Any multi-store retailer would agree that having a competent district manager is critical to success.
Tasked with overseeing the operations of all stores within a given district or area, a district manager needs to juggle several retail components, including staff development, compliance, sales, customer satisfaction, and more.
Needless to say, the individual that you hire for this position will have a significant impact on the performance of your locations. Findings by DMSRetail Research indicate that district managers can influence performance by up to 20 percent.
“In actual numbers, that means, if you have a district of 10 stores with $1.5 million average sales each, [a] District Manager’s influence is about 6 million dollars between -20% and +20%,” – DMSRetail
It’s a tall order, which is why this isn’t a role that you can assign to just anyone. If you’re currently looking for a district manager (or are planning hire one in the near future), the following tips can help you find the right person for the job.
1. Promote from within if possible
“Ideally, they [the district managers] are internal,” says Ray Riley, CEO at People In Progress.
“If the retailer has a culture that develops and promotes from within, this shouldn’t be a problem. Nothing is worse for morale and culture than being a loyal front-line manager within a retail organization, and getting passed over for a promotion by an external candidate. The internal appointed candidate must rise to the top, and serve as an example of succession planning and potential career progression to their peers and other members of the business.”
So, if you’re looking to fill a district manager position, consider your internal staff first. Identify your top performing stores or districts, then see if there’s someone in those locations whom you can promote.
Hiring from within has another advantage; promoting an existing employee means you’ll be getting someone who already knows your culture and policies. This would (hopefully) lead to a smoother role transition as well as better performance and execution.
Store guidelines, checklists, and task management tools are useful, but they can only take you so far. At the end of the day, it’s still up to your people to flawlessly execute your programs. Hiring someone who’s familiar with the inner workings of your business brings you closer to accomplishing that.
2. Choose someone who has spent ample time on the sales floor
One key task of a district manager is to develop the sales teams from each store. You need someone who can coach your associates and managers, and then provide feedback to improve their performance.
A district manager won’t accomplish that effectively if they themselves have little or no experience on the retail sales floor.
As Riley puts it, a good district manager has “spent considerable time on the shop floor developing sales professionals and future talent.”
“This is one of the most significant deficits in physical retail today, and this has caused a talent drain over the last ten years never seen before. If the district manager candidate has never ran a high-volume store, how will she coach and develop a manager in that position? How will the manager respect or trust them?” – Ray Riley, CEO at People In Progress.
“Same goes for the development of high-caliber sales professionals; the district manager candidate’s ability to build their sales tribe is essential to attracting store managers to follow suit once they are in the role,” Riley adds.
3. Look for a candidate who’s in touch with the latest industry trends
Many district managers are also tasked with merchandising their area’s stores and improving the customer experience. If you’re planning to let your district manager do this, then you need to pick someone who not only has good taste, but who also understands your target customer.
In addition to that, you need to find someone who’s in touch with the latest trends in your market. Being equipped with industry knowledge and having the skills to use that information to forecast rising trends, will enable your manager to not only merchandise your stores effectively but also to create a customer experience that keeps you a step ahead of your competition.
When selecting a candidate, go beyond asking about their skills and experience. Also gauge how in touch they are with the latest trends by asking them where they see your industry and market going, and what they plan to do to help your company stay competitive.
4. Choose someone with solid instincts and strong analytical skills
Knowing “retail math” is essential, but not enough for a district manager to be effective. To really excel in their position, they must be able to figure out how to derive actionable insights from store data.
It’s one thing to know what your KPIs are. But knowing how to meet and exceed those KPIs is a different ballgame. Accomplishing that requires strong analytical skills, spot on retail instincts, and a deep understand of what’s going on in each store.
5. Select someone who can balance brand consistency with the need for localized stores
Managing multiple locations can be tricky; while each store must have a local feel to it, all your locations must be consistent with your brand’s look and feel.
To accomplish that, your district manager must (again) have deep knowledge of your culture and policies. They should understand what your brand stands for, and they must have the ability to bring that vision to life in each store.
At the same time, though, your district manager should recognize each store’s distinctions and find ways to use their unique qualities to win their local markets.
It’s a delicate balance that requires both a high level understanding of your company along with a knowledge of local markets. Find someone who can walk that line and you’ll be well on your way to running better stores both at a local and national level.
6. Look for someone who is resilient
Last but not least, find someone who is capable of bouncing back from adversity.
According to Riley, “in terms of qualities, proven resilience is essential to success in this role. You need to be able to have endless energy in what is an extremely challenging industry, recruit consistently, tow the company line, uphold standards, and communicate rapid change to a very diverse and sometimes geographically challenged team. It is an endless pursuit and not for the faint of heart.”
So, look into a candidate’s track record when it comes to dealing with tough situations. If they have been with you for a while, look back at your company’s toughest periods and see how the candidate coped.
You can also try to evaluate a person’s resilience by asking the right interview questions.
Ask open-ended and behavior-focused questions such as “Can you give me an example of how you handled a tough customer?” instead of theoretical ones like “How do you typically handle tough customers?” recommends Jim Roddy, author of Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.
Roddy also advises not to ask leading questions such as “Did you do that to motivate the group?” Instead, Roddy says interviewers should stick to behavior-focused questions such as “Why did you do that?” or “How do you feel after having a hard conversation?”
According to him, such questions are rooted in the notion that “past behavior is the best predictor of future conduct,” so if a candidate demonstrates resilience in previous experiences, that’s a good indicator of how they will behave in the future.
Have you ever hired a retail district manager? How did you find the right one for your stores? Let us know in the comments.
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