We mentioned last month the challenge faced by many retailers today of finding the time to keep proper bookkeeping records, on top of all the other duties they’re expected to perform. The response from retailers is best summed up by one comment: “I sometimes feel that I could only do all of the jobs I am expected to do if I were an octopus”. In other words, the retailer would need eight arms to be able to juggle his roles between sites – although presumably, even then, he’d need more than 24 hours in a day to do so.

Between selling, managing staff, dealing with customers and suppliers, and basic health and safety compliance, he felt there was already at least one full-time job there. Add in the need to keep the sites clean, fuelled and stocked-up, another full time job. Plus there’s the need to do hours on the till, especially when you can’t fill the night cashier’s post!

The result is a harassed, tired individual trying to be in several places at once; hardly the recipe for giving ‘customer satisfaction’. Something has to give – and all too often it’s the basic checks and controls on site that suffer. For example, it’s one thing downloading the latest supplier prices, and even letting the supplier tell you what the retail price has to be, but another to actually go out and make sure that the correct price labels are printed off and put on the shelf edge. Ignore this and you’ll end up with disgruntled customers, or worse, a visit from trading standards.

While we’re on the subject of trading standards, most forecourt retailers are aware of the safety issues on the forecourt – it’s something drummed in to them from before they first get the keys to the site (and the unfortunate events at Buncefield will at least serve as a useful reminder of what can happen to fuel). However, when it comes to the ‘safety’ issues surrounding the storage and selling of food products, such as checking chiller temperatures and keeping records of those checks, many retailers leave that for ‘when they have time’, which tends to mean ‘never’. But if you can’t find the time you should bring in an ‘Operations and Compliance Audit’ team once a quarter and they’ll tell you whether your staff are following your instructions.

Another area all too often abandoned due to lack of time is the control of shop stock. As we’ve said many times before, however brilliant your stock management software, it will only tell you what the stock is supposed to be. To know what’s actually there, you have to go out and count it and then tell your stock system. Only then will you be able to find out how much you’ve lost through wastage and pilferage. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, there are professional stocktakers out there who’ll happily do it for you in far less time and for a very reasonable fee. You don’t need to have them there every month, but it’ll make a hell of an impression on your staff if they know that there’s an external ‘stock audit’ taking place unannounced from time to time.

These are practical, day-to-day issues; even more difficult is trying to step back and take a long hard look at the profitability and efficiency of the operation. For example, when was the last time you checked just what the bank is actually charging you for on those monthly or quarterly ‘charge advice’ statements? Has an ‘account management charge’ suddenly appeared, even though you’ve not had any contact with your bank manager in living memory?

Have some expenses risen so steadily that you’ve not really noticed them going up until now? If you don’t have the time to stop and review your operations, someone from outside can be brought in to do a ‘Financial Audit’ on your behalf and investigate the figures and bring important issues to your attention before it’s too late.

What we’re saying is simple: the time demands on retailers today are immense, partly because there’s hardly enough money in the system to pay for full-time staff to carry out all the specialised roles needed to operate and control a site. That’s common in many industries. The answer is to bring in specialist help and advice – a little but often – to carry out the essential checks and reviews for you, and bring the important stuff to your attention. To give peace of mind, even if everything turns out to be OK and the results show that you’re staff are doing the right things at all the right times. Now isn’t that worth paying for?