Visiting stores: “Inspect what you expect”

Today’s Retail Wire discussion focuses on an article from Sunday’s New York Times about Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy’s. He discusses why it’s important for him to make frequent store visits (usually unannounced), and my comment today picks up on the theme:

There is no better way for a retailer to learn than to shop his or her own stores. The trick is for a high-level executive to see the store experience through the eyes of the customer, even though the “unvarnished truth” might not be attractive. Decisions made at corporate headquarters about content, staffing and presentation are done in a vacuum unless somebody inspects the consequences. Mr. Lundgren might be considered “old school” in his approach, but he is 100% right.

Unannounced visits, such as the ones Mr. Lundgren describes in the interview, are more likely to be revealing than “state occasion” tours, where the store management has had a chance to spruce things up, beef up the staffing (for a day) and prepare a bunch of reports. It’s important for big and increasingly centralized companies like Macy’s to instill the culture of “inspect what you expect” throughout the headquarters organization. There are many people at the start of their retail careers who are moving through the planning and buying ranks, without the “real world” grounding in store operations or the perspective needed beyond their computer screen.

One more point since my original Retail Wire posting: I wonder how much “unvarnished truth” Mr. Lundgren experiences in his stores, and whether his store team has developed a system for giving managers at least a partial “heads-up” that he is arriving. Plenty of the Retail Wire panelists complained about their own experiences in Macy’s stores…and I recently visited Water Tower Place in Chicago on President’s Day weekend. The housekeeping, dressing room conditions and overall attitude among sales associates were appalling. Let’s hope that Mr. Lundgren’s message is conveyed to his management team, not just to the New York Times.

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