Making the rest act like the best

Learn about our 20 year long quest of solving the mystery of performance variation between retail stores. It all started with one question..

The story of Maze


The “variation mystery” period

Since 2005, we have been on a quest. A long journey, in search of the answer to the biggest question for ambitious retailers: 

What is the most effective way to reduce the massive, expensive performance variation between local stores inside the retail chain? 

When our first Maze clients joined our quest, they challenged us to answer three main questions: 

What is the real cost of variation between stores?

A common theme among our initial client projects was that a lot of resources were wasted on different areas, contributing to a high variation between stores.

We quickly found that a retail chain could quadruple its profits if we found a way to halve the performance difference between the 20% best performing stores and the rest. This would positively impact KPI’s conversion rates, average basket size, and customer loyalty. 

What are the root causes of this variation?

During this period, it became clear that around 80% of the variation could be attributed to “The store management profile”. In otherwise comparable stores (roughly same size and location), the store management’s experience and habits were the greatest decider between high, medium or low performance.

Several Maze clients proved this by moving Store Managers from high performing stores to low performing stores, and typically, the managers had increased the performance of their new store by a lot in only 6-9 months. 

How do we reduce the performance variation between stores?

Realizing the importance of store management, a number of initiatives with different interventions were tested.  

The interventions that we tested during this period turned out to be either; a) Ineffective or b) Effective, but too expensive for a large-scale implementation.  

Ineffective interventions were typically associated with increased investments in traditional management skills training and would, in best case scenario, result in short-term improvements that were not sustained over time.  

The effective interventions were typically associated with long and intense coaching initiatives, generating a lasting impact, but proving way too costly because of the external coaches that needed to be paid. 

How could we get the same effect as the coaching initiatives, without needing external coaches? Would it be possible? 


The aha! period

We made one, single observation that changed the entire direction of our quest, and showed us the right path forward: 

If we can increase engagement among the store teams, putting them in charge of their own development, the problem will be solved. No need for external coaching or expensive skills training. Engaged employees are the foundation for everything else. 

There’s not enough time

Why? The most important reason is time. Store Managers are present in stores for less than half of the opening hours, and don’t have much time for training and coaching store staff. Managers often have a range of operational issues that take up their time instead. 

But we asked ourselves: How did the Store Managers in the best performing stores handle this? Well, they were often superstars at managing their own time and managed to build a high-performance culture in their store teams at the same time. This led to high performance over time, even though the employees in the store teams came and went. 

But, since the majority of Store Managers don’t have that time, employees need to be able to create this engagement themselves. 

Testing the engagement theory

After this realization, we wanted to test our theory. We got engaged in a large number of client projects to develop action plans and create a mix of tools that could be scaled at a low cost per store. 

The action plans ranged from: 

  • Implement management profiling tools and use staff surveys to give store management feedback and track improvements on their leadership profile. 
  • Develop KPI reporting tools and scorecards that visualize store performance to the entire store team. 
  • Develop various task management tools that tell the staff what to do. 
  • Using customer feedback to give store teams direct feedback on their effort to satisfy customers. 


The results? Only one of these interventions showed a big enough impact to warrant continued investment. And yes, you guessed it! Giving store teams direct customer feedback and actionable insights was the way to go. 

With new data and learnings under our belt, we decided to develop the “one solution” for all clients, capturing 10 years of insights into a single tool that could be used by all retailers to make the rest of the stores perform like the best. 


The one answer to the big question and the unexpected side effect of Covid

With a clear path forward, we dropped everything else and focused all our effort on developing this one, single tool that could truly help each store team “do best what matters most”. Specsavers invented and used this phrase to explain how they’re using Maze across their 1000 stores in the UK. 

Our first effective product was born

We called our first solution “Maze Premium”, and during our first development period, we collected and built insights from 100+ client projects to improve the product. We took what worked and made it better, and dropped features that sounded nice, but did not contribute to our mission. 

We learned a lot during this period. One key learning was that positive reinforcement was the single most effective way of encouraging the staff to build new productive habits. That’s why the kudos feature is one of our most popular and effective features. 

We rolled out our product to our first clients in late 2018, allowing over 50k users to use every feature. The big gain for us was being able to instantly test the impact of our features on a large scale, which accelerated our own learning and development process. 

But then Covid happened. 

An unexpected insight from the pandemic

The pandemic shut down a big chunk of European retailers and would of course affect us as well. Maze did however survive because 100% of Maze Premium clients had seen enough evidence to continue wanting to use Maze during this critical period. 

As stores were allowed to reopen, the true potential of Maze became obvious: When European consumers were allowed to re-enter stores, they showed appreciation for the great customer experiences they had by leaving positive feedback. Consumers had a higher appreciation, and the frontline staff in the stores felt better thanks to the positive feedback. This created a positive spiral in staff wellbeing, engagement and customer satisfaction. 

And this led to an important insight that we keep in the back of our minds every day: Frontline staff wellbeing is a key driver of business results, and this area can be improved by highlighting the contribution of the employees and strengthening the team spirit within the store teams. 

Today & onwards

Unlocking the Superpowers of store teams

We are still on the same quest we started almost 20 years ago, and we are moving forward with confidence. A large number of Maze clients have taken the #1 position in their retail segment when ranking in-store customer experiences. And we have seen hundreds of store teams using Maze to create long lasting improvements to their store culture, securing massively improved results. 

Our focus is narrow, and we want to keep it that way. We want to keep doing what we know but aim to improve our product and the results of our customers. 

We believe in a future where the Store Manager doesn’t have to carve out time for reading reports and scorecards, deciding what to prioritize AND look after their staff and customers. Maze will help them with all that. 

In our version of the future, the entire store team, throughout the entire chain, will have direct access to the information they need to find solutions to optimise the customer experience and drive business KPI’s.  

Our quest has convinced us that the Gen Z store staff members of today are perfectly capable of taking on more responsibility than they unfortunately are often allowed to today. All of our experiences tell us that when we successfully reach today’s store teams with relevant, actionable and convincing insights, and specific advice against desired outcomes, they step up and reveal the Superpowers they already possess.  

Our quest continues.. 

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