Learning Retail Skills Leads to Retail Success 

Why 90% of Small Businesses Fail

Here’s a statistic that should make everyone take notice. Dunn and Bradstreet did a study and determined that “90% of small businesses that fail do so because of a lack of skills and knowledge on the part of the owner.” They didn’t go belly up because of the competitions’ lower prices, or a poor location, or a bad national economy – they failed because the owners didn’t have the knowledge and retail skills to properly run their businesses! 

Most people are naturally good at one or two parts of their business.  And naturally, that’s where they focus most of their time and attention.  It’s easier and it’s more fun to do the things you’re good at. In my early years as founder of the Mackinaw Kite Co., a small chain of kite and toy stores, I fell into the same trap. My brother and I were masters at selling and promoting our business. Each year sales grew, but profits were… well, disappointing. 

Why Can’t We Get Ahead?

We wondered how we could be working so hard, selling so much, and still not managing to get ahead. Quite simply, we didn’t take the time or effort to learn the set of retail skills we lacked. Our expense planning was sloppy, our operational standards were low, and our inventory management was non-existent. Pretty soon I decided I’d better acquire those skills or suffer the unhappy consequences.  

As a consultant, I’m always amazed, but never surprised, to hear retail business owners saying things like, “I don’t get marketing,” or “I’m just not a computer person,” or “Inventory management is too tedious for me.” Hey, I’ve been there myself! What they’re really saying, however, is that they are too lazy or not interested enough in small business learning to acquire the essential skills of being a successful business person. These business owners are plenty smart, they just choose not to learn.

You’re The Boss Now…

People in some occupations are forced to learn a complete set of retail skills before they hang out a shingle. CPA’s, teachers, doctors, and realtors to name just a few. And in many businesses there is required continuous professional education. Not true for store owners. You aren’t required to learn a set of retail skills. You can open your doors and away you go! You’re the boss now and there’s no one forcing you to continue to learn, so frequently you don’t.

I’ve identified ten basic building blocks in small business learning for long-term retail success:

  1. Excellent customer service,
  2. Intelligent buying and inventory management,
  3. Customer focused marketing,
  4. Systematic employee management,
  5. Efficient store operations,
  6. Managing with financial information,
  7. Effective staff training,
  8. Strategic merchandising and visual display,
  9. Long-range planning, and
  10. Disciplined, professional leadership.

To be successful, you HAVE to learn to do all of these things – even the things you don’t like to do, find it difficult to do, or don’t know how to do now.

Are You A Natural?

Harvard University did a study and found that only 10% of us are what they called “natural learners.” Naturally curious individuals who constantly seek out new information. So, that means that 90% of us aren’t natural learners. And I can humbly put myself in that category.

Take a close, objective look at yourself. Which category do you fall into? How many workshops have you attended this year? How many business books and magazines are on your bedside table? Have you taken a class to learn that new computer program?

Now, if you put the two statistics I’ve mentioned together – 90% of businesses that fail do so because of a lack of retail skills and knowledge on the part of the owner, and 90% of us are not natural learners – there’s only one conclusion to draw. Those of us in the 90% category had better become learners, whether it’s natural or not! If learning isn’t a natural trait, it must become a conscious choice. Your business clearly depends on it.

I challenge you all to become learners. Be a learner and be successful on purpose. Forget the “hope method” of business management. Being good at one or two parts of your business and ignoring the rest, hoping it won’t really matter, won’t bring you the rewarding, profitable, successful retail business you envisioned the first day you opened your doors.

Take It One Step At A Time.

Lifelong learning is an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, process. You don’t need to learn everything at once, but you do need to constantly and consistently add to your knowledge base and skill set.

Take some time and think about the small business learning you need to acquire to become a better business person. Make a list. Pick the one that you think will have the biggest impact on your business. For me at the Mackinaw Kite Co., it was inventory management. I knew we’d never be more profitable until we had a better handle on our inventory.

Now think about one small thing you can do today to get the learning process going. Do some research on the web, read an article on the subject, sign up for a class, or call a colleague that’s got the skill you lack.

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