Back to Basics

When I was the CEO of a women’s specialty apparel retailer, one of our board members liked to use the term “blocking and tackling” when we discussed training and execution of operations in our store fleet of 165 locations. His business background was in oil, transportation and construction, which at first glance had little correlation or relevance to the fashion world. Yet his point made a lot of sense.

The term “blocking and tackling”, is defined as this, by (

“The basic, fundamental skills, tasks, or roles necessary to the function of something. Used especially in business, it is a reference to American football in which blockers and tacklers have the least glamorous positions but are critically important to the team as a whole.”

How very appropriate this is when looking at a retail store. The employees who stock the shelves, do the visual presentations, engage with customers, handle the inventory, clean the sales floor and ring the transactions are absolutely critical to the success of a retail store. In every type of retailer, from the smallest mom & pop to the largest big box, the store employees are vitally important. Especially in today’s technology focused environment

What? If the retail industry is racing down the path to better, faster, cooler high-tech solutions, why would a retailer need to focus on the physical store environment and the people who work there, when that business model appears to be trending towards obsolescence?

Why? Because there is a growing realization that just because we can (insert whatever technology feature of the moment), doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

There are so many offerings of software solutions that claim to be the key to solve a retailer’s challenges with inventory ownership, visibility across channels, endless aisle, shop-online-pick-up-in-store, mobile checkout; plus, all of the latest solutions to customize and personalize a retailer’s marketing and communication to their customers.

There is no doubt that in order to be a successful retailer today, technology is an important piece. However, technology will not save a retailer if the human side of the business is ignored. Retail is still a people business: the customers and the employees who serve them.

As the retail industry continues to evolve and change, each retailer needs to research and review what technology makes the most sense for their specific business, their customers and their employees. There are so many options, each with more bells and whistles than the one prior. But keep in mind that the slickest, newest, fastest technology won’t help at all if your customers don’t care about what it does for them, and it certainly won’t help if your employees don’t use it.

Continue to grow and develop your knowledge of what’s trending in the area of retail solutions, but always keep in mind that some of the best ideas often come from those who work for you on the front lines: your blockers and tacklers.

Recognize, invest in, and appreciate those on your team, no matter their title or position; because your people are your secret to success in surviving and thriving in the age of Amazon.