Give staff responsibility for specific areas and encourage them to share their ideas, and your business will grow from strength to strength

When Laura McLean, manager of Eurospar Cullybackey, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, saw how capable sales assistant Stewart Harkin (main picture) was, she decided to give him responsibility for the bread and bakery section. It’s a decision she’s still congratulating herself on as it resulted in a 12% rise in bread and bakery sales.

Now, in addition to organising and running in-store tasting sessions, Stewart arranges for new suppliers to come on board, a progression that was recognised with the title of Multiple Symbol Sales Assistant of the Year 2014.

“Giving staff ownership of an area makes them put more effort into their work - they want to monitor sales, help with suppliers and orders and so on,” says Laura. “The fact that they are trusted makes them feelimportant and respected.”

Austin Kelly, manager of Springisland Supermarket in Coalisland, Northern Ireland, has also seen great results from giving staff responsibility. “We have two members of staff on maternity leave and we’re giving dairy supervisor Grainne and checkout supervisor Sheena [Independent Sector Sales Assistant of the Year 2013] the opportunity to step up into purchasing roles.”

The pair have risen to the challenge. “The girls negotiated with the suppliers. They were very successful and got another 5% on what the supplier was asking. They’ve had a chance to step into someone else’s shoes. It really gives them an opportunity to shine,” he says.

Staff empowerment is more than just giving employees ownership of a certain area, though. It starts with giving employees an outlet to put suggestions forward and the opportunity to develop their ideas.

All staff members at Eurospar Cullybackey are involved in the inner workings of the business and are encouraged to share ideas at regular meetings. “Our community champion and customer service heroes regularly have huddles with smaller groups of staff to brief them on sales figures and our product of the week,” says Laura. “The staff will come forward with ideas in these meetings and nine times out of 10 they are the best ideas because they are working face-to-face with customers.”

Austin also makes time for ideas meetings. “We have regular monthly meetings with the management team and staff hear how the business is doing. We’ll have brainstorming sessions where we bounce ideas off each other to come up with ways of improving the business. The department heads then feed back to their teams.”

Rather than have a formal meeting, staff at Londis Broadoak in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, come straight to owner Anish Parekh with their ideas. “I have a bright lot of staff who are young and enthusiastic. I don’t want them to get bored with the limitations of their role,” he says. “If they have a good idea, I’m happy to listen.”

He encourages them to be alert to ways of progressing the business. “I tell the staff to be aware of what’s going on both inside and outside of the store. If they see any new products and promotions in other stores that they think will work well in our store then they feed them back to me. I frequently get suggestions - Ferrero’s new Kinder Joy product was flagged up by staff. They saw it on sale in their local Asda store, tried it and thought that it would work for us. We started stocking them and they’ve done really well for us.”

He has also had staff develop new promotional mechanics. “Within our ales, we used to have some on offer and others full price, but Dan, my sales assistant, suggested that we put all varieties on ‘three for £5’. That way, ale drinkers can try more varieties. It’s paid off as I get a good rotation of ales and it keeps the fixture more interesting in the eyes of the customer.”

Staff at Springisland Supermarket have also been given the encouragement and confidence to try out new ideas. “Last year our store cook, Alice, who works in the bakery, came up with the idea of making our own pancake mix,” says Austin. The product, which makes a healthy 30% margin, was an instant hit, and the team decided to give it maximum support on Pancake Day by setting up a stand in-store and making pancakes for customers to sample. “Training manager Martina [Independent Sector Sales Assistant of the Year 2012] cooked all day and sales were through the roof, up 20% on last year.

Meanwhile, Grainne and one of her colleagues had the idea of creating a ‘Slimmer’s Choice’ pre-packed range of low-fat sausages to help members of the local slimming club eat healthily. According to Austin, the range is a great success, so much so that this year it is being extended to include more flavours. And after identifying a gap in the stores’ offer, Grainne also had the idea of developing a ‘3 for £10’ meat range in the butchery department. This enables customers to plan for three week-night meals, resulting in higher basket spend and incremental sales at the store.

Donna Morgan, owner of Brownlies, near Edinburgh, has also introduced new lines on the advice of her staff. “They all come up with ideas for the business,” she says. “They often tell us what they find out from customers and give us ideas on how we can improve. That’s how we started making our own sandwiches. We started making half a dozen and now we make 100 a day! We make a great margin - we charge £1.50 and we make a 50p mark-up.”

Her staff are also trying their hand at ordering products. “Just now I’m looking at more suppliers we met from visiting a food fayre we went to in Edinburgh. Staff will go through the brochure and point out products that they think our customers will like,” says Donna.

Even the hiring of new employees is largely led by the existing team. “I have a wonderful team and recruit based on staff recommendations and their opinions,” she claims. “It’s important to involve them in all aspects of the business,” asserts Donna.

When it comes to motivating staff to come up with ideas or achieve strong sales, Laura claims that staff don’t necessarily need monetary incentives. “Sometimes we’ll buy someone a box of chocolates as a reward for doing well,” she says. But she claims that the satisfaction that comes with empowerment is the most effective incentive. “Staff aren’t really looking for a reward. Seeing their ideas come to life and achieving strong sales is a reward in itself,” she says.

Anish is of a similar mindset. “If I recognise that a member of staff has done a good job and gone above and beyond then I might treat them to a bottle of wine or chocolates,” he says. But he is reluctant to create a formal incentive system. “A lot of stores, especially big businesses, are hung up on nominal data and targets. Staff can get overly focused on the numbers and lose sight of other important aspects of the role, such as providing good customer service.”

He claims that being able to see their ideas taken seriously gives staff all the motivation they need. “Because they aren’t micromanaged or barked orders at staff are happier and more productive,” says Anish.

“When I use their ideas they feel valued. If staff turnover is low then you know you must be doing something right,” he adds.

Austin agrees: “A lot of staff have been here for a long time because there are opportunities for internal promotion. If you are doing the same thing day in and day out then the job becomes monotonous. People need challenges.”

Clearly, encouraging staff to have the confidence to come forward with ideas, and giving them responsibilities for particular areas or jobs in-store, can have a major impact on your business. “Giving staff responsibilities makes my life easier,” says Laura. “We as a business reap the rewards of staff having ownership.”

Adds Austin: “The best ideas come from the staff as they’re in the shop at the sharp end of things.”

Category responsibility

Charlotte Douglass


Earlier this year store owner David Knight decided to give Charlotte extra responsibility in his West Sussex Budgens store. “She is quite a strong character and was always suggesting ideas to me,” he says. “After her three consecutive 100% mystery shopper scores it was clear we should give her some more responsibility so we did this by giving her newspapers and magazines to look after.”

In addition to looking after availability, Charlotte decided to review the range. As a young mum, she noted that the store’s children’s magazine section was lacking, a fact which led her to introduce two new children’s magazines. Also aware of the growing popularity of adult colouring books she added a couple of these to the mix, developments which have led to a total category sales increase of 10%.

Customer service champion

Michal Klatka

Michal Klakta

Sales assistant Michal Klatka’s natural affinity with people was recognised by his superiors at Scotmid Stockbridge, who quickly promoted him to the role of ‘Customer Service Champion’.

The role includes training staff in all of Scotmid’s 23 stores, as part of the ‘you are the Scotmid difference’ programme.

Embracing the role with gusto, Michal used his IT skills to create a variety of spreadsheets and tests to measure staff performance and see where improvements could be made. He is also maximising the impact of all positive customer feedback by turning comments into attractive ‘word clouds’ which are displayed in staff areas as reminders of jobs well done.

The results have been impressive. His own store swiftly moved up the mystery shopper ranks and is now one of the best-performing for customer service in the region, while the number of ‘Wows’ (positive customer feedback forms) that stores receive has risen across the board.

Michal Klatka, Scotmid Stockbridge, Edinburgh, Co-operative sector winner Sales Assistant of the Year 2015

Ideas in action

Ashley Kane


Astute sales assistant Ashley Kane had the bright idea of introducing a Snow Shock slush machine after seeing similar systems elsewhere.

Her convincing argument led store owners Bruce and Donna Morgan to add the machine to their offer last summer and they’ve not looked back since.

As the only store in Biggar with such a machine, slushies are a huge hit with the local children and the store regularly sells more than 100 a week - 
with this figure soaring when the sun comes out.

Ashley Kane, Brownlies, Biggar, Edinburgh, Independent sector Sales Assistant of the Year 2015.