Questions Retailers Should Ask to Better Business

By Donald Cooper

Business success is not an accident. It’s the result of being realistic about where your company is now, clear on what you want it to become in the next three to five years, and then committing to reach your goal.

Now is the time to work on your business, not just in it. To get started, sit down with a few of your best employees and invest a few hours to answer these 12 sets of questions as a team. While simple, some of the answers will not be. Where necessary, allocate homework and research assignments to members of your team to gather more information and innovative thoughts.

1. What bottom line profit do we commit to generate this year that will keep the business financially healthy and allow us to fairly reward everyone on our team for their time, effort and investment? What sales and gross margin must we achieve to generate that bottom line?

2. What are the six to 10 most important things we need to do to improve or grow our business this year, so that we achieve our sales, gross margin and profit commitment? How will we implement these changes and by when? Who will be responsible for each of the activities or changes that we agree to implement?

3. What are three to six things we currently do that annoy our target customers or destroy customer trust? What will we do to eliminate them? How do we not just ‘fix’ these things but turn them around so they become a powerful competitive advantage? By when do we commit to do this? Who will be responsible for each of them?

4. What additional products, services or experiences would make us more helpful and/or valuable to our target customers? How can we profitably develop, add and implement these? When do we commit to do this by? Who will be responsible for each of them?

5. What are three to six things our competitors do better than us? By when will we determine what those things are and what we’ll do to either be better than our competitors or to counter with other more relevant value propositions? Who will be responsible for each of them?

6. What three to six things could we do to make doing business with us not all about price? What functional or emotional value can we create, or what extraordinary service or amenities can we add, that will grab our target customers? By when do we commit to develop some bold, innovative ideas? Who will be responsible for analyzing each idea put forward?

7. What three to six things can we do to communicate our total value offering in a way that captures our target customers and more effectively promotes our business? By when do we commit to have developed this more effective way of communicating our compelling value story? Who will be responsible for analyzing each idea put forward?

8. What are six of our biggest expense items that we can save money on? How and by when will we achieve those savings? Who will be responsible for this project?

9. What three to six things can we do to become ‘greener?’ Who will be responsible for collecting and analyzing ideas generated and supervising implementation of each idea that is approved? By when will we implement approved ideas?

10. What three to six things can we do to improve internal written and verbal communications so we can operate more effectively, increase employee engagement, and improve clarity about our commitments to customers, each other and the bottom line? Who will be responsible for collecting and analyzing ideas generated and supervising implementation of each idea that’s approved? By when will we implement approved ideas?

11. What are the most important new technologies and systems that we need to bring into our business? How will we implement these technologies and systems and by when? Do we have a technology ‘hero’ who constantly coaches and challenges us to get and stay ahead in both operational technology, systems and marketing, and social media? If not, who are ideal candidates?

12. What training, development or mentoring does each team member need to help them grow, serve customers better and operate more effectively? By when will we determine what that training, development or mentoring will be for each person and how will it be implemented? Who will be responsible for this important project?

For each idea you come up with and commit to, be precise about what will be done, by whom, by when, at what expense, and how it will be measured and rewarded to make it happen. The more specific you are about your commitments, the better your results will be.

Here are three examples of what clear commitments should look like:

  • We will grow sales by $800,000 in the next 12 months, while not increasing sales and marketing expenses by more than four per cent.
  • We will reduce operating expenses by $50,000 in the next six months, without diminishing our customer service or employment experience.
  • We will improve delivery on ‘rush orders’ by four hours within three months, without increasing our shipping expense by more than $12,000 a year.

Failure to implement effectively is one of the biggest challenges that businesses face today. Stop retreating to the familiar, doing the easy day-to-day stuff and hoping for better results. Remember, we get what we work for, not what we hope for.

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now a Toronto-based business speaker and coach, he helps business owners and managers rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability. Donald can be reached at donald@donaldcooper.com.

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