Defining Your Retail Process

Every job has a process. A process is a series of actions toward a specified end result. The process of driving to the grocery store begins with finding the car keys, then going to the car and getting in, starting the car, driving partially out the driveway, remembering that you forgot the grocery list, going back … you get the picture. The desired result is grocery shopping, a separate process.

Your retail store has numerous processes. The primary process is the transaction process, helping customers select and purchase merchandise. Other processes include purchasing inventory, stocking shelves, training employees, handling customer complaints, and so on. Each process takes steps toward a desired end result.

Retailing can be overwhelming unless you look at it as a number of primary and secondary processes, each with an intended result. If you know what those processes are and work out a method of managing them, you'll be more ready to resolve problems that come along through your day.

The results you want for most retail processes are approximately the same as for all other retail stores. It's the steps within those processes that are customized to your operation. Learn how other retailers manage their processes and modify them to fit your needs.

What Does Your Store Do?

Your retail store sells specific products to people who need or want them. To perform this mission, your store implements a variety of processes. For example, your store:

  • Helps customers select appropriate merchandise

  • Trades money (cash, check, charge) for the merchandise purchased

  • Replenishes sold inventory

  • Develops additional customers through advertising

  • Pays bills

  • Trains employees

The list goes on. Each of these responsibilities requires that you take appropriate steps toward a specified result. For example, replenishing sold inventory requires that someone:

  • Identify what inventory has been sold

  • Decide how many of the item should be reordered

  • Place the order with the appropriate supplier

  • Track the order through processing and shipment

  • Receive the merchandise and inspect it for accuracy and condition

  • Stock the merchandise in the store as needed

Each step within the restocking process has its own process. It may seem that all you do is perform tasks within processes toward goals. Correct! In fact, you've been doing that all of your life: going to the grocery store, buying groceries, paying bills, going to a job, and on and on. Even relaxation at the end of a day is a process, culminating in a good night's sleep.

As you build your retail business, consider it as a process with numerous subprocesses. It will give order to seeming chaos and help you sleep better at night.

How Do You Do It?

Some processes are so automatic and understandable that you really don't need to think about the steps. You don't pull out a list titled Going to the Grocery Store and begin checking off the tasks: find the car keys, find the shopping list, go to the car, and so on. You just do it, based on what you remember doing when you last went grocery shopping.

For more complex and less frequent processes, a list helps. The job description developed for employees (see Chapter 13) is simply a list of tasks, each of which has a process. Complex processes, such as computerized transactions, may have numbered steps that trainees can follow to learn the process. Once known, the document can serve as a refresher for experienced employees as well as a training aid for new ones.

Do you need to make lists and document every single process within your retail store operation? If you did, you might not have time to do anything else. Fortunately, the human brain can retain thousands of processes without much conflict. In fact, it can borrow from other processes, applying what is known about grocery shopping to the process of merchandise ordering. Document only those processes that are most critical to your operation and those that seem to be giving you and employees problems. For example, do you forget to check existing inventory before buying new merchandise? Develop a process list that includes this step and make sure everyone follows it until it becomes automatic.

Successful retailers often develop an operations manual for their stores. This manual is a collection of documented processes. In fact, there should be two operations manuals: one for management and one for employees, each focused on the processes of their primary responsibilities. If the components of the employee manual changes, make sure that all employees are aware of it.

How Do You Know It's Working?

Not all processes work. Nor are they all carefully followed. Sometimes the defined process doesn't bring the desired result. Redefine it. If a process seems clear to you, but employees are having problems with it, use training. It can help them understand the process better and help you make the process clearer. Training is simply process education.

You'll soon know which of your retail processes work and which don't. How will you know? If the results aren't what you expected, the process doesn't work. If you make a loaf of bread and it turns out as flatbread, the results tell you that something was incorrect in the process. It may have been faulty instructions, or simply failure to follow instructions. If the process isn't working, it will be up to you to figure out why and to correct it.

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