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Red herrings and scapegoats

x-defaultApportioning blame is the latest red herring offered by failing retailers of late. If it’s not the fault of online sales it’s because of the weather or the economic climate or a multitude of other pretexts. The irony of the excuse about the influx of international traders conflicts with the very reasons they appeared on our shores. The fact is for every underperforming brand, there are others excelling within the same niche.

The telltale signs of an ailing retailer are the regular replacement of the top echelon of leadership followed by store management’s expulsions in the erroneous belief they are the sole cause of the problem. This results in the catastrophic downward spiral of cutting resource, stock depletion and disinvestment in crucial areas. Often accompanied by a ludicrous spree of speculation outside of the core business and a distraction away from identity and what’s left of a loyal consumer base.

Very few pursue the painful process of self-reflection before hunting for suitable if not believable scapegoats. Or are able to summon the courage to act upon issues afflicting them in any hope of redemption. They would do better widening their cast of consultants from the traditional clique of ‘yes’ collaborators and advisors to include the shop floor practitioner, back area specialist, truck drivers and other vital cogs of the enterprise. Personnel with an intimate and detailed understanding of what they do and more often than not how to improve it. Above all listening to the instore customer, not faceless cyber contacts or the anonymous mishmash of preconceived surveys.

The downfall to not removing the ‘yes’ brigade is it prevents business from turning itself around. For their agenda is self-preservation at all costs not just of themselves but also the old school tie groups they lead. Usually, middle management factions resist change by administering ambiguity and bureaucracy in their quest for mediocrity. An indiscriminate collective who pervert communication between strategy and operations in a bid to maintain an ambivalent status quo, for they have no purchase or place of refuge in an open and dynamic environment.

The byproducts of this poisonous ensemble are dreary stores, predictable old-faithful product ranges, poor duplication of competitors, a tired marketing blueprint and the inevitable disengaged workforce. Inordinately wrapped in delusions of grandeur and deception by public display that all is well.

Triumphant turnarounds muster the fortitude to remove the malignancy by empowering individual participation through honesty and openness. By encouraging innovation, embracing a culture of inclusivity and striving for diversity via meaningful leadership. Differentiating the experienced and dedicated team member from the apathetic canker.

Before seeking an external influence by means of justification of underperformance ensure the back of house is in order in case the three fingers pointing backwards expose true shortcomings.

Retail is about people, for people by the people.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on

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