As the role of the store manager becomes increasingly experiential, Drapers explores how this crucial customer-facing position is changing.
Over the past six months, a wave of high street retailers have revealed their aims to restructure in-store management.
Last October, New Look announced plans to cull 390 store management roles, and Arcadia Group confirmed in January that it had begun consultation on a strategy to axe separate brand manager positions in dual-fascia Topman/Topshop stores. Last month, Debenhams announced that more than 300 store management roles were facing the chop.
Cost-cutting might be necessary, but a store manager’s ability to deliver top-notch customer service and memorable in-store experiences is increasingly important as retailers battle to ensure their bricks-and-mortar offer can compete with online.
Store managers have to stay on top of the latest technological developments and the demands of omnichannel retail, and oversee the experiential aspect of retail to draw customers in store. This is on top of the traditional functions of managing stock, store and staff, and meeting sales targets.
The position of store manager is an essential one, and is recognised as such by many retailers.
Jeremy Leaf, vice-president of retail for Europe at Levi Strauss & Co, believes store manager positions will continue to provide a route to head office roles: “A store manager has a broad skill set. At Levi’s, we are always trying to get closer to the consumer, and there’s no one closer than the in-store teams.”
Megan Bridger, senior consultant at luxury retail recruiter Four Seasons Recruitment, says that, in London at least, fashion retailers’ demand for store managers remains strong, and it can be a coveted position: “Great store managers stay for a long time – we have luxury and premium brands where store managers have been with the business for more than 20 years. They are involved in buying trips, store relocations, training and head office contact, and their jobs are huge and very involving.”
She predicts: “This will become one of the most important roles – it is highly visible and really will be a case of ‘the greatest showman’.”
Drapers considers the new skill sets demanded of today’s store manager.
Adjusting to ominchannel
The continued growth of online retail means the role of the store is changing – customers are as likely to come to your store to collect an online purchase as they are to browse and buy.
Karen Luton, retail director at plus-size retailer Yours Clothing, says in-store teams are crucial for an omnichannel business model: “We drive a huge amount of footfall through click-and-collect, and we’ve educated our teams to see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. When a customer comes in store to collect a parcel, our shop teams know what the customer has ordered, and are able to strike up a dialogue. This helps generate additional sales in store.”
Gary Scott, owner of independent retailer Bored of Southsea, which has two UK stores, agrees that the influence of online retail is spilling over into bricks-and-mortar stores. He cites the empowerment of consumers through technology as a key driver: “They demand more and more information. They’re able to research products online in seconds, and the physical experience has to compete with that.”
Today’s store managers need to be prepared for savvy, informed shoppers who have done research online before entering the shop. And it is essential that they educate their teams to see click-and-collect as an opportunity to build relationships and upsell – not something that detracts from the business of the store.
The host with the most
Attracting footfall with experiential in-store events is a growing part of a manager’s role, as consumers look for a memorable shopping experience. Retailers are becoming increasingly inventive in a bid to inject some retail theatre into bricks-and-mortar.
Levi Strauss & Co’s Jeremy Leaf says: “We think the future of retail will be centred around experience, and in-store staff will be a huge part of whether that’s successful. Managers need a wide range of skills to create amazing experiences for consumers visiting the store.”
Geoff Wilson, brand strategy director at marketing agency Household, which has worked with companies such as Amazon and Christian Louboutin, says these changes mean the store manager will have to evolve from business facilitator to “creative host”’: “Deriving skills that straddle hospitality and theatre, the future store manager’s ‘creative hosting’ role will be to enhance the customer experience of the venue, the service and products themselves.”
He cites shaping the layout, facilities and feel of the shop as examples of a store manager’s new responsibilities.
These creative store managers are essential for driving brands forward, says Four Seasons Recruitment’s Megan Bridger:
“Store managers must be passionate about the brand and have huge awareness of their competitors and what they are doing – driving ideas such as CRM [customer relationship management] and events, and different initiatives for getting customers into store and encouraging loyalty.”
Tackling tech changes
Sandrine Deveaux, managing director of Farfetch’s Store of the Future programme, which brings technology tools such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) clothing rails into stores, argues technology is allowing staff to build closer relationships with customers.
“By automating processes such as checking stock and inventory, and immediately understanding a customers’ brand preferences or sizes, store staff can spend more time helping customers find pieces they love and immersing them into a brand’s world,” she says.
Moreover, the shift to an omnichannel business model and growth of in-store technology has added new skills requirements to the role of the store manager.
It is less about organisational functions and more about data – knowledge of ecommerce platforms, inventory software and social media is key.
As Anusha Couttigane, senior fashion analyst at Kantar Consulting, says: “Tasks that once required more manual checks and supervision, such as stock taking, are now far more automated.
“However, businesses are relying on store managers to feed into big data pictures and, on the flipside, act directly on opportunities thrown up by data trends at store level.”
Couttigane cites the example of using knowledge of real-time inventories to reach out to regular customers who are interested in specific ranges – a task increasingly executed using social media.
Bored of Southsea’s Gary Scott adds that marketing is a growing part of the role of store managers at independent retailers: “Social media, how the online store is indexing with Google, how online sales are going – there’s constantly more to be done.”
It is no longer enough for a store manager to simply know their store’s stock levels and replenish pieces accordingly. As that task becomes increasingly automated, the manager is expected to make greater use of the data that automation offers them.
Despite its new responsibilities, the store manager role is still customer facing: there is a huge opportunity to be more in touch with customers now some of the more mundane tasks have been automated.
Yours Clothing’s Karen Luton says managers must not be too removed from day-to-day operations: “We need a renaissance of grassroots retailing. You need to have business acumen, but you’ve also got to be a people person and create a fun environment for your customers and sales team.”
Levi Strauss & Co’s Jeremy Leaf says store managers “are a critical part of driving the brand experience” and connecting with customers.
And as events draw customers in, it is the responsibility of the manager to ensure those customers are treated well.
As Bored of Southsea’s Gary Scott says: “Experience is becoming the main reason people choose to shop in store. Customer servicehas to be more on point than ever.”