Running a multi-store retail business is no walk in the park, but with the right tools, process, and people, you’ll find that the tasks that come with managing several stores are actually quite doable.
In the following paragraphs, we’ll talk about some of the steps you can take to ensure that all your stores run smoothly under your watch. Below are 8 tips to help you become a multi-outlet retail boss:
1. Do business in the cloud
Technology-wise, the best thing you can do for your multi-store business is to run it in the cloud. Since cloud-based solutions don’t “live” in any one machine, they allow you to access the tools and data you need from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. So whether you’re in one of your stores, at home, or even on the go, checking in on your other branches or your operation as a whole is as easy as logging into the system.
Additionally, cloud software can reflect and update data in real-time, so information such as stock levels and sales are always up-to-date. This is quite powerful, especially for larger retailers. Having up-to-the-minute information on how your business is doing will enable you to get a more accurate view of store performance and help you better understand your business.
Your data is also safer in the cloud. Since information isn’t tied down to a local device, you minimize the risk of losing your data in the event that something happens to your devices (i.e. they get stolen or suddenly stop working).
Plus, finding cloud-based tools for your business has never been easier. Whether you’re looking for a multi-store point of sale system, accounting software, or a customer management solution, you’ll find that you have plenty of options.
Just be sure to choose your tools wisely. If you’re using multiple cloud-based tools, it’s best to pick solutions that can integrate with each other. You’ll want your systems to be able to “talk” to each other and seamlessly transfer data from one program to the next, so you won’t have to worry about re-entering any information.
Vend, for instance, can integrate with accounting solutions such as Xero and Quickbooks Online, enabling retailers to easily sync up their financial information between their POS and accounting software.
Evaluate the programs that you’re currently using. Are there any tools that should be moved to the cloud? Can your apps “talk” to each other, and do they give you the multi-store data you need at any given time? If you spot any shortcomings in the system that you currently have, start exploring solutions that’ll help you run your business more efficiently.
2. Optimize inventory across all your locations
Inventory optimization is crucial, not just when it comes to running multiple stores, but also in terms of customer service. You need to know how much stock each store has at any given time in order to maintain healthy inventory levels across all your locations.
And in the event that a customer can’t find a particular product, size, or color in one location, you’ll want to have the ability to check if other branches have it, so you can either direct the shopper an alternative location, or have the items shipped to your store or their home.
This is why it’s important to have an inventory system that makes it easy for you to conduct inventory look up or transfers across different locations. Doing so will not only help you stock up your stores properly, but it’ll enable you to serve your customers better. It would also be helpful to have the ability to track inventory in transit, as this will let you know where products are at all times, so you can make the necessary preparations.
Again, having a cloud-based solution will help you accomplish the above tasks. As we mentioned earlier, such solutions enable you to view information from anywhere, which means you can easily look up inventory information for different stores no matter where you are.
Ensure that your inventory management system lets you track and transfer stock across locations with ease. Can you find out how much inventory each store has at any given time? Are you able to order or transfer products easily? If not, consider checking out other solutions that can.
3. Establish standard operating procedures for all your stores
You may be operating in multiple locations, but you’ll want to make sure that all your stores have just one way of doing things. This makes them more manageable and allows your customers to have a consistent experience with your brand.
Start establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for how policies and activities should be carried out in your stores. The types of SOPs as well as how they’re implemented will vary, depending on the business, but for retailers, SOPs should typically cover the following:
- Monetary transactions – This should cover anything that concerns monetary handling at your store, including the types of payments you accept, your procedures for processing refunds and returns, how often you close the register, etc.
- Customer service – You need to establish procedures around customer service. Outline instructions and policies on how your staff should behave, the things they can and can’t say, as well as what to do when customers get difficult.
- Safety and Security – Make sure you have the proper procedures that would keep your staff and customers safe and secure. These procedures should cover basic issues, such as who’s in charge of opening and closing the store, as well as more complex situations, including dealing with shoplifters or what to do in the event of a natural disaster or any other emergency.
- Layout and merchandising – Your layout and merchandising SOP should detail how merchandise should appear at your store. It should answer questions like: How should items be displayed on the floor and what fixtures can you use? Should pants be folded or hung? How often should you update your layout and displays?
Once you’ve come up with those procedures, document them. Create a shared file using Google Docs, or use a project management system that lets you track and carry out your processes from one place.
4. Make sure you hire the best people to take charge when you’re not around
You obviously can’t be in multiple locations at ones, so you’ll have to make sure that you leave each store in capable hands.
The best way to accomplish this is to hire and train the right people. You’ll need to spend a lot of time vetting the employees you bring on board, and you’ll have to devote considerable resources in training them.
One thing you can do, according to Jennifer Martin of Zest Business Consulting, is to start training employees for new location at your existing ones. She says that retailers should also “consider promoting from within if you already have some key players who embody your brand and can be trusted to carry out your objectives.”
If you can’t train people at your original location or are having difficulties getting existing employees to man your other stores, you’ll need to establish a robust training program to get people up to speed. Consider online training or have one of your seasoned employees carry it out.
5. Check in regularly with all your stores
The cliché “out of sight, out of mind” can easily become true when you’re running several stores. That’s why regular communication is critical when you’re a multi-outlet retailer. If you can, conduct regular site visits so you can see first-hand how each store is doing. If this isn’t feasible, then at least jump on regular calls with store managers so you can see how they’re doing. Be sure to have an agenda for each
You also need to closely monitor each store’s performance. Run store-specific reports on a regular basis, and see to it that you always have a handle on each locations:
- Sales (per hour, day, month, as well as per square foot)
- Best (and worst) products
- Staff performance
Regularly monitoring these metrics will allow you to have a clear understanding of how each store is doing even if you can’t be there yourself.
Make it a point to check-in with all your stores on a regular basis. Conduct site visits or phone calls to see how they’re doing. Also be sure to run reports on each location so you always have a handle on the numbers behind your stores. Need more information on the important retail metrics?
6. Design a winning multi-store experience
A major component of running multiple stores requires having the right balance between consistency and localization. Your stores need to offer a consistent experience for your customers, while providing a local feel at the same time.
It’s a tricky balance, but you can acheive it by having strong and consisent brand values and general policies. For example, your brand’s story and the things that your business stands for should be consistent across all your stores.
General policies around handing returns and customer concerns should also be the same. The last thing you want is for shoppers to experience different policies and rules when they shop in various locations.
However, you can have more flexibility when it comes to things like inventory, promotions, and merchandising. The products you stock and how they’re displayed must relfect the local communities to which your stores belong.
A store that’s frequented by students for example, will have different offerings than a store branch that’s located in an office building.
To stay on top of your local offerings, pay close attention to the sales and product movements of each location. Every store may have its own best-sellers, for example. You need to cognizant of these things, so you can make decisions around what to stock in each store, and which locations should a sale.
“One challenge we always take seriously is in making sure each store is a positive reflection of its local community. We are not a cookie-cutter brand and our team are proud and unique personalities — this must be reflected in each location and that store must feel a part of its environment — we take our role in the neighbourhoods we are in seriously,” says Benny Castles, co-director and designer at WORLD.
To address this challenge, Benny says they rely on their retail system’s reporting capabilities to figure out how to stock their locations.
“We use the reporting within Vend constantly, both Inventory and Sales, to help predict sales and make ordering more consistent. The report function is great to craft specific insights or a broader view of the sales within the business.”
He continues, “We hold stock across our stores and workroom so being able to support each other with real time stock knowledge and efficient stock movements are key in making sure our service is supported and of high quality.”
7. Bring in a third party (ex: secret shopper) to evaluate your stores
While looking at numbers and analytics can certainly help you get a solid view of each store’s performance, it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a third party to evaluate each location. Sometimes, you and your employees could be too close to the business to be objective, so it’s best to have someone on the outside weigh in.
Hire a secret shopper or consultant to step in and evaluate each store. How’s the product selection? Are the associates helpful and knowledgeable enough? Is the store or brand experience consistent across multiple locations? These are just some of the questions that should aim to answer when they report back to you.
8. Streamline your communications
Running multiple retail locations means you need to keep several teams on the same page. Communication is key, particularly when you’re relaying information on store policies, promotions, and critical employee information.
Using a reliable communications platform is critical to ensuring that your messages reach the right people. Having your messages all over the place — i.e., emails, SMS, voice calls — could result in missed memos or misunderstandings.
Got any other tips for managing a multi-store retail business? Share them in the comments.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend’s Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She’s also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.