Design is Transformational: But Only if Strategy & Execution Marry

08.02.12 / David Lemley

The problem with retail environments today is that they’re still transactional in nature. Most retailers really haven’t changed much in their thinking or their approach to retail design. Retailing is understood as environments to sell merchandise; that seek to drive sales the old-fashioned way. Advertising lures customers in and the store layout, merchandise selections and services are expected to close the sale. Same old approach with a few new high tech toys thrown in without a lot of thought.

There’s a big problem with this kind of thinking.

Customers are too sophisticated for retailers who think they can be wooed using 20th century marketing techniques that lead them into 20th century store environments, notwithstanding the fact there’s some shiny new interactive media to play with.

Then, there are retailers who get it. They understand that they’re dealing with 21st century customers who don’t want to be marketed to on a one-way street; who don’t want to be bored and disappointed by dated stores and sales associates who are MIA as well as by brand promises that are routinely broken. The problem here is that strategies are often put into place and then they’re not executed. And we wonder why retail stores are failing?

We live in an era that isn’t for the timid. Retailers who plan to make incremental improvements in the way they design customer experiences aren’t going to succeed even if they do execute. It’s time to go for store design and customer experience design that are transformational in concept and execute. Scary? Rather than choosing to look at it that way, why not embrace these challenges and view revolutionary solutions as exhilarating? Why not dream big and dare to transform retail?

Dreams need to become strategies. Strategies need to be outlined into actionable plans. Plans need to be executed.

Without a marriage of strategy and execution, transformation isn’t possible.

And here’s the thing: retail operations don’t have to be the biggest to become the best. Emerging, challenger brands can and should blow the socks off the retail world. Business is ripe for the taking; the customer is hungry. Who will take the lead?

It’s all in the planning and execution.

Transformative design is all-encompassing. But it doesn’t happen without vision and a plan. Even when armed with a plan, retailers are going off the rails when it comes to implementation. And that isn’t only due to lack of focus. There are a number of universally human maladies that derail the best laid plans.

  1. Over-confidence in the C-suite. “We’ve got a winning design plan for our retail operation. Give it to our managers; they’ll figure it out and implement it.” Hmmmm. . .maybe it’s more like “The buck doesn’t stop here in the C-suite. . .more like pass the buck and hope for the best. We’ve got too much to do.” Really? What matters more than execution to ensure success?
  2. “Hey, look at what the competition’s doing!” Losing focus on one’s own business and reacting to everything competitors are doing never leads to good things. Even worse: confusing managers and staff by too many directives in response to everything competitors do takes everybody away from implementing the strategy agreed upon in the first place; the one that is transformative if it only gets executed.
  3. “This is too much work and takes too many resources. We need to take a break from all of this for a while.” Bad idea. Understood: it takes time and resources to put a comprehensive plan together. But if that sucks all of the energy out of the atmosphere so that management isn’t willing to commit to executing the plan, a great strategy was all for naught.
  4. “The grand plan is so much fun to fantasize about. . .but then, there are the nuts and bolts.” So much work has to be done! The coaching! The culture has to be sold on the redesigned brand! Such a long-term investment; maybe we bit off more than we can chew!” So many retailers get bogged down with self-defeating articulations like this. Of course it’s hard work but is there reward without it?

So let’s dig in. Let’s:

  • Do some research and find out who your primary customers are.
  • Get to the heart of what they’re looking for; what their expectations are.
  • Deliver in a memorable manner. Consistently.
  • Design a unique retail footprint; one that embodies a unique retail brand.
  • Touch every aspect of the business: employee-facing and customer-facing. Translation: work to change the culture for the better, encourage teamwork and help managers to excel.
  • Speak in one clear voice: in store, online, from the C-suite to the back office and the sales floor.
  • Get focused and stay focused on delivering the brand day in and day out.
  • Map out all of the elements of the plan so that there’s a blueprint to follow.
  • Involve all stakeholders so they can understand the design strategy, its components, the reasons behind it and its implications.
  • Make sure that the C-suite gets 100% behind the execution of our transformative strategy. Commitment makes it happen.

As Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy stated in their book, “Execution”, “Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important job.” After all, what criterion is the C-suite evaluated on: strategies–good intentions–or execution–making it happen?

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