Tips for hiring the most challenging job in retail

district manager people Jun 21, 2021

I remember back in 2004, I had 63 restaurants in three states, and seven district managers under my responsibility as a Corporate Operations Director for an S&P 500 global franchise organization. The region was underperforming, so we took over and implemented systems and processes to improve and elevate the area.

When the first vacancy in the district manager position opened, we had difficulties finding the right person because this is the most challenging job in our industry. Why? Having this job takes a lot, both physically and emotionally. Think about it! On one hand, the position implies the management of multiple units, which is no walk in the park.

It’s not the same to manage and supervise one unit and work with only your team every day, with a clear schedule, clocking in and clocking out, than to oversee multiple units. Many the times, these locations are far away from each other, and each store has specific needs and challenges, as well as diverse groups of people with different working styles.

That’s not all. The district manager job is not about doing the work, but about inspiring others to do the work. That’s why it’s such an important role in the retail and franchise industry. But because of the complex activities, there’s not a lot of time to spend on each unit to guide, coach and get to know the workers.

The importance of having a district manager development program

These challenges somehow explain why there’s a huge vacancy for district managers. The picture was no different back in 2004, when we needed to find the right person for this role. So, I turned to my training manager to develop a program for this next level, because back then we didn’t really have any type of guideline from the brand for this critical role.

This happens in a lot of companies. But since the biggest challenge of being a district manager is going from managing one unit to multiple ones, it’s very relevant that business owners develop specific training to help employees acquire the needed skills and tools to be successful at that role.

Having this program also makes the company a talent incubator. This way, when a vacancy occurs, the first place to look for candidates is within the company, encouraging internal promotion. This also helps to keep workers motivated, since they can aspire to scale to that position if they work hard enough.

One more tip: you should prepare your employees before the position opens. This way, you’ll have someone ready to slide into that role when a vacancy occurs.

District manager: skills and responsibilities

What to look for when hiring for this position? I have identified these key skills that successful district managers have:

  • Self-direction. A district manager shouldn’t try to do everything for everybody in their stores. And so, one of the things that they need to have is the discernment and understanding of where to spend their time, and where they need to be, to make sure they are being the most effective.
  • Self-motivation. The candidate needs to be able to get up in the morning and know exactly what has to be done and how those activities will make a difference in the company…and then do that.
  • Great organization. Not only to plan what’s going to be done, but to manage information, people, tasks, and time.
  • Comfort with changes. Working in a store, the operations may end up being quite consistent, day in and day out. But when you are district manager, what you do every day is going to be different based on where the opportunities are in your area.
  • Obviously, leading skills are very important for a district manager, because rather than a doer, this position is an inspirer, a coach, and a mentor.

All of these skills are needed to cover seven responsibilities, which are core in the everyday job of a district manager:

  1. Led and inspire the team to work smart and fast, and do the job exactly the way that needs to be done and in the direction that the company wants.
  2. Planning is a huge part of their activities. If they spend enough time and have the right process to plan, then they're going to be more successful.
  3. Build the team and make sure they have the right people, in the right spot, doing the right thing. This includes bench planning because how they coach and guide employees to become future unit managers is critical.
  4. Execute not only the standards of the brand and its image but also all the management systems and the financials of the business.
  5. Maintenance of each unit, to make sure that stores are properly maintained. This includes guarantying that there is no downtime either in equipment or lack of products or services.
  6. Marketing, even if it’s a franchise brand that does national or regional marketing. At a local level, the district manager has to collaborate with the general manager of the unit to determine the most effective marketing actions.
  7. Produce results is the biggest responsibility of this role. This leader has to know what are the needed activities that must be accomplished in each store to meet the franchise or business owner and the company goals.

The district manager is a critical position for the success of the organization. For that reason, the American Franchise Academy has created the Multiunit Leadership Certification Program to help you develop those leaders. If you are interested in our program, click here.

Reflections:

- Do you have someone within your management team that meets the profile of a district manager?

- If not, how can you develop those needed skills and tools?

- How well constructed is your bench to opt for internal promotions if a vacancy comes up?

- Would your company benefit from having a district manager development program?

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