In our Relationship FIRST® management programs, we work with store managers from around the world. While the position has always been challenging, we have recently found a need for a shift in perspective to meet the complexities of today’s business environment. The shift from manager to leader must take place now for retailers to stay relevant. Being a leader requires being equally strong at inspiring people, as in driving sales and that takes putting #RelationshipFIRST.

The position of boutique manager is one of the most complex and challenging executive positions in all luxury retail. Without development in key areas brands will financially underperform and underdeliver their customer experience promise. Some of the biggest challenges managers will continue to face: 

Manager in the middle 

Since boutique managers spend the predominant amount of time with their staff, it becomes easy to over relate to their point of view. The challenge is to meet the needs of HQ while creating a culture that inspires sales teams to achieve results.

Employees are as demanding as customers

Customers have always demanded to experience delightful service, which is why luxury retail has always focused on customer experience. Now employees are demanding the same attention to their experience and leadership needs to take action. The luxury brand is not enough to retain employees.

Attracting and hiring the best

The scarcity of finding high-level talent puts tremendous pressure on managers to identify external candidates and develop employees from within. Managers are not just networking for clients, they need to be skilled at networking to create a talent pipeline otherwise known as their “bench”.

Age diversity of sales teams and customers

This is the first time in modern history there are five generations of customers and four generations of sales advisors. What it takes to communicate with and motivate each group can vary significantly. The challenge is meeting the diverse needs of a multi-generational workforce that is serving a multigenerational customer base. 

The ratio of manager to employee in luxury retail is approximately 1-10 making the challenges the same regardless of boutique size. In fact, at the core of managing luxury retail teams today is the increasing need to balance between managing the business and managing people. Although the position of store manager continually increases in complexity and scope, the main lever that managers can impact is their people.

The future is now to further develop managers to be leaders of their business in the following areas. A combination of all of these “must have” skills are needed to address today’s challenges. 

1 – Managerial Courage

Having the courage and skills to address challenges quickly circumvents bigger problems later. We find that managers who are trained in managerial courage have the healthiest relationships with their team, score the highest employee retention, create harmonious working conditions, and rank among the highest performing stores. Said simply, by addressing issues and being comfortable with conflict they can create the time to proactively focus on strategies that drive the business.

2 – Hire and develop for emotional intelligence

Yes, emotional intelligence is inherent in some managers, yet it can be taught to others. The ability to perceive and manage our emotions and those of others is essential in our professional and personal lives. Managers who understand themselves and others can embrace change instead of getting trapped in drama.

3 – Employee experience drives customer experience

Store managers need to know the “dos and don’ts” that engage sales teams to create a “buying vs. selling culture”. It’s the managers’ role to champion the values of the organization on a daily basis and not only rely on initiatives from HQ.

4 – Inspiration is not for some, it’s for all

If we need employees to be inspired, we need managers who inspire. Relationships with employees and customers, although always a priority, now require new skills. To different degrees, every manager can and needs to be inspiring. At the heart is not only learning what to do differently but also removing old behaviors that unintentionally demotivate sales teams. Inspiring others can be taught. Two examples,

           Reinforce the right thing: The neurosciences teach us that we learn more from our strengths than from our weaknesses. Give more positive support and you’ll get more positive support.

           Set the employee up for success. Telling is not coaching. Take the time to ensure that employees can actually perform the required skills and are also motivated to apply them.

 While all the above skills are critical, they cannot be acquired without the one essential skill of listening.

5 – Deep listening is the cornerstone of leadership

The old model of one-size-fits-all group motivation programs does not address each individuals need to express their unique experiences and preferences. The new model requires deep and empathetic listening to discover what motivates each team member and is a skill that requires practice to master. 

Ready, set…reset. Leadership predicts success. Transforming managers into leaders unlocks the potential of your business and your people. While many retailers have management programs in place, those that excel understand the need to also offer leadership development programs to prepare today’s retail managers for tomorrow and beyond.

We invite you to visit our website and explore our bespoke leadership programs. Please reach out or comment below to continue this dialogue.

Martin Shanker is founder and president of Shanker Inc., a New York-based global consultancy deploying its Relationship FIRST® Method for luxury retailers and brands to develop their sales teams with a focus on neurosciences, emotional intelligence, and behavior-based training. Clients include Burberry, Cartier, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, LVMH, Lane Crawford, Tod’s and Van Cleef & Arpels. Reach him at