nature. Even now, after everything, I would still not be comfortable talking about my success to boss or any other person. So what did I learn? Results speak for themselves. Efforts are seen, maybe even acknowledged, but never recognized if not translated into results. In the end numbers speak. But no one is paid for efforts alone. The balance scorecard used to measure a store manager’s performance does not have a yardstick for efforts put in. it has benchmarks for numbers – sales, profits, bottom lines, attrition rate( yes, even people management is measurable and measured).

I moved to Pune after a lot of false alarms. When I interacted with some other store managers in the later stages, they told me exactly how much they used to pester area managers for shifting them to other regions. I never did. Why? Was he God or the demon I was scared of? MY FOURTH MISTAKE – Escalating your issues to your bosses and super bosses is not a crime but a necessity. In handling 40 other stores and their managers, did I expect my area manager to keep a track of what was happening to my career path? Of course not.

My learning – in the mesh- mash of the retail world, you need to shout…maybe not loudly…but shout anyway to be heard. No one is a mind reader, least of all your bosses. You want something, you be shameless and ask for it. What was the worst that could happen? He would ask me to be patient? But at least it would be registered somewhere in his mind. (This was my dad s advice that I kept ignoring).

Then I moved to Pune, I realized, had a completely different work culture, bordering on laziness. As young, fresh and vibrant my team was in Mumbai, that old (in the system), lazy, laid back my team was in Pune. The farther you are from the head office, the lesser the control it has on processes and systems. It was in Pune that I was first introduced to my fear of Delegation – MY FIFTH MISTAKE. I knew I had to delegate my work. Yes, in understood that, but some controlling tendency in me did not let me do it. To the extent, that I hated my job. Every decision was mine, every effort was mine and as long as the staff did not have to work, they were happy. It was a vicious cycle where I did not delegate, the staff did not work, I thought the staff did not work and hence I did not delegate.
My learning – running a store is like running a mini city. Everything from housekeeping, staff problems, customer issues, merchandising, cleanliness, warehousing depends on you. And if the mayor of a city was alone expected to do everything what kind of cities would we have?

From day one at another store I continued my mistake of not delegating, either to ADMs, DMs or staff. I am no super woman. I read somewhere that a good manager is one who trains his team in such a way that even if he is absent, the team works as a whole, he is not a cog of the wheel as is believed, without whom the wheel cannot move forward. In this sense, I failed miserably. MY SIXTH MISTAKE – it takes a lot of courage for me to actually ask myself this question – Did I bother training even ONE person in any of my team thoroughly? My honest answer would be No. because I never thought any one of them was capable of that kind of work. Now that I think about it, instead of complaining to my mom about how inadequate my managers were, /could I have trained them better? Couldn't I have given them realistic expectations; concrete actions, fundamental training, and then measured their results? Wouldn't that have made my job easier?

My learning – everyone is not born with retail experience and process expertise. The most important job of a store manager is not sales. Sales happen anyway. Sales do not depend on the store manager. The most important job is to train my team. Starting with my ADMS and DMs.  If they would have been trained properly, my tactical workload would have been reduced to half, leaving me with time to train the staff on merchandising standards, SOPs, so that the staff could take merchandising decisions on their own, so that the staff could be trained for appraisals. Why does Pune staff not qualify for appraisals for promotion to next level? It is solely the failure of the store managers. Store managers who have been given the resources to train the staff, but do not have the time to because they are doing a department managers job, who is in turn doing the assistant department managers job, who are in turn no better equipped than the sales staff.
. A store manager needs to be a disciplinarian, a headmaster hated but feared. You help the staff in the time of In all the stores, I tended to slack off on the discipline after the initial few days. I do blame myself but I also feel it is because when you work at a place for more than 10 hours and you are alienated, because you are the boss, you have no colleagues, you tend to get bored alone, is why you start interacting more and more with the staff and the discipline slacks off.  But how could I have let my personal reason of boredom come in the way of my professional conduct? As crude as it sounds, it is very important that the line between you and the other managers as well as the staff is clear at all points. It does sound extremely crude, but that it what matters. Only tough managers can get things done. I would rather have people hate me, but do their work for the fear of me, than love me and not do their work knowing that I am their ‘friend’.
I proudly told my parents that 3 people cried at my farewell. I realize now, I would have been happier if 5 people had cried out of joy that I was finally leavingtheir need, no doubt, you teach them everything that they need to know about the job, but if the job is not done in spite of the training, they should be taken to task. I failed on the training front, so there was no question of taking them to task on something they didn’t know how to do in the first place.
Lastly, coming to the final problem I faced during handover.
I had never received such a handover (I did not demand it either because I did not know the process). But I had to give a thorough handover. The stock discrepancies which came up had come up before and had been mailed to my area manager. Sent items deleted and my boss putting his hands up – that taught me MY SEVENTH MISTAKE – the importance of escalations.

If my area manager did not let me show the discrepancy in the stock takes, what stopped me from approaching regional manager, if he did not help why not head of operations, my CEO? My learning – when you are the sole person in charge of an entity like a store, it is very important to get the albatross off your neck, basically pass on the responsibility or at least the information higher up, beyond your boss if issues are not solved. Escalation of every tiny, trivial event is important, and for the very basic reason – SYOA! Save your own Ass! Documentation and escalation is the key.
I entered the company believing that I would make an excellent store manager, half way through the journey I thought I was really doing a good job, then the more I learnt, the more I realized that I was doing a half decent job and I leave the company thinking there was so much more to learn, and all that I have seen is the tip of the iceberg.

But I am not disappointed. I consider myself lucky that at the age of 24 I got to handle 3 very different stores, set up one store, manage a team of 40 people and though I come out of it a little bit bummed, but not crushed. I can now appreciate the fact as to why most of the store managers are 30 years of age and above. It requires a great deal of maturity, a far bigger view of the whole picture, a lot of experience, to actually call yourself a good store manager.
However, through it all I emerge a confident manager. I accept all that I have done wrong; I see how it went all wrong. And I know the mistakes that I will never commit henceforth. Yes, it was a world I could not properly fit in as I expected on my first day of the job. But it was a world I could become a part of, if I had persisted.

It was, however, without doubt, the greatest learning experience of my life.

Neha Mirashi
Ex-store Manager


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