Small Retailer’s despair “I’ll never be able to take a holiday!”

With the holiday season just around the corner I’ve been reflecting on some of the perils of being an owner-managed business. Whilst this applies to my own businesses I think it is fair to say staff holidays and owner holidays are afar more stressful and potentially risky period for any small, independent retail business…

Independent Retailers struggle to cope with extra workload of staff holidays

Time and again I hear about how tough it is for my retail clients and contacts when staff go on holiday or are otherwise absent. As they often run a very tight ship, with no “wastage” in their resource model being 1 person down can have a massive impact on their ability to trade, to run the business and to provide an adequate level of customer service.

In the short term there is little they can do – my advice is to merely spread their risk and have a bank of extra, trained staff – perhaps who only work weekends for the rest of the year. This would mean before authorising holiday for regular staff the extra hours could be booked with the familiar, part time staff, thus ensuring a seamless handover and no reduction in service level.

A standard set of operating practices can make your business more robust and repeatable…

In the longer term I believe it is imperative for every business to have an easy to understand set of standard operating practices – temporary staff can be brought in to cover holidays and the business owner will have the confidence that their business is robust enough to accommodate their lack of experience due to having implemented repeatable and documented processes.

Obviously this won’t happen overnight. Any serious business owner should be considering how to simplify, automate and standardise as much of their business as possible in order that a new member of the team can literally “do it by the book” ensuring things are done accurately, effectively and the customer experience is unaffected. Perhaps one to start thinking about now in anticipation of next year’s holiday season…

Well that covers staff holidays – but how as the business owner can I realistically go away and leave my business unattended?

I hear this sentiment a lot… my answer is linked to  the above – the key to unlocking the potential in your business, and to giving you back some of your time without putting your income at risk, is to develop robust and repeatable processes.

What I mean by this is that you need to make yourself dispensable! Document, standardise, automate and simplify as many of the routine day to day tasks in the business as you can. Outsource where possible – from book keeping to call handling! Employ and train up key, dependable resources who you can rely on to replicate much of what you do. You need to remove the risk of you being the bottleneck to your business, your income and your relaxation time! There may be a point in time when you want to grow the business, to be able to scale up to 2, 3, 10 stores without having to be in 10 places at once!

Should you ever want to sell your business having a set of robust, repeatable processes (and systems) will enable you to demonstrate to a potential buyer that the value of the business goes beyond you being the primary resource and as such you will realise a far better price for the company you’ve created!

Robust, repeatable business processes and systems are the key to becoming a scalable, saleable retail enterprise!

All of this takes time and consideration. It’s not a quick fix, you can’t go rushing in, and you may need external support to get it right. You will need to plan ahead.

Whilst you may find you have to suffer a solution that’s not ideal for this year, if you do this then you will find yourself in a much stronger position for next year; able to enjoy a well deserved holiday knowing your business is in safe hands!


About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email
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2 Responses to Small Retailer’s despair “I’ll never be able to take a holiday!”

  1. nick goddard says:

    Make yourself dispensible – brilliant! That’s a nice thought, but the fact for many small businesses is that the owner must plough on through sickness, bank holidays and any other eventuality that crops up. We even have teachers strikes today, and the official advice for all employers is that if their employees have children, they should consider holidays or unpaid leave – not very helpful for small owner managed businesses.

    The idea of written procedures is great, it is very often overlooked in small businesses where the owner is at the heart of things, but it can be a godsend in an emergency – even simple things like opening up or dealing with phone calls can make the difference.

  2. Clare Rayner says:

    Thank you for taking the time to comment Nick. From experience in my own business I know how easily we get into the doing and forget the importance of managing!
    Whilst there is a considerable up front effort in documentation of processes / quick reference guides these things can make a massive difference in a crisis! As the old saying goes, “no pain, no gain”…. and the other saying “if it was easy then everyone would be doing it”!

    There are lots more comments about this article on the linkedin group “Indepdendent and SME Retailers Forum” – take a look if you get the chance!

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