Last Updated on 14 November 2019

Wow, the store looks great!” I told the barista.

Yeah, they spent all day yesterday cleaning,” she said. “I hear the district manager and regional director are visiting. I wish we always kept it this clean! The order even came in this morning – and instead of sitting on the floor – we were instructed to put it away immediately.

This situation happens continually in restaurants and retail locations across the country – maybe – across the world.

You see, the store manager heard the boss and the head honcho would be visiting and prepped for their visit. So, the store was cleaner (including the windows just washed). The shelves were filled with product and dust free. The food case looked awesome. All-in-all it was one of the best in-store experiences from a ‘store condition’ perspective.

All this primping and priming was for the wrong audience, though.

Instead of fixing the store once per quarter in advance of a ‘surprise visit’ from upper management, the store should be kept in great shape everyday for the paying customer.

I’m not naive… I know why this is done. These are survival tactics.

The store manager would make the district manager look bad if the head honcho came to visit, and the store was in poor shape. The district manager would get in trouble – and because it rolls downhill – the store manager would get in trouble.

It helps the customer for the next two days… but it is all make-believe. Artificial reality. Surely, the head honcho knows this happens, no?

How can we prevent this situation?

(1) Start Pop-In Visits – If you are a boss – stop scheduling pre-announced, pre-planned market visits. Pop in. Get a dose of reality. You may not be as happy with what you see – but at least you’ll see reality.

Also know with your first store visit in a market, that first location will call all the area stores and put them on high-alert.

(2) Fix The Problem Source – What is going wrong that the store manager can’t keep on top of the business to always keep it clean, organized, and properly staffed for their customers? These are the issues that need to be addressed. Is it the manager? Or do they not have enough labor allowance to keep things fixed?

(3) Create A Safe Culture – Human nature pushes us to do the things for self preservation… I get that… But, what can be done with your company culture so that employees aren’t so afraid of the boss seeing things as they really are – good and bad?

(4) Caught Doing It Right – What about shifting the priority from focus on what needs to be fixed to highlighting what works well? Make big notes about what is working. Make small (but still important) notes about what’s broken and needs to be fixed. (You fulfill the same task as a normal visit, but people feel better about you visiting their locations).

What practices do you use with your business? As a leader what do you do to prevent the artificial reality of store tours and managing to the wrong audience?