Retailer Mission Statements Are Good For Everyone

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Most entrepreneurs do not need a consultant or anyone else to tell them where they are going. "Making a profit" is still a worthwhile and legal goal. However, in many instances, there is some confusion about the method for achieving that objective. Without some form of "roadmap" to guide them, these businesspeople are frequently lost in the daily problems of the workplace.

"Roadmap?" you say. Yes, to fully understand the meaning of that word, consider the following:

Our mission is to provide customers with the best value — not necessarily the cheapest price —for the products and services we offer. Our sales efforts are aimed at making the buying experience for the consumer pleasurable, and our pricing truly competitive for what we offer in the package.

Our employees are committed to rendering all possible assistance to customers, and to follow the directions of management. For that, their wages are equal or better than the averages for the trade.

At the same time, our business investors are entitled to earn a fair return on their investment. That return, we believe, should at least be equal to what their money can earn elsewhere.

The above may not look like any retailer mission statement you've ever seen. Yet, ask any dealer about his business aims for customers, employees and himself, and you'll always find that his answer fits those words in one form or another. In this sense, you can view the above as a three-part mission statement.

What's surprising is that less than half of the dealers I've interviewed over the years were willing to commit themselves to publishing those words for the benefit of their prospective customers, workers and themselves. Come to think of it, the fact that, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, some 10 percent of those merchants go out of business each year is proof of the necessity for defining those goals.

The trouble with many mission statements, when they do exist, is that they contain words and phrases the public has heard too often, and which have consequently become meaningless. Overlooked is the fact that "value" means more than just "price", and that "sales help" involves assisting the consumer to getting the maximum benefit out of a purchase — not simply aiding in brand selection.

For the prospective customer, a mission statement is more than just good advertising. It represents the owner/manager's willingness to commit himself, in writing, to good business practices: to put his money where his mouth is!

"We aim to please our customers" carries much more weight in writing than it does when spoken. And that message, on signs around the store, or a version of it on pins worn by employees represents the boss's willingness to do more than take the shopper's money. It can do as much for independent retailers as it does for Wal-Mart.

For employees also, the mission statement can be most meaningful. It offers them concrete evidence of the intentions of their company, rather than relying on the words of the boss whose outlook and comments may be influenced by some mood-changing event of the day. Finally, it provides guidance for the sales team and others when the owner/manager is absent, and a customer complaint arises.

Last but very far from least, a mission statement mounted on the dealer's office wall can represent his true reason for being in business. Of course he's in business to make a profit, but what must he do in order to accomplish that? If he doesn't have a "roadmap," the chances are that he'll get lost along the way.

Jules Steinberg, former executive VP of the North America Retail Dealers Association (NARDA), was named this year to the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame. He is now president of Jules Steinberg & Associates, 425 Sunset Rd., Winnetka, IL 60093 Phone: 847-446-7312. E-mail:JSteinb611@aol.com.

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