5 Fundamentals of Retail They Don’t Teach You In School

Salena Knight
Written by Salena Knight

I remember back when I was studying business at university, I constantly questioned how much of what I was learning was relevant to actually RUNNING a business. After many, many years in the trenches, starting, growing and running a multi-award-winning business, looking back, my answer is … not enough. In fact, apart from the accounting module, and maybe law 101, most of what was taught didn’t really translate into running an independent store.

Maybe if I’d worked my way up to CEO of some corporate enterprise, my outlook may be different. But reflecting on what they teach in ‘school’ and the real-life experience of building a business, here are the 7 fundamentals of retail, that they DON’T teach in school.

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1. You will work harder than you ever did in a 9-5 job

Yeah, this one was NEVER mentioned in business school. Presumably because everyone who gets a degree goes on to be an employee in a job.

When you build and grow your own retail business, you have a drive to succeed. So those hours upon hours that you spend to grow your business feel like they’re deserved, because in the end, you’re the only person you have to share your hard-earned dollars with.

But take it from someone who has spent (way too) many hours, working in their business. You have to put a time on the hours you work, because hey, YOU are the most important asset in your business, and looking after yourself should be just as important (in fact, more important) than any business growth.

2. Marketing your business takes a lot of effort

In a world where the marketing landscape changes on literally a monthly basis, retailers need to be abreast of a lot of marketing advice. But remember, you don’t have to be everywhere. The only platforms you need to concentrate on are the ones where your customer is hanging out.

3. You ARE the HR department

This one is never mentioned in the text books, right? When you’re a small business retailer, it’s up to you to research the legalities of employing staff. Then you’ll have to analyse exactly who you need, write the job ad and the position description, advertise, conduct the interviews, choose someone, and tell a bunch of others they didn’t get the job.

The high you feel when your business grows to the point of putting on additional staff, is soon brought back to earth when you have to enter “the HR zone”.

A word of advice – it’s worth it. You can’t build your empire with just you (refer back to point 1, about looking after yourself). When you can employ a new person, give yourself a high 5 (better yet, high 5 with your new employee), because THIS is a sign that you are moving into the mindset of a business owner, not just a shopkeeper.


4. Accounting is really the ONE module you need to pass (a 51% pass just isn’t going to cut it)

For most retailers, the whole accounting thing is a burden. I’ll be honest, it was the first thing I outsourced.

Here’s something they don’t tell you in biz school. Pretty much every problem in your business will show up in the numbers first.

Yep, true.

If you’ve got poor sales people – the numbers will show it.

If you’ve got the wrong inventory – the numbers will show it.

It pains me to say (cos I am NOT a numbers girl), but those accountants really do know just about everything. Or more accurately, they can interpret a random set of digits on a page to tell you where your business is floundering.

If you aren’t already in love with the numbers, it’s time to get your head out of the sand, take a big deep breath, and plunge in on a monthly basis.

5. Building a business, especially from scratch, is immensely rewarding

From that first ever sale, to record-breaking sales days, YOU get to rejoice. Because all of that work you’ve put in, is finally being rewarded. Being featured in a magazine, winning an award, or just helping a customer walk out the door happy – THIS is what you live for. It banishes the crappy days, and the irritable customers from your memory and proves to the world, that your business is a success.

It’s often said that you learn more in real life than you do from a text book. Either way, learning is growth, and whichever form it takes, it is always going to be an asset to yourself, your business and your future.

Discover more retail and business insights during our informative education sessions at Reed Gift Fairs Melbourne August. More information to come soon. Registrations for the show now open!


About the author
Salena Knight
Salena Knight