By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

Special days on the calendar were created to honor achievement, courage, festivals and America’s unique customs.  While in our retail world they often turn into opportunities to sell more merchandise, we also need to take a step back and recall the real meaning of these days.

Two holidays honor our U.S. military, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  The former is considered the unofficial start of summer but was created to honor those men and women who gave their all and sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  Veterans Day honors everyone who served in the military, and chances are good that you have a friend or family member (or maybe yourself) who wore the uniform of one of our six branches of armed services.

Serving in the military is a unique opportunity. Not everyone who signs up (or was drafted) sees combat action, but all who join the military contribute to our safety and continued security.  And, whether you march in the infantry, sail the seas on a battleship, or fly at supersonic speeds, when someone signs that enlistment form, they are signing a pledge to give their lives, if necessary. I hope you will join me in saluting that bravery this Veterans Day and every day.

I also salute the retailers who give a little back to that military community. So many of you offer a price concession, extra merchandise or services to veterans and active-duty service personnel — not just on Veterans Day, but on the other 364 days of the year as well. (Many retailers also extend these offers to first responders, who likewise risk their lives for our safety and well-being.)

An even better way to acknowledge and thank former military members is to hire them for your team. This is not for preferential treatment — you should always hire the best-suited candidate for all of your team positions — but for the special skill set that should be invaluable to retailers and is second nature for vets. Specifically:

Suit Up and Show Up

All branches of the military have uniforms, and new inductees are quickly taught the way to proudly wear that garb. That means crisp, pressed cloth; shined shoes; and impeccable personal grooming. Your organization may not have an official uniform, but there is probably a minimum standard dress code. Having team members that regularly exceed that minimum ensures a good public reaction in the store and during deliveries.

Like Clockwork

In the military, there is no excuse for being late; it simply does not exist. Those of us with parents who served probably heard “If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late.” Punctuality is more than a courtesy, it’s a sign of being ready for action, even if that action is on a sales floor or in an office.

Drilling and Debriefing

Soldiers, sailors and airmen don’t just roll out of bed and go into battle. They prepare for weeks or months before the mission starts. They look for the flaws in their plan and remove them. They also obtain intelligence about the other side and the environment in general. They run drills until the execution of the plan is flawless.

Then, following the drills and the actual mission, a debrief is conducted. During a debrief, all evidence of military rank is hidden and disregarded. Whether results were achieved or not, the process and results of the mission are dissected, and the failures and successes are fearlessly examined for future improvement.

Teamwork and Precision

The Navy, Marines, and of course the Air Force all have flight crews. The key word is crews; no pilot flies by themselves. As the saying goes, there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old-bold pilots. Military missions depend on teamwork, with each team member knowing his or her role and performing it to expectations of everyone else on the mission.

That means doing the job right not some of the time but all of the time, and knowing that haphazard work endangers the entire squad.

It’s hardly a military battle but in a sense, retail is war, albeit on a smaller, far safer scale. You may find that your front lines could benefit from people who present themselves well (whatever the uniform is) and show up on time.

If you’re not spending enough time rehearsing your sales presentations, home delivery practices, phone scripts, or customer issue (a.k.a. complaint) resolution, adding some people who have those ingrained skills could be just what your company needs.  And if your typical team meeting has owners and managers doing 90 percent of the talking and 10 percent of the listening, a debriefing session will help you work out the real problems.

Most of all, check to see if your organization is more concerned with internal rivalries than outwitting and outperforming your competitors. Teamwork is not a platitude or slogan, it’s a selfless way of building strength and long-term viability.

This year, Veterans Day falls on Wednesday, Nov. 11.  Wave the flags and hang the “Sale!” signs. And when the opportunity presents itself, honor and hire a vet.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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