For many mid-sized and smaller retailers, the owner and one or two other key people seem to know everything. Quite often they spend more time answering questions from staff members than actually getting their own jobs done, leaving little time for planning ahead and creative problem-solving. Many feel as if they can never leave the office.

Furthermore, if they get stuck out of town or are suddenly incapacitated, the business grinds to a halt because the hapless employees don’t know what to do.

Management gurus have an easy solution for this problem: Copy the big guys. Huge retailers have central “knowledge bases” that list specific procedures for every event their staffs are likely to run into. Often it is high-tech and sophisticated, with training videos, manuals and computer databases. However, it doesn’t need to be extravagant to be effective. Here’s how to create your own knowledge base:

  • Keep it simple.
  • A loose-leaf notebook with labeled tabs or a digital version saved on the company computers make excellent knowledge bases for many retailers.

  • Make it easy to find and search.
  • If you go the notebook route, have more than one copy available.

  • Make it specific.
  • Your knowledge base should give step-by-step instructions for everything your staff needs to know, whether it is how to take in new shipments, ring up a sale, handle a customer complaint, or address copier repairs and supplies. Your knowledge base should include anything that enables your employees to carry on the business when key people are gone.

  • Condition the staff to use it instead of coming to you.
  • When employees ask you a question, unless it’s urgent, refer them to the knowledge base so they get used to using it. If your write-up doesn’t answer their question completely, add the missing information so it will the next time.


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