To Stay Current, Talk to Your People and Customers

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To Stay Current, Talk to Your People and Customers

By Harry Stagnito - 01/02/2013

We've witnessed a major transformation of retail industry strategies during the past several years. Key points of change include the pursuit for size and scale being tempered by niche and focus, volumes of information condensed to meaningful, interpretive shopper insights, and technology aids intended to increase revenue rather than to primarily reduce costs.

At the same time, today's middle management is more important than top management in the success or failure of your strategic plan. Why? The closer to the customer your personnel are, the more they understand and can influence the customer's attitudes and buying habits. Day-to-day customers are more loyal to the store than to the product mix, or even to pricing. So how does your business translate these trends into a realistic and viable model for sustainable growth?

Here's my response: Get out in your stores, and talk to your people and your customers.

We're at the mercy of those employees closest to the customer–and to all of the filters of communication from them to us. The bigger the company, the more difficult the communication process is to manage.

John Mackey, co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market, emphasizes a vision of operating with a higher sense of purpose, a belief in a decentralized management system and complete transparency with employees. For him, this equates to regular store visits.

Dean Durling, chairman, president and CEO of Quick Chek Corp., was recently inducted into Stagnito's Convenience Store News Hall of Fame. He told me he annually visits all of his 130 stores in New York and New Jersey. He schedules 12 stores a day, spaced over the year. He also meets with employees individually when they are hired. The result is that he is able to monitor and lead the company culture, while measuring the pulse of his business.

Tom Peters, world famous business author and consultant, plainly and clearly states:

Get the hell out of the office! Unplug the computer! Put your cell phone in the drawer!

Chat up anybody whose path you cross...especially if they are not among your normal "chatees."

Go strolling in parts of your organization where you normally don't stroll. Slow down. Stop. Chat.

So, here's the challenge:

  • Hear firsthand what your customers think about your stores.
  • Better understand what your point of difference should be.
  • Brand your business to match customer expectations.
  • Don't make the Tesco mistake: It didn't understand its customer culture and that what worked in the past wouldn't work in the future.
  • See on site, with your own eyes, whether your current business model is relevant in today's marketplace.

I'll see you in one of your stores.


We're at the mercy of those employees closest to the customer–and to all of the filters of communication from them to us. The bigger the company, the more difficult the communication process is to manage.

– Harry Stagnito,

President and CEO, Stagnito Media