We all know the power of being present. As a retail district manager or regional field leader, when you’re able to be present both mentally and physically, it magnifies the opportunity to influence and affect behavior. Of course, when you’re leading from a distance, the lion’s share of your communication doesn’t happen face to face. And that means when it does happen — at store visits — you need to make the most of everyone’s time.

The store visit is one of the most important activities a retail district manager performs to enhance productivity and create impact. The reality is, conference calls only go so far in changing team behavior. A store visit gives you the opportunity to coach and reinforce in real time the behaviors that are strengthening performance.

In addition, multiple points of feedback and assessment occur during a store visit. Just by walking in, you will get a sense of the ambiance and energy of the location. A store visit also allows the DM to observe the team and clients interact with each other. Likewise, the store manager can get a much better sense of your message and expectations when they see and hear you react in person. These are things you can only fully understand by physically being present.

But there’s a lot that goes into making these store visits effective. According to our research, superior multiunit managers understand that they have to pay just as much attention to what they do before they get there and after they leave if they want to maximize the value of this face-to-face time. This includes focusing on:

  • How and what technology they’ll use to plan and communicate visits
  • Planning and prioritizing visits, anticipating both smooth operations and the unexpected and complicated/difficult situations, as well as assessing when and where to visit
  • Conducting the visit, including determining the role you play, how to engage the team, and how to let the store manager shine
  • Reviewing the visit, ensuring clarity and commitment to next steps, debriefing effectively, handling hesitancy, and driving progress towards the next visit

4 Things Top-Performing Retail Managers Do on Store Visits

The goal of every interaction with the store managers should be equipping them to be more competent so that they can keep achieving higher levels of results and you can feel more confident about their potential. This is true for both electronic/virtual interactions as well as those that happen face to face. But since in-person time is both powerful and limited, multiunit managers have to be particularly strategic about how they leverage it.

Here’s how the top-performing multiunit managers in our study do that:

  1. They model effective leadership: One of a multiunit manager’s key responsibilities is to build up the leadership competencies within their store management ranks. By doing so, their store leaders will be able to handle a wider range of team issues on their own. Store visits provide an excellent opportunity to model the leadership behaviors they want to see in others. The secret is being intentional: What can I teach them in person that I can’t by phone or email?
  2. They observe: Multiunit managers get a lot of cues constantly. When they’re not in the store, these may come in the form of email, procrastinating behaviors, or a person’s tone in a voice mail. Onsite, interactions can be witnessed firsthand, enabling the observant DM to get to the root cause of issues and make instant adjustments based on customer, management, and team opportunities that present themselves.
  3. They provide real-time feedback: Being present means being able to respond on the spot, whether the behavior calls for positive or constructive feedback. Immediate feedback leads to immediate validation and faster improvement, and it reinforces desired behaviors.
  4. They coach in the moment: Coaching is how district and field leaders help their store managers grow and become more productive coaches for their own teams. When they’re in the store, high-performing DMs are always reading the cues and looking for those learning moments. This is also another way that they model effective leadership, so it’s vital that multiunit managers have the necessary coaching skills, processes, and strategies they need to coach their managers.

Everyone in retail is juggling a number of different priorities at the same time. This is why the most successful leaders put a lot of care into preparing themselves and their store managers for these visits. It increases the likelihood that store managers will be ready to spend the time productively and make the most of the visit for all involved.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.