Retailers must ensure that their store staff can put their ideas forward as getting feedback from the shopfloor can only improve a business.
There’s a lot of emphasis in retail – on the pages of Retail Week and elsewhere – on the deliberations that take place in the boardroom.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in four decades in retailing, it’s that strategy presentations and bold expansion plans are worth nothing if you’re not getting it right for your customers day-to-day on the shopfloor.
The centralised nature of retailing these days means that it’s easy for stores to be bombarded with messages from head office. If anything the advent of email and intranet has meant there is even more top-down communication.
All of this is well-intentioned. It’s important that store standards are consistent, that promotional campaigns are executed correctly and that the right point-of-sale material is on display at the right time. But what about communication in the other direction?
My view on running a retail business is that listening to feedback from the ground up is just as important as top-down communication. After all, our colleagues in-store are closer to our customers than we in head office could ever be.
I aim to spend at least one day a week in our stores and I encourage my senior team to do the same, but with nearly 300 stores around the country we needed to have a process in place where anyone could feed in ideas confident they would get a hearing.
You’ll have read plenty about the famous and brilliant concept of Ann Summers parties from my fellow columnist Jacqueline Gold. But what about the BrightHouse Introduce-a-Friend party? That was an idea that Neil Graham from our Macclesfield store came up with. The idea was to provide existing customers with an evening when they could bring their friends into the local store, meet the team and find out more about what BrightHouse has to offer.
Not quite as racy as Ann Summers parties I’ll admit, but we’ve tested it in some stores and the early results have been promising.
Neil was just one of the 30 colleagues who last year won an award through our Bright Ideas scheme, which aims to capture the best ideas from our colleagues on the frontline and harness them for the good of the business.
These range from sensible suggestions to streamline admin to practical ways we could help our staff. For instance, two colleagues in our Newton Abbot store came up with an idea that BrightHouse should join the Government-backed Bike4work scheme. We did it and now 32 colleagues have a subsidised bike.
Of course, not all the ideas are realistic. But we acknowledge and consider them all. And that sends an important message to the store-based employees who make up the majority of our team. It says that they have a say in how their business is run, and that we take what they think seriously.
That’s a powerful motivational message to those colleagues who, after all, are the face of the company to customers.
- Leo McKee is chief executive of BrightHouse