There was some great conversation at the recent Squire Patton Boggs retail seminar, with Richard Lim presenting Retail Economics’ thoughts and data on the retail shopping experience.

His model suggests that customers are looking for environment, education, escapism and entertainment, in that order.

As ever in retail, the customer holds the key. It’s no surprise that 18-24s say entertainment is their number one requirement.

Over 65s are not so hot on entertainment, but keen on education.

We all know that store experience is pivotal to success, but maybe getting it right is about being very sure about who your customer is – and is not.

And that experience is not just about a brilliant store fit or just the right lighting, but perhaps more about your people.

Your people shout louder about what your brand is – and isn’t – than any shop fit.

The chief executive of my favourite off-licence chain once explained to me his consistently brilliant in-store experience was delivered by ‘recruiting colleagues who look like our customers’. And it worked a treat.

B&Q exclusively recruited over-50s to staff their Macclesfield store in the early nineties. It turned out to be a winner: profits were 18% higher at the store and staff turnover was six times lower, while absenteeism fell by 39%.

“We all know that store experience is pivotal to success, but maybe getting it right is about being very sure about who your customer is – and is not”

Of course, the killer stat was that customers loved the service they received. And, better still, over-50s gradually became a cornerstone of how the B&Q brand was perceived nationwide.

Over-50s staff became famous as they appeared in TV commercials and shaped customer expectations.

The Squire Patton Boggs seminar benefited from the wisdom of the remarkable Mike Logue, who has worked his magic at Dreams over the past four years.

He reminded us to not think narrowly about customer touchpoints – it’s not just the stores.

At Dreams, he realised that he was recruiting drivers to deliver newly-purchased beds.

The better retail experience was to think about delivery as a wonderful opportunity to thrill the customer – and to recruit delivery teams with those skills.

How many ways can a customer come into contact with a retail business pre, during and post-sale?

Our question must be: Does everyone in that chain radiate your brand values and do it consistently? It’s not easy.

If we want our retail experience to be 10/10, we’d better make sure all of our people are 10/10.

“Great people want to work with talented colleagues and resent management allowing consistently low achievers to hamper performance”

For much of my board career, I have participated in annual reviews of ‘high potential’ people; finding ways to retain them, challenge and develop them.

But how much time do we spend on the equally vital element of ensuring that we take out the underperformers and the people who just don’t fit?

Great people want to work with talented colleagues and resent management allowing consistently low achievers to hamper performance.

Timpson Group has a lovely expression, ‘helping someone to find their happiness elsewhere’, which masks a gentle but determined approach to finding the exit door for those folks who just don’t get it.

Timpson colleagues sit right at the heart of the brand’s motto, ‘Great Service by Great People’.

Karen Hubbard scored 10: the Card Factory chief executive helped a 92-year-old customer choose the perfect card, then the old lady confided that if she had chosen the card alone she would not have spoken to anyone all day. That really is retail experience.

As we reflect upon our customers’ need for environment, education, escapism and entertainment, let’s make very sure that we do not underestimate what really makes a store brand excel.

And once we’ve fixed that, let’s move onto our ecommerce.

Stephen Robertson is chairman of Retail Economics and a non-executive director of Timpson Group and Clipper Logistics

Stephen Robertson