Director Doug Fleener

Frontline leadership expert
Engaging keynote speaker
Retail and performance consultant

Doug Fleener, the former director of retail for Bose Corporation, is a frontline leadership expert known for bring fresh approaches and powerful actionable ideas to clients and audiences around the world.

For over twenty-years Fleener has helped executives, owners, multi-unit managers, and frontline managers be more effective and accelerate the impact they have on employees, the customer service experience, and results.

Retail | Hospitality | Banking | Food and Beverage | Financial Services | And other service-focused industries

What would be the impact if your frontline leaders were even better? 

    What if......
  • Your company turned "culture" into consistent frontline actions?
  • Your frontline managers spent more time leading, coaching, and driving results?
  • Your frontline managers were more effective in developing their staff in less time?
  • Your frontline managers had their staff delivering the best customer service experience to each and every customer?
  • Your company spent less money and time on training, and more on applying and improving in what you know works?

Your leaders and your company would be OutFront and Unstoppable 

OutFront Leadership
Keynotes and Workshops
Retail and Customer Experience
Keynotes and Workshops
Sixth Star Consulting
and Executive Coaching

Doug Fleener's OutFront and Unstoppable Blog

By Doug Fleener 19 Oct, 2016

1. Reach even higher. I like to think that managers maintain what is, but OutFront leaders and coaches create what can be.

2. Focus on HOW more than what.  Managers will tell employees what their goals are, or how they’re falling short. OutFront leaders and coaches will focus their conversations on what people can DO to achieve their goals.

3. Give self-confidence. Jack Welch once said that giving his staff self-confidence is one of the most important things he does as a leader. Self-confidence, he says, leads to people taking action. We give self-confidence by telling people WHY they can do or achieve what is being asked of them.

4. Show the way. When you invest the time to work directly with your staff, they will grow considerably faster than doing so on her/his own. That’s a huge ROI on your time. An ROI that shows up in your staff’s development and business results.

Here’s an example of how an OutFront leader in one of my coaching programs put these four into action: I’ll let Brittany tell you the rest.

"Yesterday I worked with <name removed>, and I took the advice you gave mel. After every transaction we discussed what we did with the customer. At the end of her shift her ADS was $79, which is a 16.5% increase from her current $66. I also saw her confidence increase as she said to me, 'this is so much easier than I thought it would be, you were right!'"

So let me ask, what will you do to maximize this week's leadership opportunity?

By Doug Fleener 19 Oct, 2016

Doesn't it bug you when people push their own values on you? After all, just because something is important to them doesn't mean it's important to me. I don't think they should tell me what I should value and I shouldn't tell them, either.

That's certainly happening in political conversations right now, but no political talk. I'm referring to retail salespeople.

That's right, too many retail salespeople are pushing their own personal values on customers, assuming they know what their customers are thinking, and it's costing retailers both customers and sales.

I once asked a salesperson, "So these shirts are $80?" She immediately said, "Oh don't worry, we have cheaper shirts. Let me show you these over here that are on sale." Fine, but I hadn't said I wanted to look at less expensive shirts. I wanted to confirm the price of the shirts I was looking at right then.

It is important that sales associates understand what the customer's values are and don't let their own get in the way. Not everyone wants the cheapest price. Most people want a fair price, which isn't necessarily the same thing as the lowest price.

Customers are looking for quality, selection, convenience and service in addition to price. Every customer values these elements differently and we should never assume we know in what order our customer prioritizes them.

Do yourself and your customer a favor and don't assume you know what it is important to him/her. All you have to have to do is ask them.

So let me ask, are you assuming what your customer values?

By Doug Fleener 12 Oct, 2016
It’s vital that your staff make sure that a customer’s purchase and experience is right. It doesn’t matter how good a barista is if she makes the wrong drink.

That’s why retail associates must take responsibility for what a customer is buying, whether or not they helped the person select the product. It only takes a few seconds to discover why the customer is buying a particular item.

If they’re the buying the right item, great! If there is something else the customer should consider, it’s great service to suggest he/she looks at it. If he’s buying the wrong item, the associate just saved the customer time and frustration, and the store from getting a return.

So let me ask, does your staff take responsibility for everything a customer buys?
By Doug Fleener 12 Oct, 2016
Time is a leader’s most valuable resource, one that must be invested wisely. For most leaders, their best time investment is working with and coaching their staff on delivering an even better service and sales experience.

Unfortunately, operational activities take up a great deal of a frontline manager’s time. That’s why it is important to reduce the time spent on these activities whenever possible.

You can do that by giving yourself shorter, specific, time frames to complete operational tasks. Instead of just “working” on your paperwork or saying you’ll get it done “sometime today,” tell yourself you have “45 minutes to get it done.” Why? Because you’ll use however much time you give yourself.

Think about it. How long did it take to write a paper the teacher assigned four weeks out? That’s right. Four weeks. If the teacher had said one week, that’s how long it would take. It’s actually called Parkinson’s Law. Look it up.

Give yourself less time on operational activities, and you’ll be able to get OutFront to lead and coach your team to higher results.

Try it out today. You’ll see and be able to invest the time you save.
By Doug Fleener 06 Oct, 2016

Most specialty retailers whose staff is sales-focused emphasize add-ons. When done well, this approach can slightly increase a store's average sale, but I believe it also reduces how well a staff can maximize sales opportunities.

In some stores, an add-on is an inexpensive item suggested to the customer at checkout. In other stores, it's a suggested item that complements a product a customer is buying.

Both approaches are better than just ringing up the sale without any suggestions for an additional purchase, but the best salespeople go far beyond adding-on.


Selling on is the act of continuing to show and recommend products and services the customer may want to purchase. This may sound like semantics, but it's a completely different mindset and approach.

The most successful retail salespeople never stop the sale.

They continue to sell on until the customer says he/she is done. They know it is poor service to assume the customer is done shopping until the customer says it.

Of course the first recommendation will be for a product that naturally complements the item the customer is buying. They'll show a wallet with a handbag, or treat with a bag of dog food. (Or whatever it is in your store.)

Top salespeople don't stop there.  They sell-on.

If the customer says "no" to the complementary product, they transition to additional products. If you focus on add-ons the customer's "no" means that the sale is over and it's time to check-out. When you focus on selling-on, "no" just means "no" to that product.

Do yourself a favor and reread that last paragraph. I'll wait. 


The salesperson that sells-on then moves to the next product and keeps showing and suggesting products until the customer says he/she is done.  

The customer might say no two or three times, but there's also a good chance there will be another one or perhaps two "yes" responses.

Compare that to the add-on approach of one "no" and you're done.

So let me ask, why limit your sales and not give your customers the opportunity to own even more of your wonderful products? The secret is to quit adding-on and begin selling on. Seriously try it for 30-days. You'll see the difference. You'll bank the difference.

Have a great week, and SELL-ON!

By Doug Fleener 28 Sep, 2016

The other day I was in a client's store when an older gentleman, helped by a younger woman, walked in. The associate went over to greet them, and then asked if she could help them.

He responded, "Just looking." Then he burst out laughing, because he was blind. The young woman, who was his aide, told me later that he loved to do that. There's not much I haven't seen in retail, but that was a new one. It was awesome. 

It got me thinking. If even a blind person will say he's just looking, people clearly don't always mean what they say. "Just looking" can actually mean many things.

"I have an interest in your store, but first I need some space to check it out."

"I may or may not be looking for something, but I haven't gotten comfortable enough to discuss it."

"I'd like to shop alone right now."

"Oh, no. It's a pesky salesperson! Please go away."

Here's the key.

Most of the time "just looking" means absolutely nothing. Zilch!

It's a natural response to an associate asking the customer if they need help. It is said without thought.

I've walked into a store wanting help and said it. It's just what you say when someone asks, "How may I help you?"

In the above example, I know that associate knows better than to ask how she can help a potential customer. I think the man being blind threw her off.

If she had said, "Welcome to XYZ. Is this your first time in the store, or have you been her before?" the customer wouldn't have responded with "just looking." Then again, he would have not gotten such a good laugh from all of us.

Here's my challenge for you.

How many customers in a row can you engage without them saying, "Just looking?" I guarantee that the higher the number, the better each customer's experience will be, and the more you will sell.

By the way, if they still say, "Just looking" all you need to do is give them a few minutes, and then reengage them.

So let me ask, how many customers can you engaging without them saying, “Just looking.”

Into action

Have a challenge today among your colleagues on who can have the longest streak of customers not say, "Just looking."


By Doug Fleener 26 Sep, 2016
If a customer has a less than stellar experience this week, what could have happened and what could we have done to avoid it?

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By Doug Fleener 23 Sep, 2016
It's Monday morning, and we look back and see that we had an incredibly successful weekend. We acknowledge that the extra effort the team put in made the difference. What are some of the things we might have had the team do?  

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By Doug Fleener 22 Sep, 2016

Last year I set out with a goal to eat better, get more exercise, and lose weight. I was really happy with how much I lost in the first four weeks, but then the dreaded plateau set in. As frustrating as it is, I learned that plateaus and dips are a natural part of losing weight.

Plateaus and dips are also a natural part of business and individual performance. Your team is working hard to improve their results. You’re making great progress, and then BAM. It stops. The dreaded plateau. Sometimes it’s not even a plateau, but your sales even dip.

Here are three things you can do when you, your business, and/or staff hit a performance plateau.

1. Change your routine. One reason you hit a weight loss plateau is because the body adapts to new eating and exercise routines. The changes you've made don't have as much impact as they did when you began.

The same is true with a staff. What once was new and different is now routine. Combat routine by switching things up. Change how you do Take Five (shift huddles) meetings. Focus on a different metric this week. Have a new game or competition. Do something to make this week different from last week.

2. Shift your focus to something new that will improve performance. A trainer will help you work through a plateau by making changes to your exercise program. He or she will probably target a different part of your body to focus on.

That same approach will work for you. If you've been focused on showing your customer additional items, shift the focus to reengaging customers. If you’ve been focusing on sharing more about the product, try improving getting customers in the dress room. (Or whatever is appropriate for your business.) 

It doesn't mean you stop what's been helping your staff perform at a higher level. What you’re doing is adding new areas of focus to keep improving and growing your sales. You can always circle back around to whatever you were focused on.

3. Improve your accountability. Many weight loss plateaus aren't plateaus at all. They're really the result of people slowly slipping back into old eating habits. That's why I used an app to track everything I eat. Total accountability!

Your plateau could also be a sign of people slipping back into old habits. I don't know of an app for that, but I do know that having people track and/or report back on how they perform key expectations has a direct impact on results.

So let me ask, are you or your staff in a performance plateau? If so, consider applying these three tips to overcome it, or even if you simply want to jumpstart your sales and service results.

By the way, I hit the best plateau of all….my weight goal. I’m maintaining it by continuing to do these three things. They work if you do them.


Doug Fleener, the former director of retail for Bose Corporation, is a frontline leadership expert known for bring fresh approaches and powerful actionable ideas to clients and audiences around the world.

For over twenty-years Fleener has helped executives, owners, multi-unit managers, and frontline managers accelerate the impact they have on employees, the customer service experience, and results. Learn more at

By Doug Fleener 15 Sep, 2016

Thank you cards are still one of the most effective, and most affordable, marketing tools you have. They stand out even more with so most marketing materials going digital.

Think about it. How many emails did you get in the last two weeks? Okay, and how many handwritten thank you cards did you get? Point made!

The fact is nothing does a bette job of creating a future visit than demonstrating your appreciation for your customer’s last visit.

Unfortunately, thank you cards are also one of those activities that seem to fall off the radar when things get busy or the staff gets distracted.

Which is too bad, because every thank you card is an investment in creating a future sale. I know one retailer who believes each thank you card will create $120 in future sales. That's worth writing for!

Here are some tips for creating productive thank you cards that make a positive impact.

1. Give yourself a daily target of thank you cards to do. If you wrote just two a day and worked four days a week, you would send out 368 thank you cards over the course of a year. (I'm not including the holiday season in this count.)

If you use the thank you card value of $120, that could create $44,160 in additional annual sales. Of course, your number could be higher or lower, but any way you look at it, more thank you cards results in more sales.

2. Write legibly. The card doesn't have any value if the customer can't read your handwriting. Those with less than stellar handwriting will want to write more slowly and focus on making the card readable.

3. Put the date in the upper right hand corner. This demonstrates that you are sending the card in response to a recent purchase or visit.

4. Use the proper salutation. Keep them formal ( Dear Mrs. Johnson ) unless you have known the customer for a long time, and are already on first name basis with him/her.

5. Start with your appreciation. The first words of the first sentence should convey the message of the note. Thank you for... or I appreciate ...

6. Personalize each note. Don't generically thank the customer for his/her purchase or visit. Be specific about what he/she purchased, or the exact dates of when they visited.

7. Set up the next visit. Tell your customer you look forward to serving her again on her next visit. You might even reference showing her something that will go with the item she purchased. Make this brief so you don't overshadow the core message of thank you.

8. End with a second thank you. This way the start and the finish express your thanks. Thank you again....

So let me ask, how well is your store effectively using thank you cards? What will you do to increase and/or improve your customer thank you cards? Remember, each one is an investment in keeping your customers and creating future sales.

By Doug Fleener 07 Sep, 2016

I once worked for a manager who gave a lot of feedback. I appreciated that since most of my managers up to then hadn't given much at all. What I didn't appreciate was that he only focused what didn't happen or what went wrong.

I have no idea why he couldn't accentuate the positive. If you made a big sale he would point out that the paperwork wasn't done correctly.

If you scored a 98 on a mystery shop he would want to review the one item the employee missed. If you hit 104% of sales he would want to talk about what kept you from achieving 105%. You get the picture. His perspective was out of balance.

It isn't much different from the manager or owner who only focuses on the positive. 

One manager who reported to me was the King of Pollyanna-land. If his store burned down he would have found a way to position it as a good thing. Needless to say, this guy didn't have much credibility with his team. His praise went in one ear and out the other.

OutFront frontline leaders keep and share a balanced perspective.

They recognize and celebrate success, and they identify and share improvement opportunities.

They know not to undermine praise with poorly timed feedback, and to not weaken critical improvement feedback with false praise.

They avoid being critical, and focus on what they want employee to do better or different. (That’s exactly what I teach in my EveryDay Coaching program.)

Keeping and sharing a balanced perspective is a key to helping employees develop and your store to succeed.

So let me ask, do you keep a balanced perspective? How balanced is it? More important, how balanced does your team think your perspective is? What should you do this week to have a more balanced and productive perspective?

By Doug Fleener 31 Aug, 2016

"When people are highly motivated, it's easy to accomplish the impossible. And when they're not, it's impossible to accomplish the easy." - Bob Collings

I love the above quote. While we often think about how to motivate employees, sometimes leaders demotivate the staff and not even know it. As the quote says, that makes it impossible to accomplish the easy.

Here are four ways frontline leaders might unintentionally demotivate their employees, and what they can do to avoid doing so.

1. Take charge after not being on the floor. This happens when a leader walks on to a busy sales floor and immediately takes charge - without knowing what customers have been helped. Even worse, he or she asks customers if they've been helped. Both actions inadvertently communicate to the staff that their manager has no confidence that they are doing their jobs when the manager wasn't on the floor. (Which I am sure is not the case!)

Taking action: When walking on to a busy floor, always take a moment to ask the employees who, or how, you can help.

2. Undermining the company or their boss. Many leaders do this without even realizing it. I awhile back I heard a manager tell her staff that the company wants them to do something new. She immediately followed up by explaining why it won't work. You could see her staff's negative reaction. As a leader, you are the company. Your staff should never know if you don't personally support something.

Taking action: Be careful to not to undermine your company, or share your personal feelings when they are not aligned with the company or your manager.


3. Cherry pick customers.  I once had an assistant manager who did this all of the time. The minute he learned a customer was going to take a long time or be somewhat challenging, he'd hand him or her over to a colleague because he had "some important operational things to do." Funny, he never handed over that customer who walked in to make a purchase.

Taking Action: Be consistent in how you choose to turn customers over to your staff. Remember that each instance gives you an opportunity to teach your staff, and demonstrate your priorities and expectations.


4. Hold themselves to a different set of standards. Not many managers do this on purpose, but it happens from time to time. I see managers who take personal calls when the staff is told they can't.

I've also seen managers who don't always stick to their scheduled working hours. True, the managers might be exempt and have had to work for the store from home, but does the staff know that?

Taking Action: Be aware of what your actions communicate to the staff. Your actions are always teaching. Be proud of what the lesson is.

So let me ask, how might you unintentionally demotivate employees?

Using This Article

Discuss with your entire leadership team these and other ways a manager might unintentionally demotivate the staff.

By Doug Fleener 23 Aug, 2016

When I was nine or ten years old, someone told me about a great way to sneak in to the movies. At least I thought it was a great idea. I was told that all I had to do was walk backwards into the movie theater when everyone else was leaving.

One day my friends and I decided to try it at the Lincoln Theater. (I grew up in Illinois so everything had Lincoln's name on it.) As soon as the movie was over and the crowd started streaming out, we started walking backwards towards the exit doors.

Okay, so it wasn't such a great idea. We ran in to all kinds of people, got called all kinds of names, and then backed right into the propped-open doors. Either I was not a very smart kid or I was incredibly gullible, but you had to respect my willingness to try new things.

Walking backwards may not be such a great idea, but what does work is to work backwards in designing your sales and experience strategies.

In most companies the executives, buyers, home office team, and/or owners work from their perspective, not the customer's. They first determine what they want to achieve and how they're going to do it. The goal might be increasing sales, traffic, or sell-through of particular products. The solution seems to always be a training, which may or may not be the answer. 

There is a better way.  Start with the customer and work (not walk) backwards to the office.

Let's say you want to increase sell through of green widgets by 15%. What has to happen on the floor to get customers to buy 15% more widgets?

I've learned to start looking for the answer on the sales floor itself, asking frontline employees how they think we can create success. Then I spend time observing both customers and employees to identify other potential opportunities.

Working backwards, identify what you want the customer to think and do that will increase widget sales. Then, what behaviors and actions does the staff need to start, stop, do more or less of to enable the customer to think and do those things?  That's a big piece that is frequently missing in sales and service experience strategies.

From there you do the work you've always done, but do it backwards. Identify what tools and processes need to be adapted, added, or changed. What merchandising and in-store messaging need to happen? Once you've answered those questions you can start to determine the training, communications, and in-house support plan. Continue to work backwards to the marketing strategy.

The difference between the two approaches is that by working backwards, you start where success has to happen: on the floor with the customer and the staff. None of the rest matters if you miss there.

You'll always be more successful if you work backwards. Maybe I was just ahead of my time that day at the Lincoln Theater.

So let me ask, how well are you working backwards to find the right opportunities and solutions to improving your sales and service experience?

Have a great week!

By Doug Fleener 11 Aug, 2016

One of the most important aspects of a frontline leader's job is to develop the leaders that work for them. Here are three suggestions for better developing your frontline leaders:

1. Delegate more than tasks. There are three level that you can delegate: tasks, responsibility, and complete accountability. Too many leaders only delegate tasks to their managers, which gives them no true opportunity to lead.

When you delegate responsibility, you hand it off to the other leaders. She owns it, but you still consider yourself accountable. When you delegate accountability you are no longer involved at all. You should be delegating all three levels.

2. Create a specific individual leadership development plan. Every leader you coach should know exactly what his strengths and areas of opportunity are, and have a very specific development plan for you to help him be even better.

Don't fall into the trap of being too generic, saying things like, "Be a better coach." Be specific. "Work with all associates whose average sale is below x amount, and report back on a weekly basis for four weeks." is the sort of thing you want.

3. Give immediate feedback on her leadership and coaching. This is one of the most overlooked actions a leader can take when coaching a leader. Tell the staff the other leader is in charge for the day, and to only come to you in an emergency. Now spend your time observing how the leader leads and coaches her team.

Give her feedback in the moment so she can apply it immediately. This is a great exercise for all managers, not just those who have been recently promoted.

So let me ask, how are you doing coaching your leaders? Which of these three suggestions can you apply to help your leaders become even better? What specific actions will you take this week help your frontline leaders be more effective?

By Doug Fleener 04 Aug, 2016

With low unemployment and so many companies in need of help, the competition for top candidates is definitely on the rise. I can personally attest to this from consulting with a client who is working overtime to find good people.

Here are some tips and ideas for filling open positions with amazing people.

1. Cast a wider net. I believe in attracting as many candidates as possible. I recommend stop requiring people to have retail or sales experience. I’d rather wade through a bunch of nos to find an unexpected amazing yes, than hope I can attract that one yes that just so happens to be looking to change companies.

2. Compensate your staff for recruiting. Your best recruiters already work for you. I'd rather pay my staff a referral bonus than spend that money on advertising, but there's a good chance I'll have to do both.

3. Advertise where job seekers are looking. I know that sounds completely obvious, but I continue to meet people who are still using classified ads - with no luck. I've had the most success with Craigslist and Indeed, marginal success with Zip Recruiter and LinkedIn, and the least amount of success with Monster (unless it is for a high level position). Your results may vary.

Also, contact all of your local colleges. Especially with kids starting back up. I’m okay if I lose them for the summer. I’ll take an amazing employee for nine months over an average person that I don’t have to replace.

4. It's all in the headline. I've been doing extensive testing of what sort of headlines work best, and I've learned that the least effective headline is what perhaps 95% of retailers do - use the job title as the headline.

The most effective ad headlines focus on the quality of the work environment. Sample headlines I've tested successfully:

* Work Where You're Appreciated and Make a Difference.

* Join Our Amazing Team

* Work With Fabulous People and Products

* We’re the Company You’ve Been Looking For

5. Post on your own social media.  Just make sure you position it as hiring additional or seasonal help. You never want to inadvertently give the impression that your store is understaffed. Again, it's all in the headline.

6. Start with a phone interview. Phone interviews are a quick and easy way to screen your applicants. It also allows me to interview more applicants I've attracted with my wider net. I usually know within 10 minutes if this is someone I want to get to know better. If it is, I schedule an in-person interview. If not, I thank the person for his/her time and wish them the best of luck.

7. Have them work the floor as part of the interview. Anyway can say they’re a “people person.” Show me! I’m not just talking about roleplaying. I have the applicants welcome and engage customers. I always ask managerial applicants to work the floor for a few minutes. I want to see how they handle pressure. I know this has kept me from a couple poor hires.

My most amazing hires were people who were just okay in the interview, and then came alive when working with customers. Not surprising since that’s a situation they’re use to.

So let me ask, what else can you do to find and hire amazing people?

By Doug Fleener 26 Jul, 2016

Here are three tips and reminders for how to effectively coach customer engagement.

1. Observe to elevate performance. There are two coaching mindsets. One is coaching to correct; trying to see what people are doing wrong. The other is coaching to elevate performance or, as I often say, to be even better.

When you coach to elevate, you're closely observing the fine details of each associate’s customer engagement. You're looking for those small details to help him or her better connect with their customer.

What's your mindset? Do you observe your associates to see what they're doing wrong, or what they can do better?

2. The more timely the feedback, the faster the impact on performance. A storeowner recently told me how effective her monthly one-on-one meetings are. She said she always has lots of good ideas for each employee to use to improve.

While I complimented her on having a coaching focus, I asked why she waited until her one-on-ones to give the feedback. Her answer? That's what she's always done. Remember, the sooner you deliver the feedback, the faster the associate, the next customer, and the store, can benefit from a higher level of engagement.

How quickly do you give your associates feedback? Do you deliver the feedback between customers, or do you wait until the next Take Five or other meeting?

3. Avoid giving "pinball" feedback . I recently worked with a manager who did a great job coaching her team throughout the day. The only problem was that her feedback was all over the place. She bounced from one thing to the next. That's what I call pinball feedback.

The most successful coaches narrow their focus. They know that associates will always be more successful focusing on just one or at the most two things at one time to work on. Giving feedback in too many areas will almost always result in the employee doing nothing.

How narrowly focused do you keep your feedback? At the end of a day, how many elements have your associates been asked to focus on? If you keep that number low, there's a good chance your sales results will be high.

Have a great week!

By Doug Fleener 19 Jul, 2016

One of the biggest challenges in retail is the routine of it all. It's fairly easy to fall into the trap of doing and saying the same things over and over. Sometimes you don’t even realize you're doing it. This not only diminishes the customer's experience, many of the lines directly impacts sales.

Consider these lines to avoid ­­– and why, and what you can replace them with.

1. Avoid asking "How may I help you?" or "Can I answer any questions?" This line is fine if the customer is clearly approaching you to ask you a question, but it's an engagement killer when she doesn't. I believe eliminating it from your vocabulary is best.

Consider saying:

If the customer is just entering your store just say, "Hello, and welcome to _______." If the customer wants help, she'll ask. If she doesn't, you can begin to build a connection or learn if she's been in the store before.

2. Avoid saying, "Let me know if you have any questions." or "Let me know if you need any help." Sales people often say this after a customer conveys that he doesn't want or need help. It's fine if a customer wants some space, but making either of these statements limits your ability to actively reengage the customer. And, of course, actively engaging your customer is how you add value to his/her experience and maximize your opportunity.

Consider saying:

"I'll check back with you in a little bit, and in the meantime please let me know if I can be of any assistance." Now when you reengage the customer you're just following up on what you said you would do.


3. Avoid saying "Will that be all?" or "Did you want to look at anything else?" Of all the limiting lines, these cost a retailer the most sales since they're being said to confirmed buyers. Our job is to continue to show and recommend products until the customer stops the sale.

Consider saying:

* Use a bridge statement to continue to show products. Here are a few examples:

"You're going to want use this ____ with your _______."

"Here is the matching ______ that goes with those _______."

"I have the perfect _______ to wear with _________."

  So let me ask, which of these lines might be limiting your sales? Practice with your manager and/or a colleague what you'll start saying instead of the limiting line.

By Doug Fleener 11 Jul, 2016

As a leader, it's important that you and your team maintain a healthy relationship with customers and each other. And the foundation of a healthy relationship is trust and respect.

For example, you would never let anyone on your staff be intentionally disrespectful or dishonest with a customer or colleague, but some behaviors are accepted even though they potentially undermine the relationship and the customer or employee's experience.

My advice for leaders is to avoid accepting any behaviors in your store that could hurt an individual or your company's reputation. Here are three behaviors I find troubling.

White lies

White lies are minor lies that could be considered harmless. Usually they're only harmless if the customer or colleague doesn't hear the truth.

In my Sharper Image days we once had a customer call to inquire if the piece of luggage he had dropped off to be repaired was done. My fellow assistant discovered that the piece was still sitting in the office. He told the customer, "I'm not sure why we haven't gotten it back yet." Just a little white lie, right? 

Well, it was fine until a few days later when the repair place called the customer with a question about the luggage they had just received. You can imagine how angry that made the customer. Admitting you made a mistake doesn't damage a customer relationship nearly as much as being caught in a lie.

Strong leaders and strong teams don't allow white lies.

Sales fibs

I see this one more than I wish I did. You know. The salesperson says, "This is the last one in stock" even though there are more in the backroom. I'll never forget when I saw a salesperson say that to a customer and then the customer pointed to a huge stack of the product on the floor and said, "Looks like you just got some in."

Sales fibs are a lazy way to sell. Instead of learning enough about the customer to create purchase intent, the salesperson uses scarcity to create intent. The bigger issue for you as a leader is that you're condoning dishonesty if you allow people to sell that way. Spin it any way you want, it's still dishonest.

Strong leaders and strong teams don't allow sales fibs.

Speaking ill of others

Just about everyone has probably done this to one degree or another. Sometimes it's just a snide remark about what a pain the customer is, or what a colleague did. It's harmless, right?

While these words might be spoken in jest, when we accept them we're allowing small degrees of disrespectfulness. On the other end of the scale is gossip that can hurt others. Neither one is healthy for teamwork and collaboration among the staff, or for delivering the best possible experiences.

Strong leaders and strong teams don't speak ill of others.

None of us are perfect, but when we set high relationship standards and expectations and everyone on team holds each other accountable, chances are better than average that our relationships will be that much stronger.

So let me ask, do you and your team have high relationship standards and expectations? Even if you do, these are still great reminders for your next sales meeting.

- Doug
By Doug Fleener 05 Jul, 2016
Every summer my youngest daughter plays on a competitive travel softball team. Last year she was on a team coached by two women in their early twenties. I've been watching these two ladies coach these high school and college players, and I see that much of what they do to be successful applies to our "players" as well.

1. A daily routine. The players know exactly how they are expected to warm up for practice and games. It never deviates, and players are expected to begin the pregame routine without being told. They stretch, they run, they hit, and they field. In our stores, the routines should include Take Fives, roleplay, reviewing stock levels, reading communications, etc.

Into action: Do you set - and stick to - the routines that make your team more successful?


2. Expectations are communicated directly. One thing I love about these two young coaches is how comfortable they are telling players what they expect from them. One day they sent the following email: "Hey Ladies! Make sure to be ready to go by 8:45am tomorrow! Coach Shannon and I are expecting three wins so please get a good night's sleep and come ready to play!"

Into action: Are you direct with your expectations? Do you tell your team you expect them to win?


3. They will only accept a 100% effort by players. Anything less than 100% is unacceptable to these two coaches. That's how they played the game, and that's how they coach.

At the same time, they don't yell at or browbeat the players. Nor do they pamper them and say everything is okay. If there's an issue, they address it. They coach the player on what to do better or differently. They then reset the expectations, and get the player back onto the field. They continue to encourage her to play up to her capabilities.

Into action: Do you expect enough, and do you address and coach players who aren't "playing" up to their potential?

By the way, a lot of these players will go on to play competitive college softball. These young coaches and players know that the reward is worth the effort. I hope you and your team do, too.

By Doug Fleener 30 Jun, 2016

For those of you in the US, here are three different games/contests that can make the Fourth of July weekend more fun and productive. These will also work just as effetely for store or companies for whom July 4th is just another day.

1. Reach for Four on the Fourth
I like to use a multiple day, team-based, incentive to keep the staff focused and motivated over a holiday weekend. Here's a really easy and effective one to use on the Fourth.

This incentive runs for three days. You can make it Saturday through Monday, or Friday through Sunday depending on what days you’re open. First, decide on three different levels of prizes that everyone on the team will win if they achieve certain levels.

Cash or Gift card example: Level 1 is $10 each, Level 2 is $20 each, Level 3 is $30 each, and Level 4 is $40. You can replace the cash/gift cards with different products.

A store can achieve up to 4 points a day. If the staff hits that day's sales goal they score 2 points. If they also achieve their average sale goal, they score another 2 points.

To achieve Level 1 the team needs to score at least 6 points over the three days.

To achieve Level 2 the team needs to score at least 8 points.

To achieve Level 3 the team needs to score at least 10 points.

To achieve Level 4 the team needs to score all 12 points.

What I like about this weekend contest is that each day builds on the one before. Even if there is one bad day or not enough traffic the team can still achieve some level of prizes. Of course you can tweak the levels and prizes as you see fit.

2. Fourth of July Sales and Customer Engagement Extravaganza

The goal of this game is to drive higher levels of sales and customer engagement over the weekend using the Fourth of July theme.

The game cards are American flags, and the staff must complete 13 different activities and sales targets. Each time a person completes an activity or sales target, then he/she checks-off the completed stripe (line) on the flag.

There are two different cards you can download and use. The first one is semi-completed for you to customize with these 13 activities and targets.

1. Practice selling a ___________ with a colleague.

2. Find a customer wearing red, white, and blue.

3. Discover a customer's July 4th plans.

4. Do something nice and unexpected for someone.

5. Make a sale of $_________ or more.

6. Make a sale of $_________ or more.

7. Sell a ______________________.

8. Sell a ______________________.

9. Sell a ______________________.

10. Sell a ______________________ and a ______________________ together.

11. Sell two or more ________________________ to one customer.

12. Sell three or more ___________________ today.

13. Complete the first 12 and you get this one free!

The other card is blank so you can create your own targets and activities. 

There are several ways you can pick a winner.

1. If everyone is working the same shift, the first one to fill out the card can win.

2. The person who fills in the most stripes on the flag wins. In this version there can be multiple winners.

3. Everyone who fills in the entire card wins a prize and is entered into a drawing for a one big prize.

4. Split your staff up into teams and have them work a card together.

Download the flag playing card

1. Semi-completed card in Word

2. Semi-completed card in PDF

3. Blank card in Word

4. Blank card in PDF


3. The Customer FIREWORKS Game

This a fun contest that's very effective if you want your staff to create a more engaging and personal experiencing by learning and using their customers names. If your store or restaurant has a lot of out-of-town customers/guest, you can also use FIREWORKS to discover the name of the city the customer is from.

To play give each employee a sheet of paper with the word fireworks laid out like this:











The employee who discovers and uses the most customer names, or what city they are from that start with the letters F-I-R-E-W-O-R-K-S in a day wins. The winner's sheet on the name version might end up looking like this:










Here's a hint. The staff has a better chance if they find out the customer's children names as well.

Have a safe, productive, and fun holiday weekend!

By Doug Fleener 23 Jun, 2016

One day I walked into a store and an associate asked, "How you doing?" I started to answer, but then realized that she wasn't talking to me. She also wasn't talking to the couple that walked in right behind me. She was just talking at people mindlessly repeating "How you doing?"

As I continued through my day I started noticing that people either talk to you or at you. Outwardly, it looks the same, but as a customer you feel and experience the difference. The more aware I became of the difference, the more I realized how many people talk at you. Even in a one-on-one conversation.

Routine and repetition is the greatest barrier to delivering a great experience.

People walk in the door all day and we're expected to greet and welcome them. It's so easy to fall into the trap of talking at people. 

Here are a few reminder/suggestions to make sure you're talking to people, and not at them.

1. Make eye contact. There's a big difference between looking at people and making eye contact.

2. Smile. When you make eye contact and smile you can't help but make a positive impression on someone. You don’t need to force a smile. It’s easy to smile naturally when you make eye contact with people.

3. Make it personal. When you take the time to learn one or two things about someone, you're well on your way to talking with them. Where are there from? Have they been at the store before? If they have, what have they purchased in the past?

4. Acknowledge what people say. You can always tell when someone is talking at you because they don't really care what you say. They're just waiting for you to stop talking.

On a trip to Las Vegas a person at my hotel asked how my day was going. For fun I said, "Not good. I lost all of my money." He replied, "Okay. Have a good day." Who knows, maybe he's heard that a lot, but I would have appreciated a little empathy.

5. Keep it fresh. No, I don't recommend getting fresh with customers, but I do recommend that you keep changing what you say and do with customers. When we slip too deeply into a routine, that’s when we slowly drift away from talking to people and begin talking at them.

So let me ask, do you talk to or at customers?

How to leverage this article

Discuss with your colleagues what else can you do to make sure you're talking with customer, and not at them? Which of the above suggestions can you practice today in order to lessen the chance you find yourself talking at somebody?

By Doug Fleener 15 Jun, 2016

An important part of your job as a leader is empowering your staff. When you think of empowering, most people think about giving staff the authority to make decisions.

While this type of empowerment is certainly beneficial to delivering a good experience, there is a deeper and more impactful level of empowerment. That level of empowerment is giving your staff the confidence to be able to create their own success.

That's true empowerment. Just think about having that belief and the ability to control your own destiny. When your staff is that empowered... look out! They will find a way to be successful.

Here are four actions service selling leaders take to empower their staff:

1. Consistently connecting actions with results. Empowering leaders always reinforce what actions lead to what results. For example, some managers will tell staff they need to achieve a certain number of daily try-ons, "because that's the expectation." Empowering leaders always champion the idea that the more try-ons, the better the results, "So let's do at least x number of try-ons today."

2. They give each employee a balanced perspective. Focusing only on what an employee does well is easier for a manager, but it's not empowering. "Empower" means to make someone stronger. We make people stronger when we help them improve. People can only improve if they are aware of what they need to improve in. Hence, we empower when we focus on what people can do better as well as what they already do well.

3. Teach - Observe - Coach - Repeat! Empowering leaders know they always need to be teaching their staff the small details that create a more engaging and productive service selling experience, and then help them execute it by observing and coaching them.

4. Focus on solutions, not problems. There are two types of staff. The ones that focus on why they're not achieving the results they want, and the staff that is always looking for what else they can do to exceed their goals. The difference between the two staff is their leader. One is empowering, and one is not.

So let me ask, how empowering are you as an EveryDay Coach and Leader?

How to leverage this article:  Discuss with your leadership team the different ways you empower the staff. Remember, "empower" as in giving confidence and the ability to control their own results. Additionally, talk about the ways your team, as leaders, can be even more empowering.

By Doug Fleener 09 Jun, 2016

There are always plenty of tasks to be completed in your business. At the same time you need to focus on the key behaviors and actions to be successful for the day.

That’s why it is not only important that you delegate, but you do so in a way that both tasks and key sales strategies get completed.

Here’s a simple and effective three-step approach to do just that.

1. Prioritize the day. To be an effective delegator, you have to first determine your priorities for the day. Notice that I didn't say that you immediately create a to-do list. Instead, identify what has to happen for the day to be successful.

Maybe traffic is down, so you want to make sure Average Sale is up $15 for the day. And with traffic down you want to make sure that each employee calls between 3-5 customers.

Then, of course, that order is coming in that will need to be put away, and there's a small merchandising reset that needs to happen. Just another day in your life!

Here’s what to do. Write down what needs to happen today. Then force-rank each item from top to bottom. You'll notice that most of the things at the top of the list aren't things you would have put on a to-do list to begin with.

2. Next, create a priority to-do list. Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. Label the columns from left to right: Me | Manager | Anyone.

Looking at the priorities you just listed, what needs to/can be done by whom? Put each focus/task in the appropriate column based upon who can do and/or be responsible for it. It will go in the first column if it is something that you and only you can do. It will go in the second column if it is something only a manager should do, and it goes in the last column if almost anyone working that day can be responsible for it. Add any other items that need to be done but weren't on your priority list.

3. Make sure your highest priorities are covered first. Before you worry about getting that order done, think about who is making sure the average sale will be up $15. Think about it - it doesn't have to be a member of management. Anyone on your team can lead the charge and coach that. Well, that is, if everyone knows you've delegated that responsibility to that person.

You'll also find that you may not have time to do many of the tasks on the list, as you need to be driving the highest priority items. That's why you should rarely be the person doing most of the tasks in the third column.

The fact is, most of us can’t get everything done we want to get done in the day. The key is to make sure you’re being as productive as possible, and that whatever doesn’t get done is not a priority in achieving success.

So let me ask, how well are you aligning what's important to your store’s/business’s success, and what are you prioritizing and delegating?

How to leverage this article

Consider trying this approach for one week to see it will help you and your staff be more effective and productive. (And don’t forget to read about my new productivity program for coaches and leaders below.)

By Doug Fleener 01 Jun, 2016

Your time is one your most valuable assets. One of the smartest investments of that valuable time is having a monthly thirty-minute one-on-one with each employee. This is especially important for frontline employees that are directly responsible for contributing to the store's sales success.

Here are some tips on making those one-on-one investments/meetings most productive:

1. One-on-ones should be scheduled on the calendar and the store schedule with a defined start and end time. "Catch as catch can" usually means they either don't happen or are no more than brief conversations on the floor. Sticking to a thirty-minute time frame keeps the conversations on track and the chatty people focused.

2. Have employees be responsible for coming prepared to lead the meeting. This gives an employee ownership of his or her development, and frees managers to focus on coaching people instead of preparing for a meeting.

3. Start with metrics, and then focus on actions. Review key store and individual metrics such as sales, ADS, conversion, UPT, and any other numbers you deem important. Then discuss the Threes below.

4. Use my 3x2 self-assessment approach. The employee identifies:

* Two actions and results they are proud of. Ideally, this will link back to last month's one-on-one.

* Two things they could have done better.

* Two things they will focus on in the coming month in order to make a great contribution to the store.

5. Have the employee share his or her insights first; you add yours after that. It's important that the employee go first since they're responsible for their own development, and you learn a lot by hearing their perspective before you give yours.

6. Reach an agreement on how you can support the employee in the coming month. This is an important step that shows you're investing your time and energy in the person's growth and development. It also creates some accountability for you.

7. Keep the one-on-one focused on the employee's growth and development. It's easy for this meeting to go off in a million directions, but this isn't the time to discuss store operational activities, marketing, etc. This conversation is all about the employee's development. It’s also why I keep these meetings to thirty-minutes. The non-employee discussion can wait for another time. 

So let me ask, how well are investing in your people? Since this is the first day of the month, it's a great time to improve, or begin, your monthly one-on-one investments/meetings.

By Doug Fleener 25 May, 2016

Here is a post you’ll want to be sure and share with your entire staff.

Imagine walking into a restaurant. You're greeted and shown to your table. The waiter appears with the menus and tells you about the specials. He cheerfully answers your questions and says he'll check back with you in a few minutes. 

He later reappears pushing a dessert cart, explains what's special about each dessert, and says he'll check back with you in a few minutes. A little while later he comes by and thanks you for visiting. You get up and leave.

Even though everybody at the restaurant was very nice, and you'd be the first to say it was a pleasant experience, there's one big problem. YOU’RE STILL HUNGRY! And isn't eating a meal the reason you go to a restaurant in the first place?

Of course, this rarely happens except unless you're on the receiving end of truly terrible service. Here's why. The staff of a restaurant knows you're walking into that restaurant because you're hungry, and their primary responsibility is to sell you something to eat, not just show you what's available.

The same is true in your store. Customers walk in because they have an interest in buying what you sell. You could even say they're hungry for something new. If all you do is show products, you're not delivering the best possible experience.

Our responsibility is to sell each customer the best products that meet her/his needs, and/or fulfills her/his wants.

We do that by getting to know the customer, and understanding what she likes, dislikes, owns, and aspires to own. We might want to know what project they’re working on, or where on vacation they’re going.

We also engage the customer with the products. In some stores we have her try them on, get her in front of the mirror, and then give her an opportunity to purchase any and all of those products.

Simply showing products will only leave your customer hungry for more, and there's a good chance she/he will satisfy that hunger somewhere else.

Remember this: Selling is the best service and experience you can deliver. Don't just show your customer a product. Take the time to engage and sell her the products she'll be happy and proud to purchase. That's our responsibility.

So let me ask, do you show or sell? Does your customer leave hungry, or do you “fill them up” with all they things they need and might want?

How to leverage this article.

Discuss with your colleagues some of the specific things you say and do to sell your customer. Then share two actions you can take today to ensure your customer doesn’t leave hungry.

By Doug Fleener 18 May, 2016

A good friend of mine has a large sign reading “No Excuses” on his office wall.  That expression is a foundational element of his leadership style and how he manages his business.

It started thinking about that, and wondering if an excuse really is a bad thing.  Things do happen that are out of our control.

A couple years ago the mall near my house closed because a water main break caused a sinkhole in the parking lot. A sinkhole! If ever there was an excuse for not making your day’s goal, a sinkhole in your parking lot has to be near the top of the list.

When I have these conversations with myself (and they are an occupational hazard of working alone) I head to the dictionary.


1. to offer an apology; to seek to remove blame

2. to justify

3. an explanation offered as a reason for being excused

I love when the definition of a word includes the word I'm looking up. Doesn't that defeat the idea of looking up the word? But I digress.

As a leader, you don't need to apologize, justify or explain away results.

Your role as a leader is to create results in spite of challenges.

In spite of the weather. In spite of the local economy. Even in spite of a sinkhole.

An excuse is an acceptance of the outcome or results.

The alternative is to take more and/or different actions. Action or excuse. The difference is how you rise to the challenge, or not.

No Excuse Leaders take actions to create results in spite of the challenge.

Bad weather hits. What are you going to do to make up the lost sales? What can you do to get customers into the store? Or will weather be the excuse?

Traffic is down. Will you hold more events? Call more customers, or take other actions that get customers to your store? Or will the Internet or other competitors become your excuse?

Your average sale is trending down. (Definitely not a good thing if combined with lower traffic!) Will you invest time in observing your staff and determine what else they can do with their customers to change the results? Will you take action and work one-on-one with your team? Or will “customers aren’t spending money” be your excuse?

You’re struggling to fill open positions. Will you set a goal to triple the number of applicants? Will you run daily job fairs twice a week until you hit that goal? Will you teach your staff how to recruit someone who gives them Sixth Star service? Or will “nobody wants to work anymore” become your excuse?

And the sinkhole? It was just another reason to take action. Manager Cindy and her team called customers and made sales - in spite of the mall being closed. No excuses there. No acceptance of a sinkhole ruining their day. Cindy stepped up and created results in spite of the challenge. That’s No Excuse Leadership!

Whatever happens, there is always a choice to either take actions or make an excuse. The choice is yours. The choice determines if you’re a No Excuse Leader.

So let me ask, what kind of leader are you?

How to leverage this article.

1. Discuss with your management team how leaders inadvertently accept outcomes instead of taking action.

2. Have each person share a recent example of how he/she may have taken actions instead of accepting the outcome/result.

3. Print out and post this No Excuse Leadership sign for your office.
By Doug Fleener 11 May, 2016

You’re much more likely to make a sale and exceed your customer’s expectation when you focus on proactively engaging him/her, or what we call winning a customer’s Sixth Star. “Helping” a customer rarely earns six stars.

Here are ten signs that someone is delivering an engaging customer experience, or is merely facilitating a purchase.

1. In an engaging experience , you assume your customer will be a buyer if he/she is shown the right products. When helping customers, you assume everyone is just looking.

2. In an engaging experience , you welcome your customer, and strive to make his or her experience enjoyable and special. When helping customers, you ask how you can help. Then only give the customer what they asked for.

3. In an engaging experience , you're the one selecting and recommending products. When helping customers, they're doing all the work.

4. In an engaging experience , you know and use your customer's name. When helping customers, you use the person’s name after you glance at their credit card during the checkout. (If that.)

5. In an engaging experience , you’re asking questions. When helping a customer, you're answering them.

6. In an engaging experience , you proactively physically engage your customer with products. When helping customers, you’re probably just talking about the products.

7. In an engaging experience , both you and your customer are having an enjoyable and rewarding time. When helping customers, both of you are striving to finish the transaction and move on to something else.

8. In an engaging experience , you're showing multiple products for your customer to consider and purchase. When helping customers, you add on another product.

9. In an engaging experience , you're making sure your customer sees herself in the mirror while wearing products. When helping customers, your customer asks where she’ll find the mirror.

10. In an engaging experience , you’re nudging your customer into a decision about which products to purchase. When helping customers, the customer tells you what she'll buy. (Or says thank you and walks away, possibly to spend his/her money somewhere else.)

So let me ask, are you engaging or helping your customer?

How to leverage this article.

Discuss with your colleagues which of these signs of an engaging experience you do well, and those on which you can focus on being less help and more engaging.

By Doug Fleener 06 May, 2016

I'm a big proponent of regular staff meetings. Whether they're weekly or monthly, regularly getting the entire team together is extremely productive. If, that is, the time is used wisely.

Here are two ways leaders can conduct MORE productive store meetings. 

+ Practice/roleplay. Whether you're rolling out new products, teaching the staff how to deliver a better service experience, calling customers, or looking to improve your sales approach, taking the time to show - not just tell - how to do something makes a big difference. I don't see any reason not to do this in every meeting.

+  Brainstorming. One of the biggest benefits of getting your team together is leveraging their collective brainpower. Your people have a lot of great insight and plenty of good ideas, but you probably won't hear about them if you don't ask.

The best way to do this is to spend 10-15 minutes brainstorming around a forward focused question such as:

"What else can we do to increase the number of visits by our regular customers?"

"What actions can we take to increase our average sale by $10?”

"What actions can we take to make our customers feel even more special?”

Forward focused brainstorming can also happen at Take Five Meetings, and during quiet moments in the day.

Here are two things leaders do that make for LESS productive meetings: 

- Lecture versus teach and engage. Passive listening to information that could have been communicated in an email or memo is not a productive use of payroll or the staff's time. Staff meetings should be looked at as an investment. Use this time to develop your team and improve your store experience and results.

- Focus too much on the negative. Because this is one of the few times everyone is together, leaders can, without meaning to, find themselves talking too much about little things that are wrong. Again, this is information that can often be covered in a memo.

If you need to have this type of conversation, make it quick and move on to more productive topics.

So let me ask, how can you make your staff meetings even more productive?

How to leverage this article.

Discuss with your leadership team these and other elements that make a staff meeting productive or unproductive. Come up with 2-3 ideas you'll implement in your next staff meeting to make it even more productive.

- Doug

By Doug Fleener 27 Apr, 2016

Time to change it up a little! From time to time I’ll be using this new format, a collection of six topics and thoughts that will help you and your company to grow and develop, and achieve even more short and long-term success. Let me know what you think!

★  Service Selling: Know three things

Every associate should be able to tell you three things he/she learned about a customer after engaging them. I guarantee that you’re missing sales if they can’t.

Takeaway: Have associates share with a manager and/or a colleague what three things they learned after every customer. I know that sounds simple. So is losing sales without even knowing it. Do this for two weeks and you’ll sell more products and deliver an even better service experience.

★★   Customer Service/Experience: The most important customer

I think we all agree that the most important customer is the one currently in front of us. Why do we let a phone call change that?

Takeaway: When the store/company is busy, consider having your employees call customers back instead of taking every call right then. That’s not only for the benefit of the customer in front of you, but it also allows your staff to give the phone customer his/her undivided attention.

★★★   Leadership: A successful mindset

I once had a client who planned for failure. And it was amazing how often he was right. The worse part of his negative outlook was that he passed this mindset on to his team. I’m not even sure why they turned the lights on most mornings. I eventually stopped working with them. A new strategy can’t overcome a failure mindset.

Takeaway: Never underestimate how your mindset and perspective impacts others. As a leader, you have to set the tone, and champion throughout the day why it will be a successful day. When you have doubt, tell your dog or cat all about it. Not your staff.

★★★★   Entrepreneurship: How opinions get in the way of success

I’ve told people for years to not let their personal feelings get in the way of what works. Too bad I didn’t take my own advice.

I really don’t care for pop-ups on websites. I resisted putting any on mine for years. Finally I relented and added one for a newsletter sign-up. As a result, my newsletter sign-ups are up 400%, and it has not negatively affected the amount of time users stay on my website.

Takeaway: Be open to trying new things. Test it. If it doesn’t work, you were right. If it doesn’t work, you were right to test it!

★★★★★   Customer Engagement: A nice staff

One of the biggest misperceptions leaders have is confusing a nice staff with a highly effective staff. No, I’m not suggesting that it’s not important for your staff to be nice, but it takes a lot more than being nice to execute a highly effective customer engagement strategy.

The key to highly effective customer engagement is PROACTIVE ACTION. Taking specific actions that engage customers when they enter your store or business. Engaging them in conversation. Putting products in your customer’s hands. Recommending solutions to problems your customer may not even know he/she has. Nice is nice. Proactive action is better. Nice people taking proactive action are even better.

Takeaway: Identify some of the specific proactive actions you know your team takes to deliver a great service experience and sell more products. Look to make changes if the list is shorter than you think it should be.

★★★★★★   Personal Development: Coaching yourself

Two of the most important factors in developing your staff are setting new and higher expectations, and then making sure there is accountability to achieve those expectations.

An example: You set an expectation that each associate always suggest one additional product. You hold them accountable by having them track how often they do that in a day.

These two elements are almost always missing in our personal development. We think about changing or growing in our role, but there’s really never a new expectation of ourselves. Nor is there any accountability.

Here’s an easy way to achieve both. Tell a friend, colleague, manager, or anyone else you trust that you’re going to work on a specific behavior or action. (Your personal expectation.) At the end of each day, send that person a text or email describing what you did well and what you can do better. The other person doesn’t even need to respond. They just need to remind you if you’ve not followed through on what you said you would do.

Takeaway: Adding both expectations and accountability to your own development will help you grow and develop faster and higher.

By Doug Fleener 20 Apr, 2016

Monday was Patriots’ Day here in Massachusetts, commemorating the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord that began the Revolutionary War. Since I live in Lexington I can tell you first hand that it’s a big day here.

Annual highlights include a sunrise reenactment of the battle and a big parade in the afternoon, both of which are a big hit with kids and adults alike. Watching the parade this year I couldn’t help but think about the involvement, or lack thereof, of local businesses in their communities.

Here in Lexington we are fortunate to have a number of retailers and other businesses that are engaged and invested in community. We also have those that aren’t. That’s their choice. It isn’t surprising, though, that the retailers that stay involved with the community are the ones that don’t just stay in business, they flourish. 

It takes a lot of work and effort to be an engaged local retailer/business, and sometimes it doesn’t always appear to pay off. The effort doesn’t always show up in any given day’s bank deposit, but it does in a store’s long-term success.

I know, because I’ve seen it here in Lexington. For more than twenty years I’ve watched the same stores be a key part of my town’s success. There’s Michelson's Shoes, the shoe store that’s been in business since 1919. Above is a picture of their antique car in yesterday’s parade.  And there’s Crafty Yankee, a local gift store that opened in 1980. Kathy Fields purchased the store in 1994 and has been a successfully engaged owner ever since.

These engaged local retailers, among several others, have survived the recession. They continue to survive the Internet. They continue to survive national competition.

Here are three ways to be an engaged local business:

1. Be involved. Be a member of your downtown, merchant, and/or chamber group. Retailers, restaurants, and other local businesses must work together to be a destination for shoppers. This isn’t just for owners. Managers of multi-location businesses are the local face of that business, and need to be involved as well.

2. Provide an engaging customer experience. That’s the one big thing local stores and businesses have over Amazon and other online companies. As I teach in my Sixth Star online training programs, customers that emotionally connect with a local store will buy more, are more loyal, and will advocate the business to others.

Customers won’t emotionally connect with a company just because it’s local. They emotionally connect because employees deliver an engaging and personal service experience that is superior to what the customer receives other places. When your staff proactively engages customers and exceeds their expectations, they become your unfair advantage.

3. Stay engaged. Running a business/store is harder than it has ever been. As my client/friend Laura Young says, retail is not for sissies. The competition is fierce. The demands on an owner and manager’s time are higher than ever. We didn’t have social media and so many distractions thirty years ago.

What you can’t afford is for all of these new demands keep you from doing what has worked for local retailers and other businesses for hundreds of years: Never be too busy to leverage your point of differentiation - your people and your commitment to your community.

Luckily for us, those Patriots showed up on that April morning in 1775 to stand their ground against the vastly larger and more powerful British army.

As a local business, you can continue to win the battle in your community. Stand your ground. Stay engaged. Stay invested. People want and need you, their local business, to win.

So let me ask, do you invest your time and resources into being a key contributor to your community? Being local is an advantage only when you leverage opportunities to connect with your community.

- Doug

By Doug Fleener 14 Apr, 2016

Here's an article you can share with your entire staff.

Sometimes we inadvertently do things that actually make it harder to engage and sell customers, and it a negative impact on his/her service experience.

Here are three things I’ve recently seen associates do – without even realizing that they were impeding themselves.

1. Make the customer decide too fast. This often happens when we’re helping a customer find something specific. We hold a product up and ask the customer, “Something like this?”

This requires the person to make a split second decision. While you might find exactly what the customer is looking for, you do run the risk of her missing something she likes.

Instead, I recommend that you pick out a couple of the items and present them together. This will slow down the customer so she can make a more deliberate decision, and make it easier for her when compares the products. An added bonus… it substantially increases the likelihood she’ll buy multiple items. This also works for non-retail as well.

2. Engage the customer too quickly. There’s a big difference between greeting a customer in the first five seconds he’s in the store, and trying to learn a lot about him when he’s barely through the door.

Most people need a bit of time to decompress. Take in the environment. Get comfortable. One thing is for sure: try to overly engage a customer before he’s ready, and you’re certain to hear “Just looking.”

“Just looking” is a usually a sign we did something to impede the sale. Over 90% of the “just looking” is because of something we said. Usually by asking, “How can I help you?”

3. Asking if there will be anything else. Yes, I know I’m a broken record about this. It’s because it has such a negative impact on the customer’s service experience AND your sales. And I saw it again just the other day.

We owe it to our customer to continue to show and engage her with products until she says she’s done, NOT when we ask if she’s done. It’s not the easiest habit to break, but it’s so important that we do.

So let me ask, do you inadvertently do any of these? The good news is that identifying the opportunity means you’re halfway to being more successful. Now you just need to create new positive habits to replace those that might be impeding your sales and experience.

- Doug

By Doug Fleener 06 Apr, 2016
I have a number of guiding principles in my business and personal life. Two of the biggies are to remain teachable, and to always strive to become better. The two came together late last week in the launch of my new Sixth Star training program.

My client Joan called to talked about several things, but it was her feedback on my launch that really hit home. As they say, the student became the teacher.

She reminded me that I always talk to her about making it easy for customers to do business with her company, and the need to personalize each customer’s experience. I agreed, and said those principles were part of Sixth Star Service.

She asked how my launch of a subscription model fit making it easy and personal for customers. Before I could answer, she told me that it didn’t. Ouch.

She said that while a subscription may work for some retailers, it took extra work for those who just want the Sixth Star Service Selling training. Joan went on to point out other flaws in my launch, including not offering just the Service training by itself. There were a number of “ouches” before the end of that call.

As a result, I’m doing a relaunch of my Sixth Star trainings. Call it Launch 2.0. (Details here .) But this article is not about that, although I do hope you take time to learn about the changes.

This article is about leadership. More specifically, the leadership Joan demonstrated on that phone call, and what I learned as a result.

1. Believe in your heart that feedback is not criticism. While I didn’t like hearing Joan tell me that what I was doing wasn’t aligned with what I taught, I didn’t take it as criticism for three reasons.

a) I knew Joan was giving the feedback to help me. I wouldn’t have listened if I believed that Joan was only telling me something to benefit herself. Every time you give an employee feedback, you’re helping him or her be better.

b) She kept the focus on my actions, not me. She never once said I was messed up. Instead, she talked about how the subscription model wasn’t congruent with what I had taught her. I was never defensive. The more you keep the focus on your employee’s behaviors and actions, the more likely he/she is to hear what you’re saying.

c) Joan shared the “why” behind the feedback. She didn’t just tell me the subscription approach was wrong, but connected the flaws she saw to the impact of those flaws on others. When you connect your feedback to how it impacts customers, almost everyone is open to hearing it.

2. We owe it to others to tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. I’ve only been working with Joan a relatively short time. It would have been very easy for her to not have that conversation with me. When I thanked her for the feedback she replied, “Of course. I thought you should know.” I’m grateful she gave me the feedback. I’m not sure I would have questioned our approach without it. The same is true with your employees and colleagues.

3. It’s not failure if you can improve it. After the call with Joan I took a hard look at what I had already rolled out. It’s never fun to analyze what you’ve already done to see if it was wrong. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t wrong. It just wasn't as good as it could be.

But wait - doesn’t that mean it was wrong? Not at all. The subscription model worked for some. They signed up. But it didn’t work for all. I realized I could improve what I am offering and make it more accessible for more companies.

4. Focus forward on the opportunities. I put a lot of time into the new subscription model I rolled out last week. Of course the last thing I wanted to do was scrap all of my efforts. But holding on to something because of the amount of work I put in is a poor decision if new actions will create even better and/or more opportunities.

As leaders, it is our role to get it right, make it easy, make it enjoyable, and make it special for our customers and employees. That’s the foundation of Sixth Star Service.

I missed the mark last week, but we’ve retooled and are excited to show you how much easier and affordable Sixth Star trainings and Sixth Star University is. You can now even purchase just the Sixth Star Service training. Thank you, Joan, for being a client, a leader, and a great teacher. I’m also grateful that I’m still teachable.

So let me ask, how can you give and receive feedback to be an even better leader?

I encourage you to use this article as a discussion topic with your leadership team. Have each person share two takeaways for them personally, and one or two actions they can take to make themselves into an even better leader.
By Doug Fleener 23 Mar, 2016

It is essential that we put our customer and his or her experience above everything we do. Everything! You agree? Great.

A company’s customer priority begins with leadership. Your leadership. How well do you keep customers your top priority? Find out by taking this ten-question quiz.

Answer each Customer Priority example using this scale:

Not very often = 1 point. Sometimes = 2 points. Often = 3 points. Always = 4 points.

1. You talk about the customer experience in your Daily Take Five meetings. Some people call them huddles. (You do hold Take Five meetings every day, right?) 

2. In conversation with your staff you connect the customer's service experience to achieving sales goals.

3. When giving your staff a to-do list, you always remind them that whatever is on the list comes second to customers.

4. If an employee doesn't complete his or her to-do list, you first ask if they were too busy working with customers.

5. You make time to listen and observe your staff working with customers.

6. You talk with your staff about a recent customer and his/her experience.

7. You avoid handing customers off to the staff, as you know it is important they regularly see you working with customers.

8. You talk with your staff's customers to learn about their experience, and praise your employee to the customer if it was a good experience.

9. You never speak badly about any customer to your staff. (Answering "Always" in this case means never.)

10. You're thinking about, and looking for, new and better ways to improve your customer's experience.

Did you score between 35-40? You’ve got a very high Customer Priority!

Did you score between 30-35? You’ve some Customer Priority, but putting a few of these points into action will take you to the next level.

If you scored fewer than 30 points, you’ve got some opportunities to help your staff get a higher level of Customer Priority. All you have to do is to take action on your lowest-scoring items.

So let me ask, how is your Customer Priority? Just remember this. Changing today's actions can quickly elevate your score, and your customer's experience.

Into action

Use this article as a conversation starter in your next leadership meeting. You can have people rank themselves or the team as a whole. Remember to focus on opportunities to be better, and don’t over-focus on the score.

By Doug Fleener 16 Mar, 2016
As you may know, legend has it that Saint Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. It is true there are no snakes in Ireland but there probably never have been – the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age. It is believed that "snakes" is a metaphor for Patrick driving evil out of Ireland. 

There are certain "snakes" that leaders must drive from, and keep out of, their business. Here are a few:


Every customer deserves our best. That includes sharing with the customer our excitement and passion for a product or a menu whether it is the third or three hundred and thirty-third time we've shown it. Leaders can avoid apathy in the staff by continuously championing the store's mission and focus on the customer service experience. Keep first things first!

Negative comments about a customer

I once was in a meeting where the owner of the company talked about the importance of customers, and five minutes later utterly trashed one particular customer. Leaders should never, ever, speak negatively about a customer. We're human. We get frustrated and maybe a little cranky. The key is to stop yourself before you go there.


Gossip is cunning; it's always disguised as innocent conversation. Rarely does one person say to another, "Hey, wanna gossip?" Gossip kills teamwork, destroys trust, and has a negative impact on sales. It can be also be extremely hurtful.

The best way to keep gossip at bay is to discuss it openly. We all need to be reminded that talking about someone else (with or without malice) is gossip. That is, unless you're praising someone – and in that case they should be in on the conversation!

Victim talk

You either own your store/business results, or the results own you. When the latter happens, it means you don't have the power and conviction to achieve your goals. Your staff takes their cues from you.

If you believe your team has the power to be successful regardless of what is taking place, they will too. Any time victim talk starts, transition the conversation from what happened to what actions can be taken. That's how you own your results.

So let me ask, do you have any “snakes” that need to be driven away?

Putting this article into action: Discuss with your leadership if any of these "snakes" could be present in your store. Talk about any other behaviors or actions that could be impeding your company’s success.

By Doug Fleener 09 Mar, 2016

A sweet spot is where a combination of factors results in the maximum response for a given amount of effort. In sports, the sweet spot is the place on a bat, club, or racket at which it makes most effective contact with the ball.

In people, a sweet spot is where a person's passion and personal strengths come together to create optimum success.

As leaders, it's important to not only help people identify their sweet spot, but also to maximize and expand it. Here are three tips for coaching and developing your employee's sweet spot:

1. Discover a person's purpose. It's important to know what makes each person happiest at work. This is the spark that fuels performance.

For example, an associate recently told me she loves being able to help a customer treat herself to something new. As a result, I was able to help the associate see that she does that with every customer, even if the customer didn't mention it. Given more purpose, the associate's sweet spot was expanded.

2. Show an employee how her success in one area can transfer to another. Most employees know what products they do well with, but don't always know why. Take time to observe the employee so you can see and hear exactly what she does to be successful.

Now transfer that to another part of the store or company. Roleplay and practice with the person so he can experience why those actions translate to another area.

3. Stretch your employee's comfort zone. I believe that most people have a vast amount of untapped potential. Not that they don't give maximum effort, but that they haven't necessarily been challenged in new and different ways.

One way to expand a person's sweet spot is to give them new responsibilities that leverage what they already do well.

Here's an example. I once asked an amazing sales person to come up with a seven-point plan to increase sales in a specific area of the store. This person had no management experience, and had never done anything like this. At first she was overwhelmed with the idea, but I explained to her why I knew she could do it.

I asked for seven points, as I wanted her to really stretch her thinking. She not only came back with some excellent ideas, but also ended up implementing them, including a new training for the staff.

So let me ask, how have you been expanding your staff's sweet spot? The bigger the sweet spot the higher the level of performance, and that's sure to make your customers, you and the staff all very happy. And that's sweet!

- Doug

By Doug Fleener 02 Mar, 2016

As a leader, it's your responsibility to manage today's business while at the same time creating tomorrow's opportunities.

The more efficient and effective you are, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, the more productive your staff is.

The more productive your staff is, the more successful you and your employees are.

Here are some tips for getting more done and improving productivity in your business.


1. Manage priorities, not time. There’s never enough time in the day to get everything done, but there is always enough time to work on your top priorities.

2. Set two main priorities every day. The first priority is to make your business better and more productive NOW. The second priority is to make your business better and more productive in the future. You should be able to point to outcomes and actions in each area.

3. Focus your work on outcomes and actions, and not to-do lists. An outcome and actions list is a heading of desired outcomes, and the actions you and your team can take to achieve them.

A list of outcomes could be:

* Increase average sale by $3.50 this week

* Reduce winter inventory by 50%

* Improve backroom efficiency

* Increase staff clienteling

 The actions to achieve one of those goals might include:

Increase average sale by $3.50 this week

- Focus staff Take Fives this week on this goal

- Have each person identify one action each day to reach her/his ADS target

- Create five spring pricing bundles

- Put the premium priced XZYs on sale.

- Put a game/contest together for Friday through Sunday

Notice I focus on actions and not to-dos. Actions drive results. To-dos are simply things you may or may not get around to doing.

4. Think of time as a currency. You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time. Invest your time. Don’t spend it. Don’t give it away. Ask yourself throughout your day, “Is what I’m doing right now a smart investment of my time?”

5. Say “no” or “not now” more often. Say “yes” when you can. Too many leaders let others drive their day. It’s okay to tell staff and outside people you’re busy.


1. Focus on expected and immediate behaviors and actions. Most leaders talk about desired results, but never drill down to what the employee can and will do to achieve them. Using the above example, make sure each associate knows what he/she needs to do that day to achieve that $3.50 higher average sale.

2. Partner up your employees. Many employees work better together, and they take more responsibility when others are also dependent on them. Partners work together on training and development initiatives, jointly own certain tasks and responsibilities, and will sometimes be a team on games and contests.

3. Build accountability into the day. Accountability is making sure people can do - and actually do - what is needed in order to be successful. Accountability is either a mechanism like a tracking sheet and/or an end-of-day debrief with a manager, or an action by the leader such as staff observation and/or practice/roleplay. You rarely see breakthrough performance in an entire team without well-define accountability.

4. Attack the gap. This is for stores that track individual staff results. When you stack rank your staff’s performance you’ll see a gap in people’s performance in key metrics like ADS, transactions per hour, UPTS, product mix, etc. To attack the gap you have to measure the gap, and then identify what the top performers are doing that the bottom performers aren’t. It is always something you can see and hear employees do or not do. Use that information to guide development of the underperformers and narrow the gap.

5. No more excuses. Either an employee is meeting your expectations or he’s not. If not, he is either on his way up or out. Store performance suffers when the leader makes excuses for accepting substandard performances. It’s okay if you choose to keep an employee that will almost always perform lower than others. Just don’t pretend you’re holding them to the same expectations as the others. You can explain why you have this person, but an excuse is just acceptance of substandard performance.

So let me ask, which of these tips will you apply now to get more done and improve staff performance?

By Doug Fleener 24 Feb, 2016

One difference between a good leader and a great leader is his or her ability to identify and maximize teachable opportunities. A teachable opportunity is when a leader can use any given situation to develop an employee's knowledge and skills.

Here are four ways to identify and maximize specific teachable opportunities:

1. An associate asks a question. When someone asks a question it means that the person either needs information, or thinks they don't have the ability or authority to do something.

How to maximize. Unless the person needs an immediate answer, ask him/her to suggest some answers to the question. I like to ask for multiple answers, because that requires the employee to think it through at a deeper level. Ask the person to explain his or her answer. This gives you additional information to shape the teachable opportunity.

2. When an employee makes a mistake. This is one of the most obvious teachable opportunities.

How to maximize. Don't over-focus on what went wrong. This usually results in the employee becoming guarded or defensive. None of us like to make a mistake! Instead, focus on what the person can do differently the next time that same situation arises. As above, ask the employee to explain his or her answer. This way you're sure they know why they want to do something differently. If they can't, you can teach the "why".

3. Asking for an employee's opinion or input. This is one of my favorites. Not only is this an opportunity for the employee to learn, but you learn, too.

How to maximize. The key is to position the input as future based. Don't ask what she thinks went wrong with the last event, ask what she will do differently with the next event.

4. Debriefing after a customer interaction. After the employee has worked with a customer, ask them to answer these two questions:

i) What did you do well when working with your last customer?

You’re asking the employee to self-assess their strengths. This will give you an opportunity to praise their performance, or use the information to focus your conversation on other things they might do to improve their performance.

Example answer: "I exchanged names with the customer. I discovered what colors and styles she likes, and I also got her to try on different products."

ii) What might you do better, or differently, with your next customer?

This isn't about what the person did wrong. This is a learning opportunity to identify what they can do to improve. His/her answer gives you a lot of insight to the employee’s understanding of the engagement standards, and his/her ability to execute them.

Example answer: "I could have taken the time to show the customer one of the many new items we got in."

How to maximize. Make it a regular part of how you and your staff engage when not working with customers, and where no customers can hear you.

Teachable opportunities occur throughout your day. Make a regular habit of identifying when they arise, and then make a conscious decision to either take advantage of it or not. You'll be amazed how much faster your people will grow and develop when you take the time to maximize these teachable opportunities.

So let me ask, how well are you identifying and maximizing your teachable opportunities?

By Doug Fleener 16 Feb, 2016

One night at a client dinner I asked the waiter if the restaurant carried Pellegrino sparkling water. Much to my surprise he said simply, "No." I said that any brand of sparkling water would do. To which I got another flat “No.” (Not a sparkling no, either.)

 A few minutes he came back and told me that they did carry club soda. Okay, now we were getting somewhere, since even though sparking water and club soda is not the same thing, most people will substitute one for the other.

(In case you’re wondering what the difference is, club soda contains additives such as table salt, sodium bicarbonate, or potassium bicarbonate to add a slightly salty flavor. But I digress.)

Are you wondering why he didn't offer club soda from the beginning? I did, until I realized I knew the answer.

He was answering a question instead of focused on exceeding my expectations. Or what we call earning a customer’s Sixth Star.

I see the same thing take place in stores, too.

Just the other day I saw a customer come in and ask for a particular brand. The store employee said they didn't carry it. The customer thanked the associate and walked out.

The employee answered the question, but she missed a chance to meet or exceed the customer’s expectations resulting in a sale. Instead some other company met or exceeded the customer’s expectations and got the sale. 

Little kids aren't the only ones that dislike the word no. We all like yes a lot more!

Instead of simply saying no, try to gather more information so you can offer an alternative that meets or exceeds a customer's expectations.

For example, my waiter could have found out what other non-alcoholic drink I enjoy with dinner. Or he could have said, "I'm sorry, we don't have Pellegrino but I can offer you club soda."

The store associate could have taken a moment to find out exactly why the shopper was looking for that particular brand. She may have been able to offer an alternative. It may or may not have resulted in a sale, but you never have a chance to make a sale when the answer is no.

So let me ask, do you gather additional information before you say no to a customer’s question? There’s a good chance you have an alternative that meets – and perhaps exceeds – the customer’s expectations earning the customer’s Sixth Star. That, in turn, becomes a customer’s yes. A word we all love to hear!  

By Doug Fleener 11 Feb, 2016

I was recently doing some prep work for a speech I’m giving to the owners of independent stores.

One thing that stood out was the difference in number of Facebook followers between different stores in the same market. One store would have 82 followers, and another store would have 2,082 followers. (This article is not about social media.)

The market and customer base is very similar, so the only difference between the two stores is the owner’s personal belief. Clearly, one owner doesn’t believe in Facebook as a viable marketing channel. I believe he’s missing the chance to connect with his/her customers.

Your personal beliefs are an important part of what makes you a successful leader. Maybe it’s the values your parents taught you about hard work and how to treat people. Perhaps your values come from a leader you’ve worked with or admire.

At the same time, you have to be careful that your personal beliefs don’t impede your success. As in the Facebook example above, sometimes your personal beliefs can get in the way of doing the right thing or connecting with others.

I’ve met leaders who believe that anyone who isn’t thinking about work 24/7 is a slacker, but who never take into account how hard a person works when he/she is at work. I often meet leaders whose staff never achieves their sales potential because of the leader’s belief that selling is being pushy.

As a leader, it is important for you to challenge your own thinking and decisions. Take time to see things from other people’s perspective. I have a friend who says he constantly asks himself, “Why/why not.” He’s his own devil’s advocate.

I firmly believe there is always more opportunity within your store, your staff, and yourself. First you have to look for it. Second, you have to make sure that your own beliefs don’t keep you from reaching them.

So let me ask, do you challenge your assumptions and decisions? There’s a great chance you’re going to agree with what you already believe and do, but every now and then you might discover an opportunity to do something different.

By Doug Fleener 03 Feb, 2016

I enjoy putting together contests and incentives that motivate people. When I was Director of Retail at Bose most of them were well received, and people loved the themes and activities.

Well, except once. I ran a themed contest that I thought was pretty good, but it fell flat on its face. It had zero impact on the business. Nada. Nothing.

I started poking around to see what went wrong. The feedback was pretty unanimous. The store's staff found the contest kind of boring and the prizes were insufficient, especially as compared to the previous contest, which had been a home run.

I remember meeting with my boss and complaining how unappreciative the store employees were. Maybe the contest wasn't as exciting as the previous one, but it was still better than nothing. I mean, come on people! It’s free stuff to do your job.

What he told me next has stuck with me ever since. He explained that every time I did something new and different for the staff, I created a new level of expectation. Maybe I didn't like it, but he said it is human nature that we reset our expectations based on our life experiences.

He used this example.

Say you're used to staying in a Motel 6. It's okay, but not great. But once you start staying in a Marriott Courtyard, the Motel 6 is no longer okay. It's a step down. The Marriott Courtyard is perfectly fine – until you stay at the Ritz. Now the Courtyard is no longer as nice as it was before because you have new and higher expectations. You will probably stay at the Courtyard again, but it's definitely not the Ritz.

He went on to say that as a leader I had to keep executing at a higher level in order to meet and (we hope) exceed the staff's new level of expectations. That if I was asking more of the staff, I had to first ask more of myself. I had to be better.

Even if I couldn't always increase the level of prizes, I could make the incentives and contests more engaging and fun than the previous one. If I wanted higher results, I had to create an even better employee experience.

Think about this as some of you are running a Valentine’s Day contest, or working on an incentive for a spring launch. Many of your employees have been through those before. Your role as a leader is to make everything you launch for your staff even better than before.

Here’s the bottom line. Your staff will always have new levels of expectations, and if you're going to be successful you have to rise above them to inspire and motivate them accordingly. It’s not that they aren’t appreciative. It just means you’ve done your job so well they now expect more. You just need to do it again.

So let me ask, what will you do to make your next initiative or incentive even more successful? If you want higher results than last year, YOU have to execute even better than before.

By Doug Fleener 27 Jan, 2016

Keith, one of the first managers I worked for, used to stop and talk to customers as they were leaving the store. I couldn't figure out why, since one of the sales associates had worked with the customer. Then I realized he was checking up on us. Making sure we were doing our job.

The more I thought about his not trusting us, the more annoyed I got. Finally, I decided to say something to him. I can't remember exactly what I asked, but was along the lines of, "Why do you stop and question our customers? You obviously don't trust us." (You can tell I've never been one to mince words.) 

His answer surprised me. He said that he wasn't questioning but confirming with the customer that his staff did a great job. At first I didn't understand the difference, but after listening to him I realized it was a huge difference.

Keith would stop customers and say things like, "I'm sure Doug took great care of you." or "I trust Doug helped you find everything you were looking for." Not surprising, almost every customer praised the help they had gotten, and that reinforced the whole experience for the customer. What a smart guy that Keith was!

I noticed after changing stores that most managers I worked for either didn't ever talk to customers on the way out, or if they did, they inadvertently undermined the staff.

One manager would ask, "Did you find everything okay?" Well, that would be fine if nobody had helped that customer, but she would ask after an associate had spent forty-minutes with the person. Not good.

The other one I also hear is, "Did  <insert employee name> take good care of you?" While the manager has the right intent, that phrasing can sound to some people like the manager is questioning if the employee is doing her/his job.

I'm a big proponent of managers engaging the staff's customers. It makes the customer feel special, and helps a managers know her business that much better. Just remember, there's a subtle - but big - difference between a question and a confirmation.

  So let me ask, do you talk with your staff’s customers? If not, you should. If you do, be sure you’re confirming and not questioning about the staff’s performance.

And apropos of nothing….

*  Consider this: It's what a staff does during the downtime that determines how successful they are during the peak times.

*  Are you watching the new show Superstore? Pretty funny, and fairly accurate. Loved the episode about the mystery shopper. Classic.

* In 2002 I started consulting on the customer experience. It's nothing new. The cost to not doing it well is just a lot higher than it use to be. How's your service experience?


By Doug Fleener 25 Jan, 2016
We are currently transitioning our blog postings to this site. You can though read over 8 years of retail blog post at The Retail Contrarian blog at
By Doug Fleener 20 Jan, 2016

Here is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help customers decide what products to buy. It’s also extremely effective at helping you sell more. That's a win for everyone!

The Takeaway is just what it sounds like. You take products away to help your customer decide what to buy.

Here's how it works.

Let's say your customer is comparing three pairs of earrings. (Or dog treats, toys, shoes, hammers, clothing, or whatever you’re showing the customer.)

Presenting them together, you ask your customer which one he/she thinks he/she DOESN'T want. That's the one you take away, leaving the customer to choose one or both of the two that are left.

This helps the customer decide in a number of ways.

First, the decision of what to buy is a commitment. The one(s) not to buy isn't. That's a much easier decision, and gets the person closer to a final decision.

It also reduces the number of variables for the final decision. That's important, since studies show that when people are overwhelmed by too many choices they default to doing nothing. That's why many of us eat the same thing at the Cheesecake Factory. But I digress.

There are two other benefits of The Takeaway.

Taking away one product often gives a customer permission to buy the remaining two.

Even better, sometimes she won't want to take away any of the products, resulting in giving herself permission to buy all of them. We like that!

The Takeaway works best with three products, but it can be done with two. I've found that it is effective with just about any price point of product.

So let me ask, do you think you can increase sales by asking the customer what they don’t want to buy? Try it out!

Start today by practicing The Takeaway at every opportunity. Ask a colleague to observe you and give you feedback on what you did well, and what she or he thinks you can do better.

By Doug Fleener 13 Jan, 2016

Years ago I heard a wonderful story on the radio that has stuck with me ever since. I believe it directly relates to Every Day Coaching and Leadership, and the impact we have on our people.

Two frogs were hopping along when they both hopped into a deep hole. In a panic, they started jumping as high as they could to escape but the hole was just too deep.

A group of frogs gathered on the surface and started yelling down to the frogs that it was too deep for them to jump out. Both frogs kept jumping, but to no avail. The crowd at the top continued to shout that trying to jump out was futile and they should just give up and die a peaceful death.

One of the frogs in the hole finally did just that. He took their advice to give up and just lay down and died. The other frog continued to jump and the crowd continued to urge her to give up. Eventually, the frog made a HUGE jump and leapt right out of the hole.

The crowd of frogs on the surface went wild. They couldn't believe she had saved herself from such a deep hole.  When they asked her how she was able to do the seemingly impossible, the frog replied that even though she was deaf, she knew the crowd was yelling encouraging words. Because of that, she didn't want to give up. Love it!

The story reminds me of three important coaching elements around encouraging your staff to be even better:

1. Encouragement can help people overcome challenges and seemingly impossible obstacles. The people who work and with us need to hear that we believe in them, especially when we’re challenging them to be better. Your employees need to know that you believe they can increase their sales or average sale, learn new skills, take new actions with a customer, etc.

I can personally look back and see where a leader’s encouragement changed my life. I probably didn’t know it at the time, but that encouragement helped me reach a level of performance I never would have achieved without their encouragement and coaching.

2. People try harder when they know that others are pulling for them. It’s human (and maybe frog) nature. We try harder when we know that someone else has an emotional investment in us.

Here’s something many leaders need to remember. Encouragement has no value unless you share it. You can’t just think good thoughts about your team. You have to tell them! It also helps to share the “why” behind the encouragement. Why you need them to do it, and why it will benefit the customer and/or the employee.

This is also another reason building a strong team of people who care about one another is so important to the customer service experience and results. Customers feel that connection and encouragement among the staff. This is why it is so important to remove drama in the workplace.

3. It's devastating to directly or indirectly quit on people. People know when a leader has given up on them. They can see and hear when a leader is encouraging other people, but not them. Instead of quitting on someone, sometimes we need to find another way for the person to achieve the desired results. It is amazing what a mix of encouragement and accountability can have on someone’s performance.

When that doesn’t work, then we need to help the person move up or out. You can’t afford to have anyone on your team that falls short of expectation.

So let me ask, how good are you at encouraging your team, especially the employee who might be stuck down in a hole? Does everyone on your team know you believe in him or her? If not, be sure and tell that person today that you know how successful she/he can be.

By Doug Fleener 06 Jan, 2016

With the New Year comes a new focus on improving ourselves both professionally and personally. I have learned that key principles of leadership can help you achieve your goals in both areas.

As a matter of fact, I’ve lost over 40 pounds in the last five months by applying those values. No, Sixth Star Consulting isn’t about weight loss, but I want to use my experience to illustrate how our focus helps individuals and businesses reach new successes.

Let me share some of the principles that helped me get healthier, and how those same principles can impact you both professionally and personally.

1. Make a decision, and then take action. Most people think about doing something, and that’s as far as it goes. They think they need some elaborate plan to do whatever it is they want to do. What they really need is to take action. To get started.

My catalyst for change was from a talk with my doctor. I couldn’t change what she told me, but I could change what I did going forward. The key is that I made a decision to get healthy, and took action to change my lifestyle. (More on that.)

The same holds true professionally. Business and retail is rapidly changing. There’s a lot of opportunity, but continued success requires you and your team to evolve; to grow and develop. It requires a decision and action. Today.

2. Keep it simple. I believe that leaders who simplify things for both their staff and customers are the most successful. Not dumbing down, but keeping it simple.

Google “how to lose weight” and you’ll get over 99 million results. Yikes! The vast array of different diets and contradictory advice is overwhelming. I kept it simple. I decided to eat fewer than 1,500 calories a day, and walk at least 2 miles. That simple. No fancy gimmicks.

The New Year is a great time to take a hard look at how you ask your staff to work. Is it simple, or do they have forms for the forms? Does everyone on your team know what’s important, or have you thro