I had just arrived at the Orlando airport yesterday 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,they have customers waiting but that doesn't mean they have gum ball machines or other irrelevant product.
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 their interaction with their customers. 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 what their customers ultimately value and reminding them.
5) Engage your customers. There's most 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 will come back. Contrast that to the ice queens you meet in many businesses whether at the doctor's office, the department store or 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, anything that will distract from the person standing in front of you - after all, they're the ones that pay your salary.
7) Thank every one. Whether they are tipped well or not at all, shoe shine operators always thank - its their livelihood.
Oh and if you think I'm just talking about men who shine shoes, a woman I know has been at the Men's Shoe Department 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 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.