How do I Approach My Boss About Updating Our Store?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about approaching the boss.

We are a small business on Main Street of our community and have been here for about 30 years. Though from the outside that appears as a positive, (as stores up and down the street come and go as often as the seasons change) but business has not been doing well for some time now and customers often confide in me the desperate update the store needs. Some people that walk in for the first time have even asked me if we are a second hand store. I don’t believe this is because of our merchandise, we carry quality Woolrich, Columbia, Levi’s etc. but because of the drab nature of the store. The shelves on the wall are warped plywood on L brackets, the carpet is a terrible mustard yellow that has patches from wear, our vacuum is from the 80’s and doesn’t even work to try to clean the carpet!

To top it off, the entire store is wood paneled and looks straight out of the 70’s. I could make a whole laundry list of aesthetic issues in the store, but the real concern is the fact that my boss seems to be oblivious to these things. Though you could say that this is just our stores “style” to have a rugged, old fashioned look…if it is hurting business then the style must change. But how do I bring this up to my boss? He prides himself in the store and if very defensive if we try to bring up the idea to make changes (even to simply get new shelves). Not to mention the overwhelming task of actually doing an update would frazzle him, as he is not good with anything out of the norm happening. What would I do to slowly begin to talk him into some changes?

Signed, Hesitant

Dear Hesitant:

I assume you have earned the respect of the dear man who takes pride in his store on the Main Street of your community. You don’t want to hurt his feelings by listing the many things you would like to do to update the store. So can you do anything but keep mum? I think you can without hurting his feelings. How?

The key is by use of questions. You say that the business isn’t going well. How do you know that?  Has he mentioned his concern about that to you or have you felt that way at times when your store is empty of  customers? Might either of such times be ripe to ask him if there is anything he has thought of that would get customers coming in the door? Such a question should provoke a conversation. If he says, “No, I haven’t thought of anything.” You could get  him thinking by asking, “In the years you have managed our store, were there good years and bad? What made them good?”

In short get him thinking by seed questions. Then the time will come for him to ask you if you have ideas that would bring in your friends and others. Here is when you can share just a few of those ways you would update the store. Possibly large banners could hide those wood panels. Maybe saying you could brighten up a corner of the store with bright umbrellas and/or balloons. Maybe you could suggest that students in your local schools could display their art work or have a contest of art for the holidays. Some classes might even be invited to propose ways they would like to beautify the place.

New rugs are not outrageously expensive and problems with vacuums that don’t clean can be repaired.  I know you can tell Mr. Johns, or whatever is his name, that you know he has invested his life in the store and that the town appreciates seeing him as one of its merchants. And how you have learned from him. You can also seek his advice for your career. He’s likely to ask you what you are learning in your courses, so be ready.

Do any of these thoughts make sense? You are a caring person and that is what really matters. Working together with hands, head, and heart  takes and makes big WEGOS. That’s the spirit of your question, so now what will you do to answer your question?

William Gorden