Our Daily Bleg: How to Manage a Sales Floor?

A reader named Eric Eilberg writes with the following bleg:

My family has run Marlen Jewelers since 1914. Over the years a lot of things have changed, and the business has survived and prospered. We’re a freestanding building in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. We employ six full-time and one part-time sales associates. Dad is the third generation to run the store. He reads a lot of business books and applies them to his industry. Recently he asked for some books on managing a retail sales floor, and I went looking. A Google search turns up very few useful results, an Amazon search returns a dearth but with no gauge of how useful they are. Perhaps the Freakonomics readers could shed some light?

Good bleg. I am hoping some of you can give Eric some useful tips. Feel free to give advice that doesn’t come from books, and if you’re in academia, don’t ignore the literature in your discipline. Finally, feel free to send your own blegs here.


I know this Eric Eilberg! He went to St. Eds and I think Denison!


Institute workplace democracy ... allow the workers to have an amount of input equal to the relative amount it affects them at their job. For some decisions, perhaps only one worker will need to be consulted, others may require the entire staff

End results are far happier employees and input from people who actually have to live with the decisions that are made


There are several books on "Influence" that are helpful. They all cover the same terrain. Just punch in that key work on Amazon and pick one.

My family was in women's retailing all my life and I dabbled in retail as a teenager, ordering my own aisle in a grocery store. One thing I can tell you that works is the "law of scarcity" -- that is, make it look like others are buying the item and that you only have a few left. People want what others want.

For instance, if you have a section of chicken noodle soup perfectly stocked four cans high and ten cans deep, you will sell very little chicken noodle soup.

But if you have a big indent in the soup, showing that others are purchasing it, you will sell a lot. People follow that lead. And you make the impulse sale instead of the competing store visited by the customer a week later.

Scott Pugh

The main two parts of a sales floor are people and products.

For People, I found a one day seminar I took (was required to take) called "how to supervise people" to be very beneficial. 15 years later and I can still benefit from some of the lessons learned. Also know and follow the local wages/hours laws. This is a simple CYA that can save your business.

For Product I would read Sam Walton's autobiography.
Also Walk your competitors but for a reason. do not look for what you are doing better than them (No ego rubs) look for what they are doing better than you and then improve yourself.


See Harry Friedman's web site for information on sales and management retail training. He has a good program to develop metrics measuring efficiency based on numerous variables.

Mike V.

Paco Underhill's book "Why We Buy" should be required reading for anyone who works in retail. I work in a bookstore and recommend it to customers all the time. Well worth the fifteen bucks. I'd be interested to hear if you find anything else that works. good luck!

Rod Gillies

Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy" is an excellent, and accessible, discussion of effective retail merchandising and communication. Read it and you'll never look at a shop or restaurant in the same way ever again.


I was gonna help until the first comment was that he went to St. Ed's.


Alright, alright. I'll let pan-Cleveland brotherhood prevail. Try looking for some of the source material in "Nudge" by Thaler and Sunstein about how the design of cafeterias helps influence what kids buy. If you can figure out the best way to design your jewelry floor, maybe buyers can benefit you and "self-manage" by making advantageous choices.

old retailer

It's really more art than science, especially in a one-store setting.

Steve Kalman

THere's a small chain of stores here in the NY area called Stu Leonards. When visiting that store, shoppers are forced to follow along in a single direction and cover the whole store.

High profit, impulse buy items come first. Low profit, high volume staples (e.g., milk) come last. Lots of noise and action. Short lines everwhere you need to be waited on (such as fresh fish) but always some waiting time.

If they have a book, buy it. If not, go visit.

Paul Keprios

For an entertaining read and great information, my suggestion is a book called, "Sway: The Irresitable Pull of Irrational Behavior". Authored by an economist, Ori Brafman and his brother a pyschologist, Rom Brafman, examine why humas act against their own best intersts at the most inopportune times.


As much as understanding business management is very important, learning about economics is crucial. Business is executed after when one masters economics. Though I am sure you have, and perhaps your dad also, read freakonomics (if you haven't, you must), you should read The Undercover Economics (if you haven't read it). It reviews all the core concepts of economics so even starters can understand. It is useful as you could learn new things or review what you have learned in the past. So I recommend you those books. Diamond businness is a very interessting topic in economics - monopoly - graphically analyzing the dimond market now and in the past, why did the De Beers had so much power, and not soo much anymore etc. Have fun!/


I think more than anything that to be an effective manager, you need to understand your strengths. Just because some other manager found a system or management style that worked for them does not necessarily mean that it will work for you, and could possibly backfire and make things worse. For example, there is nothing worse than a manger trying to be "empathetic" to their employees when they aren't that type of person. Such people come across as insincere or fake, and have a hard time gaining any respect or trust from their employees.

I found the best books about this are "Now, Discover Your Strengths" and the follow up "Strengths Finder 2.0" by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. For me it was like turning on a 200 watt bulb in a dark room.

This also can give you some insight as to what the employee's strengths are as well, which is key to understanding how to help them to not only to excel at their work, but to realy enjoy it as well.


Ben Varone

Interestingly enough Eric, I bought my wife's wedding ring from your store, and she bought a necklace for me there.

First up, some helpful stuff:



Why the Disney Institute? Well, they actually have some really good webinars, which can be summed up pretty well in attention to the experience. Basically, the thought process is that the experience of the individual when they enter a place of business is the largest determinant of whether or not they patronize that establishment again.

I mention them and because I've actually attended some of their sessions, particularly ones specific to health care. The thing is, the lessons are the same. For example, when I came into your store, my wife had a very specific request for her ring design. Your store was actually the only place where we were able to hook up with a designer (Mark Schneider) and get a custom ring designed, and one of your staff (named Brad) actually went through about 30 different stones with us until we found the perfect one.

That hands on attention won us over, much more than price or any other variable. So focus on the customer experience, and you can't go wrong.

Also, you might consider adjusting your hours of operation. For instance, you guys aren't open when most people are shopping--Sunday. Now, I know it's hard when you're a family business to give up weekends, but that's when a lot of sales can be had. Take a weird day off, like Tuesday or Thursday when most people aren't thinking about getting a gift.

Hope this helps!



@ # 13

Tim, I doubt very highly that Dubner et al have nothing to add to this conversation. It is more likely that they wanted to get their community involved in what is a very important discussion to many many people.

But what do I know, I've never worked in a car dealership.

Mojo Bone

Some rather predictable thinking from readers that tend to see things in the light of economic theory, here. My take is that what the reader asked for was a book on leadership and character development; I'd recommend Robert Fulghum's Everything I Need To know, I Learned In Kindergarten and the classic How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie, though I suspect the recommendee has already read the latter. If people like you, they want to buy from you, and your sales staff will want to be like you. What could be simpler?

John M

Why does someone who is by all indications successfully running a business feel compelled to seek a magic book?

Since you are successful, I would guess that you respect your customers and staff, treat them as you would like to be treated, communicate with them, and pay attention to their input.

Keep it up.


He's not looking for a magic book. He's seeking improvement.

If he's been successful in the past, it's most likely because he constantly seeks to improve his performance and processes. Keeping that up is exactly what he's doing here asking for advice.

He's providing a service to those of us who run businesses as well this way. I ordered a used copy of "Why We Buy" from Amazon before I even got to the end of the thread.


Ask your customers.
Ask your employees
Shop at competitors and stars in the industry.
Decide what kind of market you want to serve.
Question everything you do today from a fresh perspective.
Make it fun for the staff.