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Message of a four-store operator: small companies must adapt too.

The amazing changes that have taken place in the food industry over just the past five years have affected not only the larger operators but the smaller ones as well. Small or large we all face new conditions that require adapting to, including:

* As lower inflation levels strip away much of the illusionary growth we all enjoyed in the 1970s, competition for new sales has become a battle for market share.

* Departments that just a few years ago appeared in the supermarket only occasionally have now become mandatory--either to attract customers or to build gross profit.

* Scanning and new computer uses have made a significant difference in store operating efficiencies and are contributing directly to the strength and success of many companies. While all these changes are occurring, it is evident that one of the keys to continued success will be welltrained and highly motivated store-level management. This has always been true, but has been obscured occasionally by the temporary marketplace advantages that accrue to an operator with a new facility or a more aggressive pricing program.

In considering the evolving role of the store manager, most of us would probably recognize the need for placing greater emphasis on delegation of authority and responsibilities, and on the use of the computer. But would we consider the store manager's role in developing the "culture" of the store--those shared values and beliefs that tie people together and simultaneously help to stimulate exceptional performance?

The power of fostering these values and beliefs was dramatized for me during a study tour of Japanese retailing, where it was readily apparent that the store manager understood and actively communicated the company philosophy in order to shape and maintain the "culture" of the store.

This may sound a little foreign, but think about the factors that tend to motivate a person and it makes a lot of sense. We at Dick's believe in this idea so strongly that we recently gave new life to our written statement of corporate philosophy by conducting store meetings that gave our store managers the opportunity to discuss this statement with all members of the company. We believe that this type of culture-building will help all of us in our company be more successful.

Another opportunity that might be easily overlooked is job enrichment. Studies show that while reward and recognition are extremely important, in many cases the most effective motivator is the job itself and the satisfaction of doing that job well. Unfortunately, the week-to-week and sometimes even the hour-to-hour pressures of the supermarket do not allow enough time to think about the nature of the job of the store manager and whether there are ways of making the job more motivating.

In line with this idea, we've recently initiated a program that we believe enriches the job of store manager and department managers as well. We provide store management with scan data describing the performance of selected categories in their stores, accompanied by instructions on how that data should be analyzed and used.

Armed with this information, managers are simply asked to analyze the categories and make changes in product assortment and shelf positioning that they believe will improve the performance of that section. They're not told what to do with the data. Instead, they are given the authority to decide what they feel will improve category performance.

The results of this program have been encouraging, and I'm sure that the job enrichment aspect of this change is as important to increasing category performance as is the information provided by the scanning data. It's exciting to watch the enthusiasm and pride that grows out of the improved performance that a manager knows he or she has initiated.

It is clear, too, that the food store of the future will involve not just the contribution of a single individual, but the efforts of a group. To put this insight into practice, this past year we started our first of what I'm certain will be a long line of annual planning conferences that involve all store- and department-level management.

More than 50 individuals from the stores and from headquarters gathered for two and a half days of discussion and planning. During the sessions; we looked candidly at our operations through both external consumer research and internal assessment, to identify opportunities for improving performance throughout the company. While we're still learning how to make this type of meeting more effective, I believe we're off to a good start and that the results of a number of the issues discussed at our first session are already becoming apparent.
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Author:Brodbeack, William
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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