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The Frustration of Being a Retailer

Posted by on in July 2015 Editions
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After 27 years of working in the alcohol beverage industry and writing about the industry during the past ten years, I have heard over and over again from retailers about the frustrations they experience day in and day out. So with my apologies to all the professional advice columnists out there, let me proceed with a letter from a retailer:

Dear Al,

I can’t sleep at night. I have a landlord who is always looking for excuses to raise the rent, but who is also slow to address complaints and drags his feet when it comes to making repairs. There’s the credit card company who thinks of new fees to charge for their services at every turn.  And the liquor board that wants to tell me one more time how to run my business. But more than any of those things, my suppliers, customers and employees are making me crazy. 


I get it that without suppliers, I would have nothing to sell, and the retailer/supplier relationship should be collaborative and symbiotic.  Both of us should gain equally.  Unfortunately, I frequently deal with supplier sales reps who seem more interested in meeting their sales quota than they are in helping ME- their customer grow my businesses profitably.  Too often, sales reps try to jam in new products I know won’t sell, based on my intimate knowledge of my customer base. Without a doubt, this relationship could be improved if supplier management provided more training concerning customer empathy.  Sales people need to be able to see themselves in my shoes.  And while a new item may make perfect sense in the salesperson’s mind, in many cases, it is just another slow mover to add to my inventory.


I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself, “Why is this customer here; it’s obvious he has no idea what he wants?”  I know customers walk in in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and some are rational buyers, but others are not. Each of them is an individual and acts in his own self-interest. I get that for some of my customers, what may have been customary business dealings somewhere else isn’t the norm locally, and, what some consumers consider to be polite behavior may come across as rude and offensive.  But it drives me crazy when customers come in and tell me they can get a better price from my competitor.  They don’t realize my competitor often uses bargain basement pricing on three or four items to draw traffic, but, in fact, overall his prices are higher and his level of service is subpar in comparison.


Once again, I am asking myself, “Why the heck did I hire this person?”  Initially, I thought he was going to be at least an adequate employee.  But within a short time, it became clear to me the employee was only interested in himself and not me or my business.  I get it that reference checks have proven to be useless in identifying problem employees beforehand.  It seems very few employers are willing to risk a lawsuit by giving a former employee a bad reference.  So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when a pattern of tardiness and absenteeism emerges as he begins to test me.  I also think that some of my employees leave their brains at home when they come to work.  Why else would they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again?  Then, there is the age old problem of dishonesty. And, what happened to loyalty on the part of an employee?  After all, they came here looking for a job.  They got hired, were given regular work hours and are being paid more than minimum wage.  Yet, for fifty cents more per hour, they jump ship and go somewhere else.  Fortunately, not all my employees are like this.

I really need to get some sleep, and would appreciate any advice.


          Frustrated Retailer 


Dear Frustrated Retailer,

Unresolved frustration can lead to long term health problems as stress builds up until it seeks some release.  Sometimes, relief can be found by doing something as simple as taking it out on a golf ball, but left unresolved, it can result in dangerous health issues such as stroke, heart attack or other serious physical or emotional problems.  Professional help and counseling, as well a myriad of organized programs, may provide the necessary stress relief.  But, self- help and education may be just as effective and a much cheaper alternative.

What can be done?

Sometimes we need to make personal changes in our lives in order to minimize increased levels of frustration.  One of the most important approaches many people can take is to concentrate on so-called “soft skills.”  These are skills we use when we interact with others.  They include such things as:  Emotional Intelligence - our ability to control our emotions and act calmly under difficult circumstances, and learning to communicate through active listening to what people are saying and not talking over them.  For some people, the ability to teach another person comes easily but for most managers it is skill that is acquired over time. Last, any boss who strives to be successful in the long term has to understand each employee’s magical hot button that is the key in motivating them.

Some practical hints for dealing with stress and frustration

Some people might propose an easy but impractical solution to solve your frustration by telling you, “Well, you can always get off the merry go round and sell the business.”  You probably don’t have that choice, so this simple answer is not a practical one.  So what can you do?

Rely on your family as a source of strength

Devote the time and effort necessary to maintain a few close friendships

Have interests outside of the business  

It is also important to: Look for reasons to smile or laugh

Get some exercise. Eat heathy.  

Make a fresh start by changing your daily routine.  

Stop procrastinating and just do it - -whatever it is.  As a practical matter, why put up with a lingering problem or a sub-par employee.  Get rid of them!

Practice better “Time Management” which really means getting better at managing yourself and the activities you choose to be part of. 

Try to have a good day every day, because who knows how many more there will be?  

Actively seek out ways to increase your happiness.

Remember the adage, “A busy man never has time to take a vacation; he must just go ahead and do it.”  If you really can’t take a vacation this summer, at least take off a couple of long weekends and do something different.

Try Some Summer Reading

Several recently published books shed light on and provide useful tips in relieving stress and frustration.

“Happy is the New Healthy” by Dave Romanelli - Author Romanelli provides some useful guidance with his 31 ways to relax, let go and enjoy life.

“You Mean I am Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy” by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo - This self-help book is full of practical how-to’s for adults who may have Attention Deficit Disorder.

“The Power of Thanks” by Eric Mosely and Derek Irvine - Mosely and Irvine provide insight into several successful companies and how much of their success is the result of employee empowerment.

“Work Simply” by Carson Tate - Author Tate talks about creating a stress free environment by embracing the power of your personal productivity.

“Driven to Distraction at Work” by Edward Hallowell, MD -  Hallowell explains how to feel more in control and productive at work through increased focus.

Read one or two of these books and see if you can see a change in your outlook about captaining your own business.

Finally, Frustrated Retailer, don’t forget the now famous quote, “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office.’” Frustration and stress can rule your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Make the changes necessary to reduce stress and frustration in both your business and personal life.

          Sincerely, Al