The Key to Successful Department Store Operations

By Brian Harris

Photo By Mike Mozart, via Flickr

Think about your last big family gathering where there were a lot of different personalities in a contained area. The kids are running around, your liberal brother and conservative uncle are arguing over politics, and your spouse enters unwillingly into a conversation with your nosy cousin. Meanwhile, you’re just waiting for the food to arrive.

In a way, a noisy family gathering is a bit like managing a department store. There are so many different “personalities” or departments under one roof. You know each section like it’s your family — you know what makes each one tick.

Just like a department store is designed to appeal to an entire family, you must treat each department of the store like it’s a family member; no area should be neglected. Conducting inspections is a great way to give each area of the store the attention it deserves and optimize department store operations.

What to Check During a Department Store Inspection

The key to success in a department store — and really any retail environment — is to achieve harmony between front-of-house and back-of-house operations. One can’t operate without the other running smoothly; it’s a symbiotic relationship.

Here are the most important qualities to look for in each:

I. Front of House

  • The store has curb appeal with neat landscaping and good lighting.
  • The merchandise is organized according to planogram.
  • Products are priced correctly.
  • If appropriate, merchandise has security tags and expensive products are kept in closed cabinets.
  • Displays and shelves are clean and hooks are not broken.
  • The merchandise is not cluttered and displayed in an appealing way in each section, from bracelets in a jewelry display case to clothes on hangers.  
  • Associates are responsive to questions and ask customers if they need assistance.
  • If applicable, the café/restaurant area is sanitary and in compliance with food safety standards.
  • Dressing rooms are kept neat and orderly and merchandise is returned to the main floor in a timely fashion.
  • The point-of-sale is orderly. Gift cards with envelopes are available for purchase.
  • Floor is vacuumed or swept, and restrooms are clean.

II. Back of House

  • Trucking loading/unloading areas are clear of debris (e.g. boxes, Styrofoam, packing materials)
  • Inventory is properly managed to avoid out-of-stocks.
  • Employee records and schedules are routinely updated.
  • Employee break rooms are clean and maintained.
  • Storage areas are neat and orderly.
  • There are no signs of water damage in storage area.
  • Security systems are in working condition.  
  • eating and cooling systems are working, and the store is properly ventilated.
  • Property inspection tips: Any standing water on the floor is cause for investigation. Check roofs routinely for leaks.
  • Cash handling practices are up to date and being followed accordingly.
  • Managers are tracking daily cash flow to calculate the profit and loss of each store.

While the checklist for the front of the house ensures that the store provides a positive ambiance for shoppers, the checklist for back-of-the-house operations ensures that adequate steps are being taken to prevent loss of inventory and stock.

Pay careful attention to your cash handling processes. We’re a highly civilized society, but the Internet is still the Wild West. No one is safe from hacking and other cybersecurity crimes that steal from your business and damage your brand in the eyes of customers. As a result of recent and major security breaches, even more emphasis is being placed on behind-the-scenes operations in department stores.

Remember: The most successful retail operations exceed customer expectations beyond what meets the eye.

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