Art of Retail Management
Imagine a dogsled race where every team is well-led - except one. As that team starts, the middle dogs run faster than the lead dog. They quickly go up and over his back and, in the process, they tumble and topple the sled. The driver leaps off, rights the sled, untangles the dogs, and they're off once again. At the first junction, the driver signals a left turn. The lead dog obediently follows but the other dogs are certain the better path is to the right. They refuse.
Already, you could safely bet this team won't win. Even if you've never driven a dogsled, you know the principles for winning - the driver must know where to head, and his team must want to follow the leader's pace and direction. As Lakers coach Phil Jackson once said, "The strength of the wolf is the pack. The strength of the pack is the wolf." In other words: Each team member gives more from his heart when the whole team wants to follow the leader.
Whether you are the owner or manager, running a floor covering store essentially involves two roles from my dogsled analogy. First, you are the driver. You must provide the resources, love the dogs, and know the racecourse and the best path to the end. Second, you are also the lead-dog. You need to run in front of the pack, break new ground, and send back messages that each team-member can understand and follow. In either case, the dogs, must keenly believe in your leadership.
Employees who believe you can lead them to win will eagerly follow. They will pull hard but they will not run faster than the leader. That's good for keeping the team in sync, but it means you determine the speed. As our Eskimo brothers say, "The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack."
It's no news to you that companies advance faster when employees buy into the leader's vision of winning, and methods for winning. But few leaders manage to achieve it because it's hard to obtain buy-in. Buy-in requires leaders to clearly communicate their vision and methods. Speaking is not communicating. Communicating is transferring, by words and action, your message and your values to the team, until they sink "in." You've communicated when your employees take delivery of it, own it, and "enjoy it in common with you." In my experience, effective leaders communicate persistently, ceaselessly, relentlessly, and endlessly.
In fact, communication is the only way leaders can exercise their leadership. In my Inspiring Leadership seminar, I teach 10 leadership tactics - from hiring and firing, delegating and measuring, observing and evaluating, and rewarding and praising to probing, challenging, and coaching for skill development and exchanging good habits for bad. All these tactics aim at one target: Communicate until the employees buy-in. The leading cause of workplace failure is unclear expectations. The leader's expectations remain muddy until the leader has a clear vision and communicates it.
Recently, I worked with a storeowner who has masterfully communicated his vision and best practices. Shawn Bayat has directed Quality Carpet One in northeastern Virginia since 1989. Although the company now runs five showrooms, it's still a family business and feels intimate. Shawn knows almost all employees and their family members.
For several years, I've known Shawn and admired his numerous best practices. But, since working closely with him, I realize that central to his company's growth is his mastery of team-building and communicating. Shawn communicates his vision and expectations. Consequently, every employee knows what Shawn expects, and everyone takes pride in serving the community.
Shawn emigrated from Iran in 1987 with his parents and siblings. Although Shawn's father had served as an officer in the Iranian Air Force, he was willing to start out delivering pizzas with his sons, to make ends meet. Within two years, Shawn had moved on, studying for a career in medicine and working as a medical technician. However, the job didn't feel right, so he asked his father for $5,000 and his support to start a business. His father granted his wish.
In June 1989, Shawn opened Quality Carpet and Rug. Constant support from the whole family has helped Shawn grow the business. He says, "as long as we stick together, we can, and will do big things." In 1999, the company became a member of Carpet One. It now boasts five showrooms, in part because of Shawn's ability to communicate.
To communicate with customers, for example, Shawn created an impressive installation brochure. It explains, for each type of flooring, everything customers should expect on the day of installation.
To communicate to employees, managers meet them weekly, to review the company's vision, and train them how to act with customers. A company newsletter reinforces the vision and family values. Each month, they hold a separate training class for salespeople and one for installers. Employees also attend seminars offered by Carpet One University and Mohawk University. Such constant and consistent communication makes it hard not to know what is expected.
Although the company's annual revenues now exceed $16 million, Shawn says he is not finished improving his operation: "We don't want to be the biggest flooring retailer; we want to be the best! The best in customer service, and the best employment opportunity within a family-oriented atmosphere." In 2005, Quality Carpet One was recognized as the best mid-sized business in Prince William County.
In a company newsletter, Shawn described his life, from his youth in Iran to now. Recently, he had traveled to Iran and spoken with three friends. While in high school together, his friends had consistently achieved more than he did, yet they weren't successful in their careers. Shawn attributed his success to living in the United States of America, while they still live in a third-world country. He wrote, "Only in America can a family start their life with less than ten thousand dollars and within 15 years establish a business that employs over sixty people! ... As a humble friend, I strongly recommend you not to take this opportunity for granted. ... Remember you live in the greatest country on earth, United States of America!"
By such clear communication and smart, hard work, Shawn and his family have grown Quality Carpet One. They are living the American Dream and blessing 60 employees and their families.
In your company, how clearly do employees understand your expectations? Have you been regularly exercising your leadership and to get buy-in from your employees? Your leadership can provide amazing direction for your employees. Committed teams do things that my friend Dr. Louis Tartaglia calls "inexplicable." They work by synergy. That doesn't happen often, but it can happen in your company. "The speed of the leader is the speed of the company."
Extended Family: The staff of Quality Carpet One works in an environment that seems more in keeping with a small mom 'n' pop shop. The close connection between the staff and management is one reason why the company, which was started in 1989 with a $5,000 investment, is now a member of the Carpet One co-op and operates five showrooms.