After the Renovation: Avoiding the Slippery Slope

by | Oct 18, 2019

castle 7Have you ever walked into a store during a grand opening and wandered about in awe and admiration, only to return a few months later to find disorder, dismay, and disarray? Why is this?

Sure, there may be lots of reasons, but the main culprit is human nature. Lack of discipline and resistance to change are most likely to cause your disappointment on the return visit.

Discipline starts at the top. The store owner or manager sets the tone. Their vision of what the store should be is ultimately what the store becomes. They get what they expect – no less and no more! It’s like sailing a boat. If the captain knows exactly where he wants to go, he’ll use his instruments and his crew to keep the boat on course and to reach his destination at the scheduled time. Without the captain’s expertise and vision of where he’s going, the boat drifts aimlessly and ends up wherever the winds and currents take it.

The store manager needs a clear picture of what the store should be. If that picture is what the store looked like just after a renovation – and the manager has the skills to steer the store, then there’s a reasonable chance of maintaining that picture. Steering means effectively motivating, equipping, and training the staff. Too often however, the manager’s mind has been pre-conditioned by years of what was the “old” picture of the store. One of disorder, out-of-stocks, poor adjacencies, dead stock, missing bin labels, product orphans and crooked signs. Signs that support the multiple images of the vendors instead of the store’s own brand image.

Then there’s the staff. They too have often been conditioned by what was the “old” store. That store was familiar. It was an extension of who they were and how they thought things should be done. Staff members make their own store design decisions based on gut feel or yesterday’s isolated customer experience. Without discipline the store drifts aimlessly and ends up wherever the winds and currents take it.

A lack of discipline is passive. It just happens naturally. Resistance to change is more dangerous. It’s the biggest threat to the maintenance of that awesome store you saw at its grand opening. Like mutiny, this is when individual employees start deliberately steering the store, or parts of it, back to where it came from. They might have liked the old way of applying bin labels. Perhaps the dump bins are a pain to keep full and they’d rather just dump a pallet in that spot just like they used to. In their opinion, the widgets sell better next to the doodads so the first time there’s an opening they slide them back. A new display that gets rammed by a lumber cart gets left or removed because it’s just taking up valuable product space anyway. They order in the old vendors’ product line and create a dog’s breakfast with the new one because that’s their personal preference. Of course, that was reinforced when they talked to their neighbour over the back fence.

At one time I installed new music and announcement systems in several stores to help create a better atmosphere and to provide an additional way to communicate (advertise) to our customers. In a couple of stores, I was continually frustrated because every time I walked in, the music was down so low it might as well have been off. That’s because certain employees complained it was distracting, and kept messing with the controls. The only solution was two padlocks – one for each store.

In another situation, we built a brand new store and moved the service counter well away from the front entrance to encourage more self-serve shopping. This was counter to what the employees had been used to in a store one third the size of the new one. They argued it wouldn’t work because their customers demanded the personal service at the desk and would refuse to go look for it. Sure enough, I went back to the new store a few months later and carpenters were busy building a new service desk right near the entrance. In the process they demolished a number of key design elements of the new store.

The key lesson here is that if staff members are left to their own devices without strong and disciplined leadership, many of the gains and improvements that result from a renovation can be lost. Staff (which sometimes includes the store manager) will over time consciously or sub-consciously find ways to return the store to what it used to be.

So how do you overcome human nature? How do you prevent the winds, currents and mutineers from eroding the impact of that great renovation? Here are some suggestions:

Involvement and communication

Staff need to feel part of the change. At a minimum the owner/manager should meet with the staff at key points before and during the project to keep them informed. During the renovation the manager needs to address employee concerns as they arise and take the time to explain why things are being done a certain way. Suggestions from staff should be taken seriously even if they aren’t implemented. This shows respect but also encourages positive input which can improve the final design and also contributes to esprit d’accord which is ultimately felt by the customer.

Define and Communicate Standards

Be clear about what expectations have changed. Why are these expectations different than they were in the old store? Document standards and expectations, meet with staff and ask all employees to read and sign a summary document which goes into their file.

Develop and Teach Procedures

Defining standards isn’t enough. What procedures are needed to maintain these standards and who is responsible for getting them done? If the standard is to have no more than 200 out-of-stocks in the store (99% in-stock on 20,000 SKU’s), create a procedure to measure this. Assign responsibility for counting the holes once per week for example. Track the results and hold people accountable.

One thing that’s often overlooked after a renovation is that the rate of sale of many products can change dramatically. Sales history means nothing so you can’t rely on system generated SOQ’s. New programs should be closely monitored because neither the system nor the staff has a feel for rate of sale. A common problem is product orphans – SKU’s that end up in the wrong section or wrong part of the store for a variety of reasons. A good procedure is to have a staff person “shop the store” every day. Run a shopping buggy up and down every aisle to pick up orphaned products, then reverse course and put everything back where it belongs. This not only keeps the store organized; it also helps employees learn where to find products in the new store.

Consistency, Follow-Up, and Religion

This is where the manager keeps control of the tiller – or not. They reinforce the standards day-in and day-out until they become second nature to the staff or slide down the slippery slope to mediocrity. Through consistency the staff learns what’s expected. Through practice they know how to deliver and now they don’t want to let the boss down. If they do they know they’ll hear about it – and besides now they believe in it too. They see the positive benefits for customers and take pride in the condition of the store. They know the manager cares and now their fellow workers do too. Over time it becomes religion!


Damage prevention should have been an important consideration in store design – details such as the height of bases relative to the wheels and platforms of shopping carts. Bump guards and bollards placed in critical areas to protect racking and displays. Aisle widths should have been designed to allow buggies to pass without bashing into fixtures. Counter tops materials should have been selected to prevent excessive wear. Despite these precautions there will be damages to fixture and displays in the new store. The trick is to repair the damage, identify what caused it, then add protection so it doesn’t happen again. The alternative is to ignore the damage until eventually the store returns to its old and tired self.


All elements of store design can be considered in concert when preparing for a major renovation. Changes after the fact don’t get the same scrutiny. A lot of seemingly small changes can fundamentally undermine the store’s design. I experienced this in a previous life as “death by a thousand cuts”. The best concept for a TV commercial would be compromised by the opinions and biases of an army of people who needed to approve the spot. In the end, a fabulous concept would end up dead on the cutting room floor. The key is to give the new store a chance to perform. Focus the staff’s energy on the fundamentals of excellent customer service, stock balancing and good housekeeping. If changes are needed a year or two down the road, develop them in a way that is organized and coherent and not based on knee-jerk reactions and opinions.

In the end it’s up to the store manager to steer the ship. By having a clear vision and staying the course, providing leadership and giving staff the right tools, there is a much better chance the full benefits of the renovation will be realized. As customers, we won’t be disappointed on the return visit or the many more that follow!

Tell-tale signs of a store losing its edge after a renovation:

  • High out-of-stocks
  • Empty sections
  • Impassible aisles
  • Disorganized power aisles with blocked sight lines
  • Missing bin labels
  • Damaged/missing signs
  • Damaged displays
  • Unfocused endcaps
  • Permanent end caps
  • Empty clip strips
  • Staff out of uniform
  • Light levels decreasing
  • Dirty floors
  • Confusing product adjacencies
  • Product orphans (wrong home & address)

Burlington Merchandising & Fixtures provides innovative merchandising solutions to both retailers and vendors with a focus on driving sales and profitability. Contact us today to get started!

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