District managers (DMs) play a vital role in multi-unit retail enterprises. They supervise the stores in their district, working with store managers to troubleshoot problems, implement programs, and improve store performance. Store audits are a common but important DM task, which offers tangible benefits for the store and overall organization. Why? A customer’s in-store experience can influence their purchasing behavior and whether or not they become a loyal patron.

Auditing stores with a customer’s critical eye can help identify weak spots and give district managers data on operational effectiveness, shoppers’ experience, and product merchandising. Additionally, DMs use store audits to ensure stores are in compliance with corporate standards, so the organization delivers a consistent brand experience throughout their multiple units. All of these various aspects of store audits can translate to sales and profit.

We have created a comprehensive store checklist template for district managers to use. It is an excel file formatted for easy printing and editing. Using a checklist allows district managers to organize a more efficient visit. In addition to using this checklist as the foundation for a basic but comprehensive retail audit, we also have the following recommendations for district managers as they approach their store audits.

1. Prep for the visit

Before even going to the store, district managers need to prepare for the visit and create a list of topics to cover with the store manager. Stores are chaotic places where the unexpected happens. Time between district and store managers might be limited, so district managers need to make the most of time outside of the stores, and use time inside the stores as efficiently as possible. Having a visit checklist will make in-store meetings more effective and on point.

2. Consider the customer perspective

Although District Managers should have a list of corporate standards to check, they also need to think from the customer perspective. The DM should enter the store as if they are a patron, and pay close attention to the overall environment. They should ask the following questions:

  • Was parking and entering the building easy?
  • What does the store entrance feel like?
  • How was the greeting?
  • Is the store clean?
  • Are there long lines at the register?

A customer’s experience is going to be influenced early on by the quality of the environment. If they have a good experience, they are more likely to spend more time in the store. To create a positive environment and the right ambiance, retailers need to consider the entire sensory experience including smell, taste, sound, and sight.

3. Focus on merchandising

Merchandising is an integral part of a customer’s shopping experience. It shapes the environment and our perception of products. Great merchandising means placing products in the right place at the right time for the right price. Poor presentation of the best products might still send the message that the store is a bargain basement, which means the customer will expect bargain prices and poor quality. Great presentation can offer an impressive competitive edge.

District managers need to pay particular attention to merchandising to analyze customer perception of products and the store. What is merchandised well? What merchandising diminishes the brand?

In order to navigate store merchandising, district managers can ask the following questions:

  • Are windows attractive and inviting?
  • Are all signs clear and easy to understand?
  • Are displays attractive and inviting?
  • Are high traffic areas showcasing the right seasonal and up-to-date goods?
  • Are impulse buy displays positioned correctly and attractively?

4. Use efficient tools and bring a camera

Pen and paper might be universal, but smart tools can deliver better results if used correctly.

  • Electronic documentation will help district managers keep cleaner records that are easy to share throughout the organization.
  • Data tracking allows DMs to have data on-hand throughout the store audit, and add new data when needed. Store managers gain visibility into micro and macro issues with action items they can address immediately.
  • Another simple but essential tool is a camera (a cell phone camera is all but universal now, and works well). Visual images make store reports to store manager or corporate superiors clearer and specific.

5. Meet and follow up with the store manager

If district managers and store managers can collaborate together as a team, DMs can become powerful and effective store consultants. After the district manager completes a full store audit, they can take their prepared list of action items and work with the store manager to achieve store performance goals. We highly recommend having a clear way for district managers and store managers to create action items and define accountability for successful follow-through.

Multi-unit retail enterprises can use the above advice and the attached checklist to achieve store audit success. Download the checklist template, and check back in for next post in the District Manager Spotlight series.

Are you interested in learning what other district managers have to say? Check out the 2015 District Manager Report now.