Toni Yacobian

About Toni Yacobian

Toni Yacobian is CEO of The Yacobian Group and is a recognized expert on improving store performance and enabling large retailers to scale consistent store experiences across their decentralized fleets. Recently, she has developed Blueday™, a brand new store performance improvement platform that combines human interaction with big data and uses cutting edge technology to engage people at all levels of an organization. Blueday is used by a range of clients including Advance Auto Parts, Staples, and DXL. For more information, contact Toni:, 978.758.2281 (mobile), 978.461.4501 (office).

Moneyball for Retail

YG_moneyball_FINAL imageThere’s a new way to grow profits and hit it out of the park with consumers, employees and shareholders. It’s “Moneyball for Retail” – finding market inefficiencies to gain a competitive advantage.

In Major League Baseball, team owners want to win games. In retail, executives want to grow sales and profits. Both want to achieve these goals without breaking the bank, and the best-managed franchises in each have one fundamental principle in common: identify, develop, and reward the right players.

Whether baseball teams are winning or not, their ongoing costs continue to escalate. To keep the franchise operating at a high level, management needs to be aware that the most expensive players aren’t always the best fit for the team. The same holds for retail stores: operational costs are escalating regardless of store success, and executives need to schedule the right people in the right places to generate profits with the fewest additional costs.

And just as iconic baseball dynasties have come and gone, so have seemingly invincible retail giants. The survivors are the ones that continue to win. [Read more…]

Sales Force Transparency: You May Have an Olympian and Not Even Know It!

salesforceBy the time you’re reading this article, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics committee will have awarded its last trio of medals. The athletes will have boarded planes back to their respective home countries, and only the elite few will have cemented their places in Olympic history.

On a worldwide competitive stage like this one, the difference between immortality and obscurity is often a matter of microseconds. Events are won or lost by hundredths of a percentage point. And the single factor that separates the winners from the losers is precise and consistent measurement. Without it, the whole system falls apart at the seams.

So what does this have to do with retail? [Read more…]

People Improvement is a New Frontier of Growth

In my last article, I addressed the importance of “individualizing” store growth plans based on each store’s metrics and specific DNA. Now, let’s discuss the next step in the process — looking further inside the “black box” to the individual associate’s performance to help each person reach his or her full potential as reliable, strong contributors to store growth.

Developing associates to be more productive has never been more important than right now! Retailers face increasing pressures on labor costs. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) forces companies to make hard decisions on full-time vs. part-time staff. Although many retailers remain committed to maintaining a core staff of full-timers, these higher costs must be offset somehow. Our answer is to systematically increase individual productivity. When associates learn and apply new skills to help more customers buy, and buy more, they dramatically offset increases in wages or path

As we all know, retail boils down to customers and associates. Associates are the ultimate touch point — where their interactions with customers strongly influence the likelihood of hearing, “Yes, I’ll take it.” So what’s the best way to systematize individual performance improvement and develop more top sellers? [Read more…]

A New Strategy: Individualizing Store Growth

In my last article, I talked about “Data, Data Everywhere” and how critical it is to simplify retail analytics so we can use the data to take the right actions to help more customers buy, and less time analyzing the hundreds of reports trying to figure out how. When we use data correctly, we have proven that we can develop each store based on their own specific needs…resulting in significant performance improvement and new-found profits. It’s a new way to grow!

I’ll never forget an energy filled conversation I had with a very successful CFO of a large retailer. I was sharing my approach of “individualized store development” when I quickly realized that after patiently listening to my theory he wasn’t buying it. He informed me that his one-size-fits-all, top-down approach is far easier to implement and that I should adopt the command-and-control approach which has worked successfully for the past 20 years.

I clearly did not make my case. But it was helpful as I went back to the drawing board on how to more effectively communicate this new approach. I learned that his point of view is highly indicative of where many leaders in our industry are in terms of how they think about stores and growing revenues. [Read more…]

Store Employees’ Roles Need to Change…and Change Begins with Leadership

Robin_Report_Sep2013_stock12Why do customers visit brick-and-mortar stores when it is often easier and cheaper to buy online?

It’s obvious…because consumers want to see and touch the product, experience the brand, interact with people with the hope of solving a problem, or simply to feel better. For brick-and-mortar retailers, this in-store customer experience IS the competitive advantage. So why don’t front-line employees seem to know this? Why don’t they have the urgency and skills to make shopping experiences consistently good? Creating a consistent ‘performance improvement culture’ IS within the reach of most retailers…IF they take the right steps!

From my perspective, answering these questions starts at the top. Progressive retail executives realize it is no longer enough for store employees to simply complete tasks and operate stores. They know they need to get more from their large annual labor investments. They know it is no longer enough if employees only ‘fluff and puff’…they must also interact with customers to positively impact the in-store experience and drive sales. But how? [Read more…]

Lessons from the Internet for Brick-and-Mortar

yg_email_issue6In today’s environment, brick-and-mortar retailers are facing unprecedented challenges. C-level leaders are navigating through increasing headwinds brought on by a confluence of technology-driven changes – including big data, the cloud, mobile devices, and social media – that threaten the viability of the traditional retail business model.

Over the past decade, retailers have made huge strides in streamlining their store operations and supply chains. As a result, additional cost-cutting opportunities are waning as fixed costs of rent, marketing, inventory, and infrastructure become more prominent on the P&L. With today’s retail cost structure, even a few percentage points in incremental sales can mean the difference between continued stagnation and breakaway success. [Read more…]

Data, Data Everywhere…

How do we use it to drive performance improvement?

In my last few articles, I have focused on new metrics and processes available to retailers that help them create and energize a far more participatory and collaborative organization. CEOs and store operators alike are intrigued by the concept in theory, but are increasingly curious about execution. How can we simplify data and make it more actionable? Execution is everything!

When you look closely, retailers are overwhelmed by the amount of data they are collecting and unsure how to use it. Often when we start working with a new retailer, we find they are sifting through 150 to 300 reports and looking at a sea of metrics. What is even more concerning is that their field teams have little consistency regarding how they use these reports; they “cut and paste” on a daily basis to get individualized information to stores within their region or district. In addition to being difficult and inconsistent, this approach rarely provides the right information needed to effectively coach their teams and measure store performance in ways that are actionable by store teams. As one CEO told me recently, “we are expecting our field teams to be analysts rather than the executers we need them to be.” This is how big data is backfiring. Rather than saving time and driving the right outcomes, it is time consuming and leads to confusion. [Read more…]

Are PEOPLE Going To Be Replaced By ROBOTS?

The Robin Report - Yacobian GroupI was asked to sit on a panel in May for The Robin Report and Fashion Group International to comment on whether robots will replace sales associates in “Our Brave New Hi-Tech, Low Touch World”…needless to say, it has been on my mind. Robots? How can a robot replace the human element, the interaction – the energy OF people and BETWEEN people… that feeling we all so desire when we go out to stores? Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom… they always deliver. So why don’t more retailers do this? Why ARE some retailers actually replacing store staffs with kiosks and self-check-out devices? Why don’t more retail executives understand “people economics?” Can’t they see that robots are driving customers away from stores? They must not have adequate facts. [Read more…]

The Human Metric: Activating a Customer-Centric Organization

metrics_CIn my previous article, I discussed how traditional metrics—like comp sales performance—often work against retailers in their efforts to improve store performance. Continuing that conversation, we now take a look at how customer-centric metrics empower corporate leaders, field leaders, store managers, and individual associates to more proactively help their customers buy more and more often with a higher sense of satisfaction through quality in-store interactions.

Defining “What Right Looks Like”

Let’s face it. Retail is a highly emotional business. The best retailers have found ways to create a certain magical shopping environment—every day and in every store—through artful store layout, creative in-store design, and innovative product placement that energizes the buying emotions of their customers. Consistent replication of this store environment is typically ensured by a quantitative, detailed, and specific definition of “what right looks like”—rigid standards on product assortment, signage, and other visual merchandising standards that collectively define the emotional in-store experience.

Emotion isn’t just a customer phenomenon, however. It is mirrored by the other human element in the retail equation—store teams. The way a skilled manager-on-duty and store associates guide the customer through the store with a personal touch is perhaps the most important element in creating memorable experiences. Yet many retailers feel this human interaction is immeasurable, unlike product mix and merchandising. [Read more…]

How Can You Get There if You Can’t See It?

The Robin Report

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What performance measures and goal-setting metrics are you currently using? How do you know they accurately reflect individual store performance? Are they helping to create a high-performance culture? We are immersed in a data-driven environment and increasingly dependent on metrics and tools to measure and monitor our businesses. But most of us are willing to admit that transforming data into valuable insights is an ongoing challenge.

In the December Robin Report, I introduced a new customer-centered metric—Return-On-Visit (ROV)—that enables retailers to uncover hidden opportunities to drive incremental sales. Before we take a deeper dive into how ROV and other new metrics can provide better insights, let’s take a quick look at the limitations of traditional performance measures and goal setting.

Do Your Metrics Provide a Complete Picture of Performance?

There is no shortage of measurement tools and management reports. The era of “big data” has clearly arrived on the retail scene, principally fueled by:

  • Advanced POS systems that capture and disseminate vast amounts of transactional-level information.
  • The development of data-mining techniques that pinpoint the buying habits of customers.
  • Easily created custom reports at all levels of the organization that may or may not lead the end user to make the right decisions. [Read more…]

A New Strategic Growth Opportunity

The Robin ReportWhere will retailers find their next big growth opportunity? Supply chain advantages are maturing and lifestyle marketing is no longer novel. For national retailers, beautifully merchandised stores are located in about every mall and on every street corner in the country.

Furthermore, retailers are frustrated by their inability to get more return on the huge investments they make each year on labor, real estate, product, and marketing. Traditional approaches to growth are no longer working as well as they used to. To get better results, we need to think in new ways and operate differently.

The Next Big Opportunity: “Operational-ize” the In-Store Customer Interaction

Retailers, reluctantly, have a ‘gut feeling’ that their customers are not getting a consistent in-store brand experience. Most executives are disappointed in the customer interaction capabilities of store teams. At the same time, customer expectations continue to increase as shopping options expand. Most of us can recall at least one positive in-store experience. Apple stores certainly deliver them regularly. The store team focuses on you from the moment you enter the store. There is a governing manager ensuring your connection is made properly. A skilled associate interacts with genuine curiosity, not in a pushy way. You are provided relevant information about the products you are interested in. The experience adds value to the product and the brand.

Sadly for most consumers and retailers, memorable customer experiences are the exception and not the rule. [Read more…]

The New Age of Discovery

The Robin ReportOne commodity retailers never seem to run out of is problems. We’ve seen no shortage of business challenges in recent years, as brick-and-mortar retailers have wrestled with overcapacity, flat same-store sales, Internet incursions, and a tepid economic recovery.

But amidst all the hand-wringing over the future of retail, it’s instructive to look at (and learn from) those who are managing to thrive: truly forward-looking explorers who are, in many ways, migrating from an old world to a new one, and finding better “trade routes” in retail markets that have become increasingly crowded and hypercompetitive. These merchants are leading the way in what I’ve begun to think of as a new “age of discovery” in retail.

Like the explorers of old, today’s smartest retailers aren’t expecting to simply stumble upon better routes to that new world. They are exploiting new and better tools, and new and better ways of navigating. That’s only part of the story. The most insightful industry leaders aren’t jumping at every new technology and trend that promises gold. Being more strategic, they recognize that discovering new opportunities usually requires being able to see their worlds anew, from a fresh perspective. And to do that, these top managers often need to first change the lenses they use to view their businesses. They pay attention to new and different kinds of data, and use the insights that result from this to make better decisions at every level of their organizations, from the CEO to the part-time associate. [Read more…]