We are all Retailing in a Hostile Environment?

When it comes to turning your stores into selling machines, one solution rarely fits all.



If you sell through wholesale or are in partner with franchisees you’ll know only too well about the challenges of working in a “hostile environment.” “Hostile” of course covers a multitude of sins, and it has to be said, sometimes the blessings of a marriage made in heaven. However retail collaborations of any sort often create a “hostile environment” for selling where the difficulties can range from non-compliance to ignorance and from downright resistance to pure incompetence. These stores are sent to try us, and invariably they do.

Of course, having your own direct stores is often no walk in the park, where even the best laid plans still have to contend with individual stores and their managers wandering off into the forest of brand confusion and commercial ineptitude. In many ways all retailers operate in a “hostile environment” it’s just that the best and most successful operators manage their stores and their personnel with the appropriate tools, teams and processes. They implement the correct “VM-Toolkit” for the job.

Depending on the product categories covered, the service proposition and the expectations of the customer within any market, the tools employed to get the tills ringing will be specific to any retailer whilst also being divergent for groups of stores. If you operate a “one solution fits all stores” mentality then ring the warning bells now. All brands and retailers must “react to the many, not dictate to the few”

Ironically, strict dictatorial guidelines may well result in a wide array of brand deliveries, whilst flexibility of approach will deliver a very tight and consistent proposition across a wide variety of situations.


The 2 extremes of the VM-Toolkit for commercial and compliant stores are those focused on “Front of Visual” and those dedicated to “Front of Mind” In multi-brand environments this acceptance is not just important but an essential for survival. In most retailer portfolios your products will be sold sometimes exclusively through a one-to-one customer service relationship, and probably also within a self-service propositions where visual display and communication are the essential ingredients. The vast majority of opportunities fall somewhere in-between.

On the visual side of the “VM-Toolkit” spectrum the options available range from the regular VM guidelines, for the invariably elusive “Ideal world,” to the essential VM manual with fundamental principles of product delivery & display for the increasingly common “Non-ideal world”

On the service side of the equation, the solutions comprise the relatively simple communication of product information, through regular and informal training linked to scheduled store visits, to the development of formal training programmes and academies with career path validation.

Also on the VM-Toolkit checklist is the potential collaboration of retail calendars, implemented through windows, brochures, in-store displays and across online and social channels.

Supporting all of these tools may well be collaboration on buying & merchandising and store capacity & density grading coordination, particularly in the wholesale and franchise arenas. Whilst for all stores the availability of a wide but effective selection of in-store furniture, displays, graphics and props for retail stores of all shapes and sizes is an essential branding tool.

The key to efficiency is not to waste time, energy and resources on the wrong approach for each situation.


Failure of approach can be easily measured not only in poor sales performance but often in the huge wastage and poor return on investment. The much vaunted fact of “40{9a7291a7292e83c5148384adada0c82317c2655f4bcb859b5345564a4c272287} of printed store POS never being used” is one example, whilst the hours of ineffective training is more difficult to assess, although the visit of the “mystery shopper” can soon reveal where the customer service ship is creaking and leaking badly.

Beware! The development of a VM-Toolkit for maximum sales across all scenarios must be accompanied, and indeed led by the development of processes, skills and guidance for field representatives to identify the best ways forward for each of their stores. The re-defining of roles, re-structuring of field team responsibilities and skill-sets and a complete overhaul of the selling culture of a business may ultimately be required to set stores free on the path to commercial redemption.

Ultimately, the test of the approach to stores will only be transparent when all performance influences are taken into consideration and passed as appropriate and fit for purpose.

The 4 fundamental reasons why stores don’t look so good, and don’t sell so well are firstly, that staff don’t know what to do. So ensure that you give clear and precise instruction. Secondly that store staff don’t know how to do what you want them to do. In which case train them in the fundamental skills and awareness that they need. Thirdly that staff cannot do what you want them to do because of other mitigating circumstances. These may be related to poorly bought and allocated assortment, unpredictable and unworkable delivery windows and schedules, or impractical and impossible furniture. These obstacles to profitable stores must be addressed and remedied.

And so we arrive at the best practice playing field, on which all of our stores should perform to their potential, winning market share and achieving commercial success. Unless we experience the fourth and most “hostile” situation – that store personnel simply don’t want to do what they are paid to do. In this most “hostile” environment the actions required are simple and straightforward. With our clear view of the playing field, poor performers, uncommitted individuals and disruptive prima-donnas can be substituted, transfer-listed and sold-on.

There are “no bad pupils just bad teachers” really is a mantra invented by a marketing enlightened part of the training fraternity. However ensure that being a bad teacher doesn’t apply to your business. Identify, develop and apply a best practice and appropriate VM-Toolkit.


VM-unleashed works with retail clients to develop best practice VM tolls throughout the organisation…


…here are a few people that we’ve helped that you may have heard of too…

Ferrari, Luxottica, Marks & Spencer, Primark, AllSaints, Carrefour, Camper, Cortefiel, Boots, Sainsbury, Sonae, Otto Versand, BonPrix, National Geographic, Flex, Gruppo Vestebene, Alessi, Eroski, Coin, Oviesse, Bally, Adidas, Sony, Clarks, Benetton, Orange, KappAhl, Imaginarium, Porcelanosa, Trucco and Ben Sherman.

some of our clients…

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if you would like to know more about our expertise, and how it could work for you, then please drop us a line.

+44 (0)7967 609849