Sunday 18 March 2018

Feargal Quinn: Targets are key to the success of any business

If you have small-business questions for Feargal Quinn, email them to

Q: Sales are flat in my retail business and we are not very structured about how we grow them. Can you give any advice on what steps we could take?

You are correct to link sales and structure. The retailers I meet who have good sales structures in place seem to outperform those who lack a plan. The first thing you need to do is to get a sales target into place. How much growth ideally would you like to get for 2013?

That target could be just to stay level with last year or it could be to add a few percentage points to your sales.

The important thing is that you give yourself something to aim towards and then break this down to weekly and daily levels. A business without a target isn't a business.

Next you need to build an activity plan to support that target. What do you need to do to reach your target? For some retailers that means a good price promotional calendar covering the 12 months of the year.

Others also focus on running themed events to generate customer interest, eg if you own a garden centre you might want to run a series of gardening classes for enthusiasts eager to learn. That's a great way to get direct linkages with customers.

Get your staff heavily involved. Each Thursday in Superquinn I would visit a different branch and spend the morning talking through the sales performance with staff, together with the shop manager.

That served two purposes. It allowed us an opportunity to discuss the challenges we were facing but also to listen to the good ideas our staff came up with.

Motivated staff

Motivated staff who understand the challenge facing your shop can be a huge advantage. They can personally influence sales through upselling etc and can be a great source of ideas for you. Don't forget to invest heavily in staff sales training too.

Make sure you yourself also have a structure. You need to have a management meeting with the key members of your team each week to review where your plan has got to and to decide on what activities need to be planned for the future.

You need to conduct appraisals on your key team members and set targets for them too.

Also, you need to enlist the help of your suppliers by challenging them to come up with new innovations for sales in your shop.

Finally, travel as much as you can. I got many of my great sales ideas while looking at other retailers.

Q If you had a magic wand, what would you do to improve the service that the high street banks provide to their business customers?

What a great question. The banking sector has gone through phenomenal change over the last number of years, and more recently some of the banks have closed the majority of their branches in favour of An Post handling cheque lodgments and cash transactions.

Other banks have a policy of not transacting cash in certain branches and the majority have now embraced telephone and e-banking.

Of course businesses have to change and evolve but it is vital in making that change that they listen carefully to their customers' needs.

Rather than me prescribe what the banks should do specifically, I think it would be more beneficial if we focus on safeguards they might put in place when making these changes to ensure the views of their business customers and general customers are taken into place.

I'm a great believer in the Irish proverb 'Eist le fuaim na h-abhann is gheobhfaidh tu iasc' – Listen to the sound of the river and you will catch a fish – it served me well in Superquinn through our customer listening groups that I ran every Wednesday at a different branch.

Wouldn't it be great if the banks in each region called their business customers in and sought their views on what would help most? And out of that will grow new services that their customers are seeking.

During my Superquinn days I tasked each store manager with ringing their top 400 customers every year. This information was available through our loyalty card. The list was broken down over the 12 months.

The manger typically picked up the phone, explained who they were and asked the customer were they looking after them as they would wish. The results were amazing.

Customers were bowled over that the manager had taken the trouble to call them and the manager got lots of good feedback on new initiatives and services they could or should be running. Wouldn't it be fantastic if your local bank manager rang you at least once per year?

In today's tight economic climate the other huge benefit to businesses would be some degree of proactive flexibility with regards to overdrafts.

While I have come across several small to medium businesses recently that, for the first time have received overdrafts from their banks, which is very positive, the process is still very one-sided with the company having to request the overdraft.

Wouldn't it be great to have a proactive bank manager who, knowing his customer base, would engage with those businesses and suggest areas where the bank could help them to grow.

Like any retail shop, customer service in an individual bank branch will be as good or bad as the manager wants it to be and this is what will generally make the difference between one bank and another and one branch and another.

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