Over the last year, MOHR Retail has supported our clients through some challenging times as they continually strive to strengthen trust in the retail environment, particularly against the backdrop of an increase in Organized Retail Crime (ORC) and violence in the workplace. We have hosted two webinars on the topic with retail executives and industry experts in loss prevention, asset protection, crisis prevention, and learning and development, representing grocery, hardware, big box, and boutique retail stores as well as retail consulting firms.

All of our panelists emphasized just how important your leaders are when it comes to building trust and safety in the workplace. Attracting, developing, and retaining teams with a commitment to service excellence starts with leaders who listen, communicate effectively, encourage input, and, through their own actions and behavior, inspire greater confidence and engagement.

When we talk about leaders, when mean all leaders — from your executives to your multiunit field leaders to the front-line store leaders. To create a culture of trust and increase customer and associate loyalty, leaders at all levels must model the organization’s mission and values in all interactions.

The other critical factor is the human factor. To increase trust, leaders need to understand where people are emotionally today, and that’s a big shift from retail leadership mantras of the past. It used to be common for retail leaders to operate by a set of principles that advocated separation of the personal and the professional: “Don’t bring your personal life to work.” Check your emotional baggage at the front door.” “Always keep your personal feelings to yourself and don’t share with your work teams.”

Times have changed. We now understand that not only is it unrealistic to expect someone to completely “turn off” who they are when they get to work, it’s also ultimately counter-productive, particularly in a human-to-human industry like retail. We need people to feel comfortable contributing their whole self and bringing all of their unique talents to their work. And in terms of trust, the leaders who are authentic and real are the ones who will be able to connect with their associates and teams on a human level. These highly effective retail leaders respect the fact that we all have lives outside of work.

From the front line to the C-suite, no one is immune to the demands of having to perform at work while dealing with myriad other personal pressures, from taking care of aging parents or a sick partner to worrying about the prices of rent and groceries to juggling childcare issues. Mental health concerns and the need for greater empathy are front and center in today’s culture and they should be in the workplace as well. After all, we spend one-third of our lives at work. That is more time than we spend on any other single activity, including family events, vacation, and even sleep.

The question I want to leave you with is this: What are your leaders doing to encourage their associates and teams to bring their whole selves to work, to create an environment where people feel safe bringing up issues, having the tough conversations, and knowing their input is heard and respected? Trust is built every single day in the workplace, and it is just as easily chipped away. It all starts with your leaders.

Let’s take a closer look at the business impact and some key strategies for increasing trust in retail leadership.

Why Trust Matters in Retail Leadership

  • Employee Engagement: Trust is foundational for fostering a positive workplace culture. Associates who trust their leaders are more engaged, motivated, and likely to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. That means the more engaged your associates are, the more engaged your customers will be. Engaged associates also stay longer and often build their careers with your organization.
  • Customer Loyalty: Trust is the currency of customer loyalty. When customers trust a brand or retailer, they are more likely to become repeat customers, recommend the brand to others, and remain loyal even in the face of competition. Every interaction presents an opportunity to build — or damage — customer trust. If associates have a positive feeling toward their leaders and the organization, customers will instantly know it — and the opposite is also true.
  • Adaptability and Innovation: Trust empowers teams to innovate and adapt to changing market conditions, and that is what retail is all about: change. When team members trust their leaders, they are more likely to embrace and commit to change, take calculated risks, and contribute innovative ideas that drive business growth. 

Strategies for Building Trust in Retail Leadership

  • Lead by Example: Model what you expect. Actions speak louder than words. Retail leaders must embody the values and principles they expect their teams to follow, demonstrating integrity, transparency, and accountability in their interactions with both customers and associates.
  • Communicate Effectively: Open and transparent communication is essential for building trust. Flexing your own personal communication style to meet associates where they are and listening so they feel heard are superpower skills for leaders to embrace. Equally important is keeping employees informed about company goals, challenges, and changes, as well as creating an environment where feedback is welcomed and valued.
  • Empower and Delegate: Trust your team to deliver results by empowering them with autonomy and responsibility. Try a hands-off approach and avoid micromanaging. Delegate tasks and decision-making authority, providing support and guidance when needed, but also allowing room for individual initiative and growth.
  • Invest in Development: Show your commitment to your team's growth and development by providing opportunities for training, skill-building, and career advancement. When employees see that their leaders are invested in their success, they are more likely to reciprocate with trust and loyalty.
  • Celebrate Successes and Learn from Failures: Acknowledge and celebrate both individual and team achievements, fostering a culture of recognition and appreciation. View failures as opportunities for learning and growth, demonstrating resilience and a willingness to grow, to create an improving vs a proving environment.

In today's dynamic retail landscape, where competition is fierce and consumer expectations are constantly evolving, building trust is more important than ever. By prioritizing trust in retail leadership, businesses can cultivate loyal customer relationships, foster engaged and empowered teams, and drive innovation and growth. And remember, trust is not built overnight; it’s a continuous journey that requires dedication, integrity, and a genuine commitment to building meaningful connections.

Empower your leaders to create a culture of trust and engagement. Learn about our Building Trust program here.

Note: Key takeaways from our first webinar can be found here. A white paper highlighting insights and takeaways from our second webinar will be published shortly, so be sure to follow us on social media for updates.


About Mary Beth Garcia

ary Beth has worked with a variety of retail and hospitality clients as a strategic partner, delivering leadership, communications, retail programs, consulting, and executive coaching for such diverse companies as Academy Sports and Outdoors, Altar’d State, Amazon Fresh, Advanced Auto Parts, Bvlgari, Cardinal Health, Compass Group, Darden, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Foot Locker Group, Haggar Clothing, King Ranch, LVMH, Michaels, Saks Department Store Group, SMCP, Southeastern Grocers, TBC, TJX Companies, Ulta Beauty, and Whole Foods Market. Prior to her consulting work, Mary Beth spent more than 20 years in retail management and operations for companies such as Macys, g.Briggs, The Bombay Company, and Sunglass Hut International, holding numerous leadership positions in sales, store, district, and regional management and corporate communications, training, and operations. Based in Miami, FL, Mary Beth served on the Executive Advisory Board for the University of Florida’s Retail Education and Research Department from 2003-2014. She holds an A.A. Degree in Retail Management and Fashion Merchandising from Bauder College.