Lessons From Sam Walton

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart

This is the first in a series of posts on what I like to refer to as Retail DNA.  This is a new category and something I will write on from time to time.  Some owners of retail businesses seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to running their business. They approach things differently.  They don’t need to be told, they figure these things out on their own.  It’s like it’s part of their DNA.  The good news is, the rest of us can learn from them.  We are going to look at a few of my favorites, I hope you enjoy the ride and let me know what you think.

Now this different approach applies to the way they treat both their staff and their customers. If you read Sam Walton’s autobiography “Sam Walton: Made in America” you will learn from one of history’s greatest retailers. I read the book many years ago and there are lessons that are part of the fundamentals I use when working with a retail client.

First, let me say that this post is not intended to be part of any discussion about how Wal-Mart is perceived today in terms of their treatment of employees.  I am aware there are opinions on both sides but this is not something I have studied and therefore am not qualified to weigh in.  This post is meant to share some thoughts and ideas that you can apply to your own retail business.

Now back to my example. Many business owners keep information from their front line staff. The fear is that the information might be misused or competitors might learn this inside information. Sam Walton respected his front line staff. They weren’t clerks they were associates and he shared information. My daughter early in her working life worked in a Walmart store. She wasn’t “part-time” she was a “prime-time” employee.  On her first day on the job was told exactly what that stores sales were the previous day. Sam felt there was value in sharing the information with everyone as it made them feel an important part of the success of the store. This benefit far outweighed any possible damage that might occur from people outside the company gaining access to the information.

Make your employees feel that they are important to your success.  Share information with them and give them an opportunity to show you what they are capable of.

Cellular Service Sucks

Canadian cellular phone companies really annoy me.  In terms of plans on offer, customers that are new to the provider get better deals than the existing customers.  It’s been this way for some time.  I was originally a Rogers customer and switched to Bell.  This was back when numbers weren’t portable so I had to change my number when I made the move but I was annoyed with the service and a clerk in a Roger’s mall kiosk admitted that new customers were offered better deals.

I recently went through a “hardware upgrade.”  I was nearing the end of my three year contract and after doing some research had decided to get the new iPhone 4.  I went to a Bell corporate store, and spoke with a clerk.  I told her which phone I wanted.  They didn’t have any but she took  my name and I was added to “the list.”  Apparently I was in the cue early because about a week after I was in the store, Bell started demanding a deposit before they would add you to “the list.”

At any rate, after waiting for weeks, I received a phone call from the clerk.  She said she had two questions for me, first, did I want the 16-gig or the 32-gig phone (my answer was I would take whatever they had).  The second question, was I a current Bell customer or would I be a new customer.  When I answered that I was a current Bell customer she quickly said she was sorry but she didn’t have a phone for me.  WHAT!!!!  OUTRAGEOUS!!!!

I phoned the 800-number to complain and was told they couldn’t do anything for me.  I phone back and complained to the store manager.  She explained that some phones are allocated to existing customers and some to new customers and then offered to see what she could do for me.  She phone back later that day and said there we no phone available and she couldn’t help me.  That was almost three months ago and I still haven’t received a call from them telling me they have an iPhone for me.

In almost every circumstance I recommend you look after your existing customers first.  It’s much better and usually much easier to get a larger share of a customer’s business that it is to win a new customer.  Bell had access to my activity with them over many years as their customer, how much airtime and data I use.  They know not only my usage and how much I paid them every year but they also know my payment history.

New players have entered and more are coming.  As consumers we can hope that the competition makes the industry better.  What did I end up doing?  Well I went to an independent dealer, got an Android phone.  I’m still with Bell but the plan they got me costs me about half what I was paying on my old plan.  Bell seems to put you on the plan that’s best for Bell while the dealer put me on a plan that’s best for me.