By Peter Smith
Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.
When we find ourselves in the middle of challenging days, we would do well to remember the story of the two guys getting chased by a bear.

Mid-pursuit, one of them stops to tie his shoelaces. His friend looks at him aghast and exclaims, “You think you’re going to outrun the bear?” The guy responds, as he rises to resume his run: “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you!”

It is easy to descend into the abyss, believing that events are conspiring against us. It is convenient to blame forces outside of our control, to lament our misfortune as foot traffic declines, average tickets regress, retail stores close and younger people seem less than enthralled at the prospect of shopping in jewelry stores.

The reality is that we hold the key to our own destinies. If we were to honestly assess our own operations, our decision-making, our execution, even our mindset, there’s a very strong likelihood that we are simply not doing all, or even most, of the things we need to be doing within our own four walls.

In retail, that means paying close attention to the evolution that is happening around us. Don’t talk about hiring great salespeople; do it. Don’t talk about investing in your teams’ education; do it. Don’t talk about having a compensation plan that rewards the top performers; get it done.

As you think about your product mix, don’t talk about ridding yourself of dated inventory; do it. Don’t talk about narrowing your product choices so that your target customer better understands what you are about; make it happen.

Don’t theorize about replenishing your best-sellers; do it religiously. Don’t just accept that consumers place a lesser value on generic goods; act on that by limiting generics in favor of real brands and relevant private-label storytelling.

Don’t talk about having a coherent and cohesive marketing strategy that merges traditional, digital, social media, website, e-commerce and in-store; make it happen.

And don’t talk about turning your store into a consistently great experience for customers. With great lighting, music, scents and customer-centric events, make it happen.

In “Thinking Fast And Slow,” Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman wrote: “Optimistic individuals play a disproportionate role in shaping our lives. Their decisions make a difference; they are the inventors. The entrepreneurs, the political and military leaders--not average people. They got to where they are by seeking challenges and taking risks.”

Complaining about things beyond your control while ignoring the many things that you ought to be taking care of is, quite honestly, a smoke screen.

If you were to put together a checklist of the key elements of your respective businesses--the store, personnel, marketing, product, financials and culture--could you honestly say that you are operating at the highest level--not at the level that used to suffice, but at a level that ensures success in today’s retail environment?

We can’t ignore the broader challenges in retail but burying one’s head in the sand is a surefire way to extinction. Concern yourself less with the bear and focus on outrunning the other guy.

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

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