Q: My store is starting to get busier on the weekends, which is great, but it can get a bit chaotic trying to keep track of where all of my associates are at any given time. What is the best way to streamline our sales floor during higher-volume times?

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A: It sounds like your business could benefit from a zoning strategy. In a zoning strategy, your associates are assigned an area of the store for a specific daypart. They can move throughout the different “zones” as assigned so everyone always knows where they’re supposed to be—and so do you—at any given time. Think of this as the retail version of zone defense, except instead of covering receivers, you’re covering customers. Here’s how to create and implement a zoning strategy.

Map out your zones

The first thing to do when creating a zoning plan for your store is to determine your natural traffic zones. You can use whichever classification system you like—numbers, letters, abbreviations—as long as your associates know how to navigate it. Your zones will be dictated by your traffic patterns and where customers naturally dwell. There will be an entrance zone where you’ll place new arrivals or items you want customers to see when they first walk in.

Many businesses label this as the “greeter.” This becomes your first zone. As customers move further into the larger product display areas of the store, you’ll have a second, and potentially third, zone depending on the size of your store and number of product categories. In apparel and footwear, there is likely a fitting room or try-on area that serve as another zone. You can keep going in this way until you have the major customer areas mapped out. Depending how your checkout works (mobile vs. stationary), you may want to zone an associate specifically on cash wrap. This doesn’t mean they are glued to the credenza, but rather that they are in the area and available if someone needs to check out. It is better to create fewer zones at first than too many. You can always add more zones later.

Don’t forget breaks and transitions

Once you’ve thought through all of the customer-facing needs, you’ll want to create zones for whatever makes your store work behind the scenes. If you have a remote or basement stockroom, you can establish a zone there for a stock runner during peak times. Depending on your volume, fitting room go-backs can be another. You can also zone your clienteling program, allotting each associate 30 minutes per shift to reach out to their client book. One of the most important—and forgotten—zoning areas are rest and meal breaks. Since many states have labor laws dictating at what point in the shift these breaks must be taken—and since you can’t send everyone on break at the same time—it is advantageous to organize these intervals in the zone chart. There may be other areas unique to your business that you’ll want to create zones for, but these are a few to get you started. As with the customer-facing zones, try to keep the number of back-of-house zones on the leaner side so they don’t become too restrictive.

Make a zone chart

Now that you have a list of your zoned areas, you need a vehicle to communicate this to your teams. We recommend creating a chart detailing which associates are working that day and in which zones. Some labor management systems give a linear view of the daily schedule which can be a helpful starting point for you to build your zone chart. You can also build an easy template in excel or Google Sheets that you can update quickly every day. Two things to keep in mind with this—zoned areas should be dictated by your business needs, therefore not every area needs to be zoned at each moment of the day and an associate doesn’t need to stay in the same zone for the entire duration of their shift. In the example below, we’ve created a zone chart for a higher-volume Saturday at a boutique apparel store open from 10am to 8pm. The chart begins when the associates arrive at 9:30am and ends when the associates leave at 8:30pm.

In this particular business, the fitting rooms only need a dedicated associate between 12pm-5pm, otherwise the person in Zone 3 also covers this area. Additionally, Zone 3 doesn’t need coverage beyond 7p since traffic drops off significantly. You can also see the meal breaks are staggered to ensure coverage of key zones. For this business, rest breaks are taken at some point within the hour denoted by the “15” and are approved by the supervisor to ensure they’re staggered. Post the daily zone chart in an area where all employees will be able to see it, such as a communication board. Or, if the employees carry iPads or other mobile devices, you can also load it there as a PDF or shared document.

If your business is of higher volume or has a larger square footage, you’ll naturally have more zones. But this zoning strategy can be adapted and implemented regardless of your business size or employee count. Once you do, you’ll discover how much smoother things run—in particular on those busy days.