Total Retail's a headache

30 May, 2008

A new concept in modern-day retailing, but like Arnie, is it all just a dream?

I've got a headache .

It was caused partly by

a night of hedonism, which involved a bunch of asparagus, a bowl of spaghetti and clams, two small bottles of strong Belgian beer, and the best part of a bottle of 2005 Pouilly-Fuissé (the best part is located somewhere between the cork and the bottom of the bottle, and can take some finding). But as

I've said this is only partly to blame for the pain .

The real reason for the headache is

the particular style of retailing that we've developed at the shop. I'm going to call it Total Retail, not in homage to the Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven off-world virtual memory romp

Total Recall

(although things can get a bit weird round here sometimes), but after the style of football known as Total Football. Now, I'm not really a footie fan, so

I'm not eulogising the beautiful game, but total football is worth explaining.

Fever pitch system

In its most classical form, football used to be

11 men with more-or-less fixed roles, relating to where they stood and ran on the pitch, and what they did with the ball once they got it. Goalie, defender, sweeper, winger, striker - they were given a clearly defined job, and they got on with it.

Now, over a period of many years, and culminating in the early 1970s, the Dutch team Ajax (it's pronounced "eye-axe") developed a system whereby these roles were assigned to players, but weren't completely prescriptive. Players were free to move around the pitch and deploy their skills wherever they were needed. This doesn't sound too radical today, nearly

40 years down the line, but at the time, it was.

So how does Total Retail work? Well, it's to do with those roles that the workers are assigned. Nominally, I'm the manager,

given the role of keeping everything in order, and paid a little more than

everyone else to do so. But part of this role under the Total Retail philosophy means that I need to make sure

we don't overspend on staffing, so I do distinctly

non-managerial things, like hand-balling full pallets of stock into the shop on my own with surprising regularity.

Reality bites

Now, when I started working for the company eight years ago, as a PhD student with aspirations to being the rap world's next big thing (and yes, I'm aware of how ludicrous that sounds, but it was once a possibility in my mind), it didn't work like that. We would have much smaller deliveries, and there would be three people at the shop to deal with them. Three people. On a Wednesday morning. These days, the only time we have three people on is Christmas Eve, and then only for a few hours.

Total Retail, then, is a system whereby any member of staff might be expected to do whatever is needed to keep the business moving forward. We pay out about

100 man hours a week, and the shop is open for about

80 hours, so you can see that there is a lot of single-staffing. It's very hard to remain motivated when you work on your own, and the focus of Total Retail has to be the business rather than the staff.

Everyone has to believe in the validity of that dream, and when someone wavers, it affects everyone. How do you make people believe the dream? Money alone certainly isn't enough. It has something to do with the business itself being becoming part of the team - something that everyone has created together, and in which everyone has an emotional investment. That's the headache.




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