Tuesday, April 19, 2016

more than just numbers

Is it just me, or does it seem like more and more companies are merging into conglomerates and mega-companies?  Over the last few years we've seen many airlines merging into super-lines, expanding their routes and minimizing their reach.  We've seen car companies gobbling up each other like a buffet, mixing the expected with the unexpected.  If you told me 15 years ago that Jeep, Fiat, Chrysler, and Maserati would all be owned by the same Group, I would have laughed in your face.  Canada's Hudson Bay Company boasts a myriad of retail brands throughout Canada, Belgium, Germany, and the United States, including Galeria Kaufhof, Gilt.com, Hudson's Bay, Home Outfitters, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Saks outlet version OFF 5th.   I'm all for increasing efficiency, implementing best practices, and improving the final product for customers.  However, sometimes these mergers aren't as seamless or positive as one would have hoped - often resulting in decreased customer service, layoffs, and lost brand identity. 

I read an article recently that said Nordstrom had reported an increased inventory of 12% in the last quarter, and this must mean their having a hard time selling their merchandise.  I understand that inventory levels can shed some insight into a brand's business strength and sales figures.  But as both a businessman and a customer, I know this only shows a portion of the picture.  Have they considered that Nordstrom is constantly evolving with their customers - often featuring new brands and designers, new product categories, and new services?  Offering newness takes both time to implement and time to test.  Every time I visit my local Nordstrom, there's a line at their coffee bar, the restaurant is packed, and there are plenty of customers - not just looking, but actually buying.  It makes me wonder, are those business analysts comparing traditional departments from year-to-year, or are they including the overall inventory? 

Buying a Fiat is a completely different experience than buying a Maserati.  Buying a wardrobe at gilt.com is a totally different experience than buying a wardrobe at Saks Fifth Avenue.  The end result may be basically be the same, but the approach, the expectation, and the experience couldn't be farther apart.  Regardless of what products and services are sold, when brands commit themselves to establishing the most incredible experience for their customers, prioritize product knowledge, and implementing a "can-do" attitude to help their customers identify and reach their own goals, every business wins.

 Retail = Relationships.  Relationships between employees and customers drive the business.  Relationships between business partners and shareholders shape the direction of the brand.  Relationships between the buyers and designers influence product availability.  Relationships between managers and employees effect the atmosphere and culture of each location.  And relationships between influential clients and their friends can impact general consumer sentiment toward the brand in general.  Better brands prioritize these relationships and spend massive amounts of time and resources both establishing and maintaining positive relationships.  And rightfully so.

Yes, companies should focus on the bottom line.  But they can't lose sight of the two most important aspects: their customers and their employees.  When you establish a corporate culture that includes clear expectations, constant support to not only perform those job expectations, but to succeed and surpass goals, and an environment that adds value to your employees' lives, this will only intensify and increase levels of customer satisfaction.  Happy Employees = Happy Customers. 

Across every culture and country, there is only one resource that is traded equally: time.  When you do something that saves time, there is added value to that task.  When you spend time with someone, there is more meaning, more passion, and more value to that moment.  When someone gives their time to your cause, you're more thankful, more loyal in the future, and more committed to their relationship and cause.  Time is everything.  And the same is for the retail industry.  When an employee takes time to walk you to a specific department, rather than just point or give you instructions, the customer feels more value and loyalty to the brand.  When a manager takes time to train an employee on a new task or improved function, the employee retains the knowledge, feels increased care from their superiors, and an increased priority for teamwork and education.  The feeling is contagious. 

When has an employee gone above and beyond for you?  How did it make you feel?  When have you spent extra time with a customer or client?  Was there a positive return on investment?

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