Retail Column: How to Build Chemistry in Your Business

In college or professional sports, there is often talk about the responsibilities of the coaching staff and the players. Traditionally, the head coach is quick to hand out credit to everyone in a victory, and shoulder all the responsibility in defeat.

If only that statement were true.

As a fourth-generation retailer, I have learned a lesson about the value of making the right presentation. Moving home to Arkansas, a friend told me his neighbor was Bill Pitts, whom I remember working in my parents’ store when I was a child. I visited with Bill. He recalled his experience of working with the previous owner of our store versus working with my father.

Bill said that with the previous ownership, he was told what to do each day. When my father bought the store, things became different. “You don’t work for Frank Shay; you work with Frank Shay,” was Bill’s comment.

That type of owner attitude builds a team.


There was a second lesson I learned. Looking at photos of employees and sales reps dating back to my grandfather’s era, there are very few photos of people in the store. The majority of photos are in social settings: staff get-togethers.

There was a store my parents sold in 1980. During the years they owned the store there was a tradition of semi-annual gatherings on the beach near the store in Florida that included the employees and their families. The gatherings continued after the store was sold, until the early 1990s, when the gatherings concluded because so many of the staff had passed or moved away.

When staff know each other outside of work as well as their co-workers’ families, an adhesive begins to develop. The business becomes where people enjoy being with each other. A person comes home at the end of the day, and their spouse asks how one of the co-workers and their family are doing.

We find that gatherings should stay away from events that have any aspect of competitiveness to them (games or contests). They may produce a “winner,” but they can often create an undesired aspect with some people.

We also found that the social staff gatherings at Christmas may be a tradition for many stores, but there is a certain degree of expectation with events at this time of year. Instead, multiple events at other times of the year say something extra about the bonding effort.

One event we held each year occurred on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We hosted a party in the store after we closed. Each staff member was asked to bring one of their favorite holiday snacks with enough to share with everyone. Certain basic snacks, including the drinks, were provided by us.

As we were in Florida, to generate holiday feeling we turned the air conditioning as cold as possible. Christmas carols played on the store speaker system. Together we enjoyed the refreshments, but we also decorated the store for Christmas as a team.

At the close of this party, our tradition was to give out a present for each employee. One year the gift was a watch with the store logo on it. To our surprise, we recently saw a conversation on Facebook among former employees who were showing the watch they had received 27 years ago.

It’s bonding, it’s caring and it’s making the task of working together into a wonderful experience.

Tom Shay is a lifelong small-business owner and manager. He has authored 12 books on small business management, a college textbook on small business financial management and co-authored a book on retailer/vendor relations. Read his recent piece, How to Have Legendary Customer Service.


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