I had just arrived at the Orlando airport when I spotted a shoe shine kiosk. While I waited for my turn, it struck me the retail management lessons shoe shine operators could teach any business:
1) Know who you are and who you aren't. Yes, customers are waiting, but that doesn't mean they have gumball machines or other irrelevant products.
2) Make it easy for customers to know what you do. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than guessing what a store carries. Nothing is more frustrating to managers than employees who don't tell customers all the great programs or services they offer. They shouldn't have to - it should be obvious. That's what retail management must focus on.
3) There are no counters, no walls, and nothing to interfere with customer interaction. A shoe shine operator is completely exposed and focused. No shoes to shine = no food to eat. Simple.
4) Be visible in your community. If shoe shine operators aren't busy, they are engaging busy professionals by saying, "Want to look your best?" No 20% discounts and no "sales" - just thinking about what their customers ultimately value and reminding them.
5) Engage your customers. There's almost always a banter from the person shining your shoes. They know the more they connect, the higher the tip and, more importantly, the sooner their customer returns. Contrast that to the ice queens you meet in many businesses, whether at the doctor's office, the department store, or the local hardware store, where you hope you'll never run into them again.
6) Hustle and focus. They never want someone to feel the wait is too long, so they move quickly to do a great job and keep everyone happy. Retail management must keep the focus only on the customer's experience. That often means you need to give up going on break, a personal call, or anything that will distract from the person standing before you - after all, they're the ones that pay your salary.
7) Thank everyone. Whether tipped well or not, shoe shine operators always thank - its their livelihood.
Oh, if you think I'm just talking about men who shine shoes, a woman I know has been at the Men's Shoe Department for nearly 20 years at Nordstroms in South Coast Plaza, CA, after giving up her corporate gig. By using her sales abilities, she makes more money, has less stress, and has more of a feeling of accomplishment when she goes home than she ever did as a financial executive.
A lesson about doing a great job you can be proud of that those in retail management can all use.