by Deb DeArmond
I was a teenager when Dad suggested that a part-time job at The Band Box—our family’s independent shoe store—might be good experience. A longtime trusted employee had retired just as summer rolled in. Dad pitched the idea simply: “It will help us out, and you’ll earn some pocket money.”
I soon learned pocket money meant it was enough to gas up my old Toyota and fast food it with friends a few times a week. In other words, I was gaining work experience, and he was getting cheap labor.
The work was not difficult; but Dad was exacting about how it should be done. He watched closely as I interacted with customers and provided feedback when the transaction concluded. He reminded me to think about the “upsell,” adding a purse or polish and extra laces or avoiding a missed opportunity to sell an item from end-of-season clearance merchandise.
My folks discovered they had missed a lot of the life God had planned for them
But I learned far more than the nuts and bolts of retail life. Growing up in a family business was a great education.
I learned the importance of respect for my co-workers, because at the end of the day, Mom, Dad and I went home together. I learned to listen closely to Dad, and Dad (eventually) became open to my suggestions and ideas.
I discovered the value of building strong customer relationships. Service was not only a sign of character, it built customer loyalty—a critical factor as the chain stores that popped up in our town were tough competition. Quality and service became our differentiator.
Most important, I understood how hard my folks worked, and the challenges they faced every day. And this was long before the 7-day, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm expectation of today’s shoppers.
As I reflect on their commitment, their stamina and their drive, I am humbled. They sent two kids to college with no debt at graduation. Dad borrowed from the bank each July, paid it off in June and repeated the process monthly.
My folks needed time away. Desperately. Yet they seldom took a real vacation. We visited my brother and his new wife out of state after their small wedding, because the nuptials themselves occurred during a high season for the business. When you’ve shown up daily for 35+ years, it’s a tough habit to adopt.
Convincing Dad to take time off became my part-time job. And with the added voices of Mom, my older brother and Dad’s doctor, he began to loosen the reins enough to get away, knowing we’d take care of the business.
We worked out every last detail, created contingency plans and prepared for the unexpected. There were lists written, warnings issued and directions provided for every imaginable disaster. So thorough, the planning alone nearly convinced him it wasn’t worth the risk or the effort.
Mom and I said more than a few prayers to ensure he’d actually board the plane or pack up the car on the appointed day.
Once off on their adventures, they asked one another, “Why didn’t we do this years ago?” My folks discovered they had missed a lot of the life God had planned for them.
How did we do it? Here are a few tips to make it happen.
Plan Ahead. Way Ahead.
Last minute vacays can be lifesavers but can also be problematic, depending on your crew, their experience and the ability to plan for your absence. You can’t plot a detailed strategy for every potential blip. But you’ll be far more confident in a plan created in a deliberate manner without the additional pressure to do it in the eleventh hour. Bring employees in to help brainstorm possible challenges and generate ideas, strategies and solutions.
Review Employee Resources.
Identify how many employees will be required during your absence and discuss availability with your employees. Secure commitment for the specific dates. If you run a slim crew, you might consider requesting part-timers to increase hours during your absence. Even temps with retail experience, if closely supervised and supported by knowledgeable employees, can work.
We invited our retired employee back for times like this. She loved the extra income and enjoyed the temporary assignment. Identify a backup to cover the unexpected sick day or family emergency an employee might experience. They have lives, too.
Establish the Chain of Command.
A clear understanding of who’s in charge while you are away is an absolute requirement. Resist the urge to forego this step and “let them work things out.” It’s a recipe for disaster. If everyone is in charge, no one is. Communicate to all involved who you’ve chosen to lead in your place.
Prepare and Empower that Leader.
Delegate authority, not just responsibility. Who will make a required decision? What are the limits of that authority? In other words, when do you want to be included in the discussion? How often do you want updates? My folks became comfortable with the direction, “Call us if you need us to make a decision outside of your comfort level or established authority. For everything else, it’ll wait until we return.”
Let the Lord infiltrate your heart and mind. Ask Him to give you peace in the process. Pray over your business before you leave and pray for your crew every day. Ask God to give them safety, confidence and wisdom. Great growth and loyalty can develop for employees when they know they’re trusted. Responsibility can translate into conscientiousness.
Don’t wait as long as my folks did; in retrospect, I realize how much they missed. And trust me, you’ll be a better business professional after you return relaxed and rejuvenated by some time away.
What is that one place you’ve wanted to visit? An Alaskan cruise? Family, three states away? A cabin in the woods? A European bike tour? Or a three-day weekend in a nearby resort with a great pool and room service?
The only thing left to do is make your plans, book the trip, pack and go!