Elementary school teachers around the world are using a tool that we may find useful in the day-to-day management of our shops. It’s called a catastrophe scale, and it’s a measurement system that helps children put their problems and feelings into perspective. Much like the ubiquitous pain scale now used in medical settings, the catastrophe pyramid gives children to a way to express how upset they are by whatever is happening.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when something goes wrong in the store. And of course there are so many potential problems: an employee is late, or doesn’t show up; a customer breaks something valuable; merchandise is shoplifted; or the power goes off due to a storm and you can’t open for business.

The stress level involved in dealing with large and small crises can take its toll, so it can help to make a habit of determining the scale of each problem in order to keep smaller ones in perspective. An employee being late, for example, is a glitch that can be forgiven if it only happens once or twice. If it happens more than that, it moves up the scale to being a problem that needs to be dealt with. 

A certain amount of breakage is a cost of doing business, and as long as it’s an accident we wouldn’t ask a customer to pay for the item they broke. If you do feel it’s necessary to have them pay, just charge them the wholesale cost. But it’s best to prevent an incident from happening if you can. Keep fragile items in a closed case, and offer help right away when you see a customer looking at breakable merchandise.

Moving up the scale, you come to a level that requires action.  If an employee’s behavior, for example, is starting to impact their colleagues and your customers, it’s time to have a conference to set goals for improvement.  (See the Performance Problems blog entry from earlier this year.)

At the highest level, if a crime, fire or natural catastrophe is involved, you need to seek outside help. The advice in the Natural Disasters blog post may be helpful. When dealing with a crisis, make sure to do all you can to protect your own wellbeing, and that of your staff.

A true catastrophe is rare, which is why it’s important to keep some perspective on the daily problems you face. You’ll enjoy retailing more if you keep the emotional panic button reserved for really big issues.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder