Nick Shanagher analyses John Hoerner’s book; How To Sell: Recipes For Retail

“To really excite and delight customers there has to be something unique and special about what you deliver,” writes John Hoerner at the end of How To Sell: Recipes For Retail, his brilliant book on everything he has learned in a stellar 50-year retail career. Put this book on your Christmas list.

Hired from the US in 1987 to run Debenhams, Hoerner was so successful he ran the Arcadia group until he retired in 2000. A year later, Tesco recruited him to develop its clothing business. This book is organised as a series of recipes for success. He argues that his lessons will work for any retail business and I think he is correct.

While convenience stores are not in the business of markdowns or buying the latest fashion must-haves, they still have to get the basics right and then find the magic ingredient that makes their shop special.

“When you get it right for customers, almost EVERYTHING ELSE works…when you don’t get it right for customers, almost NOTHING else works!” is his first sentence in huge print taking up the first page.

There are around 1.4billion people in this world who survive on £1 a day, he explains. “What this means is that in the normal context of retailing as we know it, customers don’t really NEED anything that they buy from you.

“They only buy what they think they need or  want. This means emotion and personality enter into the transaction – both theirs and yours.

“The second thing to remember is that not only do they not NEED anything they are buying from you, even if the WANT is strong, there are lots of other places they can get it.”

The book then speeds off with lots of ideas and supporting evidence on subjects like customer loyalty (which does not exist), how to “squeeze” your range, that you must make sure you never sell bad quality goods, and 10 basic principles of how to make customers want to buy from you.

Investing in people is vital, he says. Too many companies get their sums wrong. Most big retailers underestimate what a big factor store staff can be in their success. In making this point he also recommends that you measure selling cost by calculating sales per hour worked by day and time. “This will result in the lowest cost!”

Most of the benefit of refitting a store comes from remixing the business – not from the cosmetic appearance, he advises. Plan for this.

While some of the book is filled with dense tables that you can copy and think about, the real excitement comes in short bursts like this:

“Be the first, be the best or be the cheapest is an old retailing adage. I say: Be second, be really good and be the best value.”

And like this: “Poor buyers don’t plan. Average buyers plan carefully what they are going to buy. Good buyers plan carefully what they’re going to sell, when and at what price, and then buy what is necessary to support their sales plan. Great buyers add in sales promotional plans, visual presentation and sales associate training, and negotiate to ensure the profitability.

“Genius buyers do all the above except they start with what they want to achieve in the store and work backwards. Which are you?”

Read and absorb How To Sell: Recipes For Retail before your competition does. There are even some recipes in the appendix so you can cook up a storm to celebrate your success. Tried and tested!