“How To Leave Excuses Behind, Dig In, And Grow Retail Sales” by Bob Phibbs (The Retail Doctor)

“How To Leave Excuses Behind, Dig In, And Grow Retail Sales” by Bob Phibbs (The Retail Doctor)

As the pandemic ebbs in the USA, a growing number of retailers are finding excuses why they can’t move forward with their business as they’d like.

We’re SO busy.

We can’t get anyone to work.

Our vendors can’t ship.

We have too many customers.

I get it. As I predicted a while ago, the end of the lockdown would mean an accelerated push to buy – not just shop. Many retailers were unprepared then and are unprepared now.

You can leave excuses behind and plan for an even brighter future.

Many years ago I was working with a coffee franchise and we were looking for ways to grow retail sales.

We knew we had to maximize the traffic we already had and entice each customer to buy more than a cup of joe. We had to raise the average check.

I suggested we put in a merchandise line for the holidays which included s’mores tree ornaments.

Customers shopped as they waited for their drinks and the ornaments blew off the shelves. We had to re-order twice. We achieved our goal.

A week later we received a letter from the landlord telling us a retailer at the opposite side of the shopping center had complained we were carrying a gift line which was hurting her business.

She wanted us to stick to coffee. Geez.

Like there is a finite number of people looking for gifts and any sale we made meant it was one less for her.

Yesterday, I thought about that retailer and what happens when you are challenged by:

  • A new competitor
  • Not being able to find employees
  • A bad online review
  • A line you carry being picked up by someone nearby
  • The loss of a good employee
  • A tsunami of customers

When those things happen, you have a choice to either dig in to see what you can do to rally and turn things around or give in, stay stuck and create excuses to make yourself feel better.

Let’s face it, when it comes to Retail Managementdigging in often means work. Giving in is easy and here’s how the excuses show up:

  • You discover a salesperson whose first response to a customer’s question is no.
  • You listen to a manager saying my hands are tied.
  • You get on private retailer groups and bemoan problems most anyone could have if they really thought about it.
  • Or you want to write an invective note to a vendor for treating you poorly, reply to an online reviewer to justify yourself, or torch your personal relationship with employees.

scapegoat blame retail salesIn short, you find a scapegoat to help you feel better about yourself. It’s someone else’s fault, and there’s nothing you can do.

I know, I’ve been there myself.


When such moments happen to you, you need to realize you are facing a moment-of-truth choice. 

You can either dig in and add something to fight your competition, or you can settle back with excuses and distract yourself from changing anything.

When employees perform at minimal levels, they too have avoided trying to dig in and find a way to make a sale.

When you dig in as a salesperson in a retail store, you push past what might have happened previously with another customer, and find a way to first say yes.

When you dig in and look at a vendor’s motivations for selling to one of your competitors, you realize it is just business and look for ways to become more valuable to them, not less.

When you dig in and build an ideal schedule and then creatively find ways to attract and pay the best, you realize what success will look like.

When you dig in and look at a bad online review, you push past the bad feelings and look for the nugget of truth to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

And if you see your numbers not stacking up like you hoped they would, you dig in and do the hard work to discover just what the customer experience is in your store.  

When you see the opportunities to create an exceptional experience and then work to make them a reality every day, then every day is a chance to move forward.

And this choice to make progress or make excuses isn’t just for retailers; sales reps often give excuses as to why their accounts won’t listen to them about changing their merchandising, marketing or floorplans.

When you dig in as a sales representative, you look at each individual account to see what is keeping those retailers from taking your suggestions. From their viewpoint, you find a way to be a trusted advisor, not just a guy schlepping merchandise.

If you’re a sales rep, you’ll hear your dealers say they just want easy answers to getting more customers in their door. Or they are getting so many customers, people are leaving.

The place to dig in is by asking yourself why customers aren’t coming in the first place. Was it the experience or the dealer’s lack of marketing?

And one of the challenges of independent retailers is that they don’t live with the threat of a boss firing them.

They are the boss and they won’t fire themselves.

At the corporate level, everyone from the CEO down lives with this threat of being fired and actively has someone over them to keep them digging in.

When the employee doesn’t feel like digging in anymore or doesn’t seem curious to find answers, they’re gone.

Some retail dealers wait until customers have stopped coming before they dig in.

By then many times, it is too late.  

With the pandemic easing and with the labor force slowly returning, hiring will be rocky in the coming months – but it never is easy to run a business.

The reality for all of us is that you don’t get creative when everything is fine; you get creative because everything isn’t fine.

See also, Sales Training: Grow Sales With Analogies

In Sum

Big changes come in the little moments,

When you walk in to see a cluttered store…

When reading a review about your curt employee…

When you discover your products at another store…

When there is a crush of inquiries to your website and in-store…

When your department’s numbers are down, your turnover is high, and your online marketing efforts aren’t working.

Don’t be complacent!

Check yourself at that moment of truth when you should see change is needed. At that nanosecond, explore the following…

Could this be a time I need to look at my own part in what has happened? If so, is this the kick in the butt I need to focus my attention on doing better? 


Am I holding on to a feeling of helplessness at changing the situation to feel better about myself? And if I am, what does that say about my own self-image?

Sit with the feeling for a bit. No knee-jerk reactions. Just. Own. It.

When you do that, those feelings can spur you to new ideas and plans. You’ll be able to see a rush of possibilities once the betrayal, anger, and let’s be honest fear, dissipate.

When the why is big enough, the hows show up.

You ask yourself the right questions…   

How can we develop a customer service process that makes customers rave? 

How can we make everyone feel as if, for those few minutes of an interaction, that they are the most important person in the world?

What type of retail sales training program should we use to train retail staff to sell?

If you truly are looking for how to grow retail sales, it’s at that moment you must make the critical choice and do the work of digging in.

Although the Retail Doctor is not currently a Supporting Vendor Partner of BRA, we value his relevant retail insight and encourage you to learn more about his offerings on his website:

– Doug Works, Executive Director BRA

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