What I Learned As a Retail Business Owner



What I Learned By Having My Own Retail Business

I have been in retail for many years, in the Summer of 2015 I opened three pop up retail locations and one semi-permanent location. I soft-opened Cotton Candy Fashion’s Home Store on June 1st and opened three true pop up locations the following week. The three pop-up’s closed the Tuesday following Labor Day. My Home Store will be closing on January 7th 2016. I made this investment for a couple of reasons:

First: I have very limited apparel experience on my resume. Most of my apparel experience revolves around children’s apparel – which, to me, is mini-grown up apparel but, unfortunately, adult retailers don’t see it that way. I wanted to infuse some current experience into my present resume.

Next: It was a challenge. I have worked for an amazing company since 2012 and I have an amazing boss who allows for work/life balance and because of that balance and her support, allowed me to take on this challenge and devote time needed to it.

Then: I have a very interesting and varied background in retail. I have worked in lots of customer service, operational, HR, and visual roles but I had never been exposed to buying, replenishment, allocation, or the financial areas in retail (payroll, benefits, accounts payable). This allowed me to stretch myself and develop skills in areas that were unfamiliar to me.

Finally: I had such an unpleasant experience with a dysfunctional retailer that I was questioning if this was an industry I wanted to continue with. The culture was so negative and ugly that I felt like it changed my leadership style. I wanted to create a workplace that was conducive to customer service, respect, fun, happiness, consistency, resilience, alignment, and growth. (Spoiler – it was possible and it restored my passion for retail).


It was…so much fun. It absolutely allowed me to use my strengths to build and drive a profitable business based on customer experience, very fair price points, fun/trendy apparel and accessories. Test out two styles of payroll programs. Build a culture that everyone felt a part of, and a loyalty to, that was based on company values and vision. Foster a respectful and inclusive workplace, recognition and reward for contribution. I was able to test out incentive programs that had a positive impact on our service, retention, and absenteeism/attendance rates. My season’s turnover was a very low 7%.

Going into this project I thought I had truly challenged myself in all areas of retail. I felt I had “done it all”. That was definitely not the case. I identified my strengths and I certainly was humbled by the areas of the business that I had previously taken for granted as “easy” or “unimportant”. Areas that I had the opportunity to train in but thought it too basic to need my attention. So untrue. There are some parts of the business that I was really lacking in. Which is great as it gives me the motivation to learn those areas, to find out what I was doing so incorrectly, and to improve.

There were a few things that I was very excited to try:

Formal Peer-To-Peer Recognition Program
-I have never seen a group of people in different locations bond so quickly
-There was tremendous level of respect and support throughout the teams
-Our values were actionable and associated behaviors were recognized daily
-We had recognition tee’s made with our values on them, our team members were determined to get the whole series
-Top Contributors were also recognized by me and rewarded for performance

Incentives To Improve Retention and Absenteeism/Attendance
-Using a points systems our team members earned apparel/accessories based on the hours worked every week with bonus point for being on-time, covering for co-workers when ill, working full schedule (they loved it)

-I hired the store teams five weeks before we hard-opened the stores for the season
-I’d created a 25 hours/week onboarding program that all of the team members experienced before we opened our doors.
-We covered product knowledge, customer experience, return policies, how to use the tablets to perform sales, return, discounting on the POS
-Customer Service standards
-Operations (daily reporting, receiving, store aesthetics, etc.)
-We opened our doors with 100% knowledgeable and engaged team members that immediately earned the investment of their five week onboarding back in sales and metric performance
-All employees were empowered to make decisions based on the customer issue and we had tremendously positive feedback from our visitors

Employee Handbook ~ Operations Manuals ~ Customer Program
-It took me close to three months to write the Employee Handbook but it was time well spent
-It was all-inclusive, it delivered clarity around policies and procedures
-It was current!
-Operations Manual was a guideline and teams could develop their process but all stores had the same reporting results
-All Manuals and Handbooks were used daily – this eliminated unnecessary phone calls/emails as the team members knew where to find the answers (or at least guidance to make smart decisions

-We used “Video Conferencing” for our Monday calls
-Stores had the ability to video call each other for a greater sense of partnership and connection
-We limited emails and would only check them twice a day
-Each store rotated reporting company performance results to encourage understanding and maximize participation in the metrics
-No one worked before or after stores hours so there were no email exchanges, no urgent needs, no interruptions outside of the operation hours allowing for work/life balance of all levels of team members
-The entire team was committed to transparency, honesty, and integrity in communication which was a huge win for our team

These were things that I’d championed in the past but was unable to action, as they were outside my role, so I wanted to see how these initiatives/programs would impact the business. And they had a tremendous result. Which was really great to see. I was also able to measure and quantify these initiatives weekly and throughout the season to ensure these were working and of value to the business (and not just “great” because they were ideas that I’d implemented). I also had an amazing team of terrific, enthusiastic employees that were trustworthy, focused, dedicated, and just generally magnificent in every way that contributed ideas and initiatives into the business success.

This experience also allowed me to learn a lot about my retail self, my leadership skills, ability to listen, and I have been able to reinvent my style for improved support of my team, up-skill my opportunity areas, learn from mistakes, and elevate my knowledge of my industry.

The past 11 months have been an amazing experience. It is bittersweet to be consolidating the product and fixtures in my Home Store as we prepare to close (but thanks to our amazing customers we extended closing from our planned closing date of Halloween, to just past the Christmas season…but as 2016 is a year of change and adventure I know I am bringing a better me and renewed passion for retail into this new year and this unique experience is to thank for that.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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