Retailing is an Art


Retail is not a science—it is an ART. As we find in all of the arts, it is subjective. How we apply the fundamental rules is always changing as is the economy, the customer and even our staff. Sometimes even the rules change—for example the growth of Amazon and eBooks as competition to local bookstores. Only those retailers with flexibility, creativity, and an understanding that goes deeper than a “recipe” mentality will succeed.

Twan van de Kerhof wrote:

For leaders this [letting go of the recipe] is not an easy journey. It requires guts to stand apart from the marching crowd and look inside. Leaders are used to operating from their egos. For them it is even harder than for most people to let go of their winning formula. This can evoke deep fears. The expectations their followers have of them make the journey even more complicated. . . leaders need to be strong in order to let go of all these projections and follow their own [intuitive] path.[1]

There are real things in life that simply can’t be expressed as formulas. Retail is one of those. Successful (and yes, profitable) retailing is not a science. It is an art. If you look for static formulas, you’ll be disappointed and unsuccessful. Let your instincts grow as you get to know your customers and how you can best serve them. Let your instincts grow as you respond to external events or landscape changes.

Most importantly, be flexible. Your ultimate target—the customer—is always changing and while a formula will work with this customer, it may not work with new customers or customers in different demographic definitions.

Lastly, do what it takes to ignite thought, creativity and experimentation into your store. Retail is a wonderful place to try something and if it doesn’t work, quickly change it and try something else. You can do this from product offerings and display to events and special promotions. If something doesn’t work, be inquisitive. Do some quick analysis with just a few questions—why it didn’t work?  What did you learn? How could you improve? Was it bad execution of a good idea, or just an impractical attempt?

In my experience consulting with retail clients I unfortunately find that most people don’t fail to reach success because they can’t achieve it. They fail because they give up. They aren’t flexible, and they don’t ignite quality thinking.

Simply, if an idea doesn’t work find out why (not blame, but truly why) and add the learning to your experience.

Retailing is an art. It takes creativity, flexibility and intuition to be successful. Yes, there are some basics to learn, but as you interact with customers, let your instinct tell you what they need and then fill that need.


[1] Twan van de Kerhof, The You Leadership: An Intuitive Approach to Effective Business Leadership, (London: LID Publishing Ltd., 2013), eBook edition


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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

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