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December 2013 | Vol. XII - No. 12


Your First Holiday Season As A Retail Manager

When I was in college, I worked nights and weekends in a department store. I was there for the guys shopping on Christmas Eve and for the after holiday sales.

Later, I changed jobs and quickly became the manager of a retail store.

My part-time retail job became my career.

Mind you, I had no training to become a retail store manager. I had sold product really well. I showed up on time. I pitched in. I got good reviews and had loyal customers, but nothing prepared me for managing people or what the season would be like as a manager.

If that’s you, I’m going to share with you eleven secrets of a successful holiday season. If you’re a veteran store manager, these tips should remind you of what’s about to happen.

It’s fun; customers will surprise you. You’ll meet the couple out shopping and the guy really wants something, but his wife will say no, then give you a sign, return to pick it up and tell you after the holiday how surprised he was when he unwrapped it.

But customers may lie to you. You’ll probably have at least one customer tell you, “One of your salespeople said it was on sale for half-off,” and then make a scene demanding that price. Don’t automatically believe the customer, but never assume your crew is automatically in the wrong or publicly berate them. Go in the back and discuss it with the employee and then service the customer.

You’ll have employees who make your day. A young woman wanted to organize a Secret Santa for the store. I thought it was stupid but ok’d it. Everyone had a blast, and it helped make my holiday very special – even if I did have to sit on the mall Santa’s lap and embarrass myself by asking if he had a little something for me.

On the downside, you’ll have employees who may lie to you.
I posted a notice in November that there would be absolutely no day-off requests and if an employee wasn’t there during the last two weeks of December as scheduled, they would be fired. Everyone signed it to say they understood. I had one of the best employees come to me the week before Christmas saying her parents had purchased airline tickets home; she asked if she could be gone the last two weeks of December. What could I say but yes. My advice? Don’t make absolutes or you may have to eat your words.

You’ll probably make more money. If you work on an hourly rate, there will probably be overtime during the holiday season. If you work on salary, they’ll expect you as the retail manager to work overtime without extra pay, but there is probably a bonus if your store breaks goal. Money gives you the incentive to work when many of your friends are off.

Your family may lie to you. Working overtime means less time with those you love. If your family says they don’t mind, they may be lying; people want to come together more during the holidays. Make sure to do something special when you can like bring home a pizza or make cookies or do anything that doesn’t involve a trip to the store or your smartphone.

Merchandise will arrive like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sure it is a pain to have pallets of merchandise to put out every couple days, but it is just as much a pain to be out of stock and have to tell people over and over we’re out. Make a plan to get the merchandise out as quickly as possible, pile it on tables, overfill rounders, but get it out of the boxes so customers can buy asap.

Your black and white judgments will get cloudy. Employees will want days off, customers will want to return items to get sale prices, your home office may make unreasonable demands – all these and more will need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Just be fair always and be compassionate when you can.

Weather affects everyone. The year I received the highest increase in sales at South Coast Plaza, the crew and I found customers to be in a rotten mood three days before Christmas. Nothing we said or did was good enough. We heard from a few customers that it was raining, but we couldn’t get a bead on what was wrong… that is until we got home and saw on the news that the rainstorm had flooded the freeways around the mall. Customers had had a miserable experience just getting off the freeway and getting into the parking lot. Cut your customers some slack; no one wants to be a pill.

Anchor the good days. You’ll have days where everything you touch turns to gold. Where every Good morning is greeted right back at you with a smile. Where every customer is delighted they met you, and sales are off the charts. Make sure at the end of that day that you reflect on those moments. This anchors the good times, so when bad happens, it has much less power.

Caffeine can only do so much for you. My crew used to buy the gigantic Cokes with the endless refills from the fast food joint downstairs. We’d draw straws every couple of hours to see who won the right to go downstairs for the refills. It wasn’t just the caffeine that made things better; it was the chance to leave the store and walk outside that kept us from feeling like we were in some big machine toiling away with no sense of time. Briefly get out of your store when you can.

In a nutshell – the way to enjoy this busy holiday season as a manager is:

Choose your attitude – You can make it The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year or Dawn of the Dead. It all depends on what you focus on.

Know your limits – You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Know when to say no.

Keep your crew up – Do something nice for your crew. Then buy a helium balloon and keep it in the backroom as a reminder that when it deflates, you have to do something nice for your crew again.

Accept your customers – There will be days you love all of them and days they are all flawed, but the fact is, they pay your wages.

Final Thought

When January hits, and your retail store is like a ghost town, you will long for the busy days when you missed lunch, when you jumped up and down because you blew your store goal away, and when you made someone else’s holiday.

Enjoy the ride.

Bob PhibbsWriter's Bio: Bob Phibbs is the Retail Doctor®, a best-selling author and speaker who has helped thousands of independent businesses compete. His new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business has received praise from both Inc. magazine and USA Today and can be found at your local bookstore or ordered at He and his work have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur magazine. Questions? Contact Bob at This article was reprinted with permission of the author, Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor®. Read more articles by this author


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