Let’s face it. If you lead store operations for a modern day brick and mortar retailer then you have something in common with Goldilocks, the fairy tale character made famous by author Robert Southey.

For starters, just like Goldilocks, you typically demand that things around you are done just right. This is especially true when it comes to the all-important issue of scheduling labor in retail stores.

When store labor is heavy, payroll expenses go up and operations run hot.

When store labor is light, conversions go down and operations run cold.

However, when store labor is perfectly aligned with defined plans, then operations run just right. And when operations run just right, customers receive the right amount of help from store associates, conversions go up, important tasks are completed on time, margins improve and everyone wins.

Unfortunately, if you’re anything like most specialty retailers, then your store managers are probably spending too much time in the back room fighting with unwieldy spreadsheets in an attempt to schedule the right people at the right times — and trying to do so in a manner that (hopefully) matches with their allotment of labor hours for the week.

This, of course, is a problem because store managers are your best employees. They don’t belong in the back room. They belong on the sales floor where they can answer customer questions, provide coaching to store associates and attend to important tasks — all of which increase revenue and improve retail profits.

So what’s the best way for modern retailers (and Goldilocks herself) to ensure that store labor is just right?

First, if one does not already exist, retailers should invest in some form of labor forecasting engine. Fortunately, a wide variety of models exist at different price points including custom solutions from specialized consultants and “off-the-shelf” solutions from software vendors such as Kronos, Workplace, Workbrain and others. In all cases such tools help retailers by integrating and interpreting various data to predict as accurately as possible the ideal amount of labor needed in a specific store to satisfy customer demands, maximize conversions and improve profit.

Second, since the best labor forecast is only as good as the actual hours that get scheduled in each store, retailers should maximize their investments by equipping store managers with simple scheduling tools that make it easy for them to align with defined labor plans, and alerts them immediately when they are not aligned.

Third, in addition to giving store managers a simple way to align with defined labor budgets – retailers should explore ways to help store managers balance labor hours between “selling time” spent with customers and “non-selling time” spent on the completion of critical tasks, which, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review, can improve store profitability by as much as 7%.

In summary, when it comes to leading retail operations in the modern age, the most successful managers will do two things. First, they will implement workforce management systems that automatically align store managers with defined labor plans. Second, they will do their best impression of Goldilocks and demand of their entire organization that labor scheduling gets done just right!

Matt Howard photo
Husband and father. Software innovator, entrepreneur and marketer. My wife is my soul mate. My 3 kids are my greatest accomplishment. I love innovation and marketing. Also running, yoga, wine, Baltimore Ravens and Avalon, NJ. Sales and Marketing VP at Natural Insight. Founder & CEO of ZoomSafer. Co-founder of SMBLive. Marketing VP at Groove Networks and USinternetworking.