Focus

A lesson learned sometime around the time Shakespeare was writing is that specialization is the way forward. William, for example, stuck to what he was good at and look at him now.

Look at Bait & Switch. Their strength is creating big stores selling bait to fishing addicts, and that’s what their focus should be. Right? Right. But they try to be all things to all anglers. Not only do the stores carry the cheapest bulk bait at wafer-thin margins, they also have high-end product for Richie Rich, that most desirable customer. We can serve both ends of the spectrum.

Except we can’t. Management require behavior that the Big Man expects when he’s spending a lot of money. That means spending time talking and hovering, cajoling and validating. However, they only staff and arrange the workload such that we floor people can only effectively stock, sign, tidy and deal with Mr Pickuptruck; he’s only interested in price.

We have two masters, which doesn’t work for either one. If you want to serve high-end folks, then set up an appropriately functioning store. If you you want to serve the dollar-conscious, likewise. Either way it’s mugs like me who get squished in the middle…all for no money. Blech.

Subterfuge

The new Bait Shop manager is notable thesedays by his absence. Not that it bothers me; the fewer Stasi operatives floating around the place the better.

Flippant as I might appear, the parallel is more real than not. Policy, behavior, production, ways of talking, presentation, response…they’re all proscribed from on high. HQ dispenses solutions and requirements in precisely the same way as the Stalinist Soviet. Nothing is left to personal discretion or individual imagination. Who needs such imaginative elements when we’ve already thought of them?

Tonight, just before we shut up the joint, the closing manager revealed a telling fact. Someone (I’m certain the new store manager or his minion) expressed concern at the kind of jokes we bodies on the sales floor stretch out during the day. You know the kind of thing; a shared giggle at a shared reminiscence, or a mutual movie moment. It’s the kind of high-functioning process that people who can operate at different levels are able to carry off, and in fact need to keep occupied.

Retail sucks, particularly in this business and with this population. It’s a one-dimensional interaction with almost all customers. Oddly, management choose and hire people who can interact effectively with the 1% who require something more, which would be everyone on the current team.

So there’s the friction; most of everyone’s day is mundane and drab, but occasionally we rise to the challenge of a sentient customer. The trade-off is that we must amuse ourselves in the face of the awful standard consumer.

And that’s what they want to stop. You thought oligarchy was dead. Command and control is alive and well.

Grumbling

Expansion is the big picture driver at Bait & Switch, at least at corporate level.

Seems to me that this is a precursor to a listing, because the only reason to put a business on such a course is to boost the P&L top line. In other words, revenue at all cost, and hang the consequences.

At store level, the repercussions are clear; poor communication, management incompetence and mixed messages. Are we a big box retailer or quality and service-based? Are we lowest cost or knowledgeable? Are personal relationships important or numbers through the door?

Someone, somewhere thinks the business can be all things to all people, which is an admirable dream if you want to ignore the income statement. The place could be big and personal, but it can’t be big and personal and lowbrow and low price. Something’s gotta give.

Which brings me to short termism, the operating umbrella under which we labor. There are big changes required to bring the place up to the standards of even the lowest big box model. Computer systems, stock systems, pricing systems; these area all archaic and showing signs of breaking down. The least stress opens another leak that needs inordinate time to fill.

All this leads to frustration and disillusionment amongst we peons. But no-one cares about that either.

Back to Basics

It’s just a bloody shop.

Keep it properly stocked. Keep it clean. Keep it organized. Make people feel welcome. Don’t put up with any shit.

In the last week: we are out of green “Out of Stock” tags. We ran out of both our best selling red earthworms and a top-five white earthworm variety. Scheduled tasks (centrally determined, BTW) were not completed more than 50% of the time.

I could go on.

When “managers” look up towards corporate rather than straight ahead at the people walking through the door, stuff goes wrong.

When edicts from someone thousands of miles away are perceived as more important than what customers ask for, stuff gets missed.

When no-one has the ability to create systems that simplify and work, someone loses.

When no-one feels sufficiently strong to start the process of starting from scratch (every so often) there is no future.

There is no future.