Rapid Growth Retailers Face the Danger of Crashing to Earth

fdu’s guest blogger Julian Grindey is an energising and inspirational MD/COO/Trading Director, skilled in leading profitable change and transformation, inspiring strategic vision and commercial delivery and in driving retail and digital growth. Proven in delivering exceptional growth from turnarounds and scale up, in key omni-channel operators, including private label and international product sourcing strategies.

If you maintain your focus throughout the journey, the rewards can be sky high. Getting it wrong could cause your business to spiral dive out of existence.

An aircraft can stall when it climbs so steeply its engines cannot create enough thrust to maintain its height. Unless the pilot takes corrective action it could plunge from the sky.

This analogy should serve as a warning to retail.  Not to those who have already lost their relevance and crashed out of business; for them this comes too late. Businesses growing quickly now face a different peril.

Rapid growth retailing is a turbulent journey. When it’s time to make big decisions that determine your future, you need to be adequately prepared.

Possibly the most rewarding signals for a retailer is rapid sales growth; confirmation of your customer acceptance of the proposition. Your business model is working. Retailers like Aldi, Boohoo, ASOS, Ocado, Action, and Pepco have enjoyed meteoric growth over recent years, but few could claim they haven’t wasted sales and profits in the process. Nobody wants to slow down growth – the moment may never present itself again, but growth can also be costly in sales and profits. With the right awareness, preparation and experience, recognising the signals as you grow will help address them before a steep ascent turns into a ‘stall’.

There are seven ‘stall’ warning signals retailers must look out for, before it’s too late:

  • operational in-efficiencies start creeping in.
  • your customer experience begins to suffer.
  • cashflow comes under severe pressure.
  • employee burn-out leaves those remaining stifled under the pressure.
  • you are outgrowing your infrastructure, supply chain, sales channels and offices.
  • you are outgrowing your work processes – they might even now be obsolete.
  • you are starting to feel a loss of control.

There are nine preventative measures retail leaders need to keep sales and profits on track in the rapid growth phase:

  1. Understand the cause of growth – What is the ‘secret sauce’; those things you do so well for your customer and for your business. Define it and then keep this at the core of your business model and protect it from all the distractions that are crossing the leadership desk.
  2. Prioritise the customer experience – Protect and nurture this revenue stream at all costs. Develop ways to measure and improve these interactions; when you struggle with the volume of customer feedback, find a way to distinguish between ‘a sound’ and ‘a signal’. Act on the latter!
  3. Choosing your people is the most important decision you will make – Don’t be afraid to hire smarter than you; look for tomorrow’s skills today. Blend the innovators with the controllers. Stretching your people budget now will save losing customers and costs – it’s more important than building stores, DC’s or offices.
  4. Set periodic reviews for your structure and technology – Your people won’t function properly without an organised structure that can achieve growth and control. Combining structure with the right KPI’s will control costs and harvest economies of scale.
  5. Resource planning – Out-source, automate and engage interims to support your core team. Don’t let great people burn-out and don’t believe the skills that got you here are the same as those needed to achieve your future state.
  6. Communication – As the situation requires the senior team to transition from operational management into leaders, communication must replace instruction. Choose your words, symbols and actions carefully if you want them to be followed.
  7. Prudent cash planning – Long range budgeting may not be appropriate but short interval cash planning is crucial. Develop plans for several scenario’s and be ready to jump between them at short notice. Ask suppliers to play a strategic partnership role in your growth, their response will help you separate the transactional from the sustainable.
  8. Learn to love continuous change – Look for leaders who are comfortable feeling uncomfortable and can inspire others to take risk without fear of recrimination, if things don’t go perfectly the first time.
  9. Find a good mentor – set aside your ego. High growth can be stressful. Learn from others who can offer you an equal measure of empathy and guidance.



Well trained pilots look out from their cockpit to scan the horizon. Their awareness is confirmed by the readings from their instrument panel. They are prepared to change their behaviour and direction to face the uncertainties flight can bring.

Retail leaders facing rapid growth also have to change their field of vision from the narrow operational focus to a broader scan of the horizon. Their instrument panel should read customer and commercial behaviour and at their control is people, systems and processes.

Strong leadership skills, experience and awareness will ensure the journey is exhilarating.