What Circuit City Taught Me About How Not To Succeed In Business: Part 1

I worked for Circuit City--a now defunct electronics chain---for two very long years.  I sold appliances mostly, but also was trained on selling small electronics, programming cellular phones (remember the Motorla "flip" phone?) and selling home audio equipment.  During my tenure at Circuit City I learned some invaluable lessons in organizational leadership that I have never forgotten.  Perhaps if these lessons had been evaluated by the Circuit City brass a few years ago, they would still have jobs.

1.  Care About Your Customers Needs, Not What You Need From Them.  
As a Circuit City employee I quickly learned that my first priority was to sell products that paid the most commission  and that would make the company money.  Our desire was not to help the customer find what they needed, but to sell them something that had a higher "spiff," which was the slang for the commission sales people received.  We could see the spiff on every price tag and in the computer.  If something didn't pay us very much, no matter what the customer wanted, we would try to sell them something else.

2.  Different Colored Sportcoats Doth Not A Qualified Sales Team Make
At CC we had to wear grey sportcoats on the even days of the month and blue sportcoats on the odd days.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  Who cares? It was lame.  We looked like a convention of car salesman from the 1970's.  CC thought this gave the sales people a more professional appearance.  You can dress your team up in all sorts of ways trying to make them seem professional but if they suck at taking care of your customers, it won't matter how they look.

3.  Don't Advertise Things You Don't Want To Sell
CC used to advertise "loss leaders" in their weekly ads and then each Sunday we would have team meetings in each department so that the sales manager could teach you how to "step" customers who wanted the advertised piece to something that had more margin and paid you more money.  We called the advertised pieces "nails" because if you sold enough of them you would have enough nails to build your own coffin.  If you were unfortunate enough to be forced into a situation where a customer insisted on buying the thing CC had advertised to get them into the story, you would get berated by the sales manager and have to go over the "step" process to ensure you knew it.  Here's a thought.  Just advertise what you want to sell.  Be authentic.  Don't bait and switch people by trying to portray yourself or your business as something it isn't.

4.  Don't Build Your Success On The Backs of Your Staff
As employees of CC we were forced to work "bell to bell" which means we were on duty from 9 AM to 9 PM five days a week.  This meant twelve hour days, which--if you are good at math--means that we were logging in 60 hour work weeks.  I figured out once that I was making about four dollars and fifty cents an hour.  Your staff need to know that they are valued beyond what they can give to the company.  Your work environment needs to be one that honors their time off in addition to their time on.  And they need to be paid well for a job well done.  This goes in church-y world, too.  Churches and congregations are notorious for not wanting to pay their staff what they are worth, and then wonder why they leave.

5.  Focus on Building Relationships, Not Hourly Numbers
Every hour of the business day at CC a manager would make the rounds to each department with a report showing what you had or hadn't sold, and more specifically, what the profit margin of your sales happened to be.  The store had hourly goals for margin and sales as well, and so the managers were always pressuring us.  They could have cared less about what was happening in our lives, or what sort of bridges we were building with customers through service and education.  All that mattered were the hourly goals.  Fat lot of good it did them.  If you want your business to succeed, you need to be focused on building solid relationships with your people, modeling the kind of behavior you want them to share with your guests/members/customers.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 - Coming Soon!  Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Well done. I ABHORRED shopping at Circuit City. I could never put my finger on it, but thank you for enlightening me. I always felt like it was a car-buying experience, not an expendable small electronics shopping experience. Looking forward to your conclusion.


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