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What We Can Learn From the Past: Retail Lessons from an Olympic Gold Medalist

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My first “real job” out of college was working for a specialty sporting goods retailer called Adolph Kiefer & Associates. My boss, Adolph Kiefer, was a U.S.A. Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. One of his good friends was Jesse Owens, who also made history at those games. These are the same games that were featured in the bestselling novel “The Boys in The Boat” by Daniel James Brown (read it if you haven’t). Adolph was 17 years old when he won gold. He was my mentor and my hero.

Adolph’s life story was filled with gold medal achievements. Both in the pool and in life, Adolph understood the value of setting goals and achieving them. This video underscores my point. The amount of wisdom and business acumen that I learned during these early years is invaluable. We should all be so lucky to have such an influential person in our lives. ESPN did a story on Adolph a few years before his passing which I think you’ll enjoy. It can be found here.

Like Adolph, we learn, from a young age, the importance of setting goals. For the athlete, it may be a personal record, a coveted place on the awards podium or an Olympic gold medal. Athletes train rigorously to succeed in reaching their goals. They visualize themselves on that podium. Once successful, a new goal replaces the old. This keeps the athlete focused on continually getting better, improving, being the best. “Goal” is a simple word for the desired end-result.

At this point, many of you are likely thinking “what does this have to do with me and my business?”.  Everything. As humans, we are naturally competitive. It’s the fight or flight instinct. We need goals that direct us to the next level. We strive to meet or exceed the bar that has been set for ourselves or for our team.

The gurus of the business world can’t be content with using the word “goal”. So, they came up with the fancy term – “Key Performance Indicator”, or KPI (because if there isn’t a catchy acronym it must not be a real thing). As business owners, managers, or salespeople, we have many desired goals or KPIs. The ones I hear most include increasing sales, being more profitable, getting inventory numbers in line, adding new customers. The list can be infinite.

I consult with many small- to medium-sized business owners. I always ask where they see their company in five years. More often than not, their responses fall within the ones I just mentioned. Using KPI’s (there I go again) to set a specific desired result helps them to make the goals become a reality. Setting goals is both easy and enjoyable.

An athlete doesn’t set vague goals such as “I want to be better” or “I want to be faster”. They set very specific goals that, with hard work and dedication, are achievable. I want to run the mile in X. I want to score X touchdowns in the next game, I want to beat my personal best by X seconds. And included in the goal is what work needs to be done to make it happen. You get the idea.

The business owner, manager or salesperson needs to do the same thing. “I want to increase sales by X%”, “I want to reduce operating expenses by X%”, “I want to find X more customers”. Setting goals is the easy part. The hard part is determining what steps are needed to get there and then stay on course. KPI’s are meant to motivate, so they must be slightly out of reach but realistic. Remember, goals need to be achievable. If you make them too lofty, you’ll most likely fail and that’s not fun.

Athletes rely upon the scoreboard or a stopwatch to gauge their success. They also have the equipment and guidance to succeed (shoes, helmet, coach, etc.). A runner running barefoot will have to work a lot harder than one with a nice comfy pair of running shoes. If you’re relying upon a cash register and Excel, you’re running barefoot. You’re forced to work a lot harder and a lot longer to reach the goals you’ve set.

Fortunately, there are proven software solutions and channel partners that help take the guesswork out of the equation. Think of it as a training regimen. A strong software solution keeps you apprised of your progress. That’s one of the most important pieces of equipment for a retailer. A solutions partner that understands your business can provide you the coaching you need to win.

NCR CounterPoint is the ideal solution for retailers looking to grow their business and beat the competition (both brick and mortar and online). It provides fast checkout at the POS, Order Management for your sales team, rock-solid Inventory Management, robust reporting and so much more. Do you want to increase the number of times you turn your inventory? CounterPoint provides you with the tools to determine what’s selling and what isn’t. Would Just in Time purchasing help reduce your on-hand inventory? Done. Open an online store to compete with Amazon?  Check.

Soft Intelligence has been helping retailers succeed with CounterPoint for over 30 years and we’d love to help you. Many of our dedicated team members started their careers in retail. We make it a priority to understand your business, your goals and what it takes to succeed. Let us help you set and achieve the goals you need to succeed.

Adolph always said that there are only winners in the world: First-place winners and first-place losers (second place is the first-place loser). In other words, there is only one winner. Which will you be? The world of retail competition continues to evolve. Having the tools to thrive and to be the best are within your reach and we can help. Call or email today to set up a free consultation.


Chip Allen was a specialty retailer for over 25 years and has extensive industry knowledge and experience. He can help you improve customer service, grow your business and increase your profitability.