Small Business Center
By Dan Jablons, Retail Smart Guys
As the holidays approach, many retailers will need to add more staff to provide great customer service to holiday shoppers. Selecting staff for your store is a lot like selecting guests for a party. You want to make sure that you have a good crowd of people who are interesting, engaging and fun. Santa’s elves look like they’re having the time of their lives in the workshop, right? Your customers should be able to look at your busy store and see lots of happy, productive staff that are celebrating the upcoming holidays with other customers.
Your staff should be outgoing, sociable people. Retail is a people business, and it’s vital that your staff enjoy interacting with customers and engage in conversation quickly and easily. The absolute last thing you need is someone who is shy and retiring. The staff need to create an atmosphere in the store that is very much like a great party, a warm and friendly place where it’s fun to interact with other people. (I’m sure Santa would agree with me.) This is even more critical during the holidays. You want people who will get your shoppers in the spirit of giving — and having fun while doing it. So many shoppers get stressed about the holidays, so you need staff who understand and can help your customers find the best gifts for their friends and family.
Those who shop at boutiques do so because of the experience. A huge part of that experience is the staff. Boutique shoppers are looking for interaction, but they are also looking for expertise. They want someone to help figure out great gift ideas. They want someone who will help make gift giving a unique and rewarding experience. Your staff, both existing and holiday additions, need to think about that as they approach customers.
The next important attribute is “willingness.” The staff need to be willing to do what it takes to make the store a success. That means that they are willing to help you merchandise the floor, help a customer out to the car with bags, make customer calls, clean and dust, unpack boxes, gift wrap (nicely, please) and learn more about the business. If you have someone who rolls their eyes every time you ask them to do something, you probably need to replace that person. Life’s too short to work with difficult people. (Santa would probably put it another way, but he wouldn’t keep negative people around either, right?)
Ease of interaction and willingness to work are far and away the most important attributes. Everything else can be taught to an employee who is willing, and it’s worth teaching an employee if they are outgoing and sociable with your customers. (Not every elf that Santa hires knows how to build a sleigh from the first day, right?) If you have employees that are not outgoing and willing, managing them will be a greater challenge than you’ll have time for during the holidays. Employees like that will rob you of vital holiday sales and damage the morale of the store. Don’t take this lightly: Recruit and keep those that are outgoing and willing, and get rid of the ones that aren’t.
What do these new employees need to be taught? For starters, they need comprehensive training on the products you stock in your store. For example, let’s say your store sells denim. A bright, outgoing, willing salesperson at a clothing store should know about different fits, washes, rises, cuts, lengths, pocket treatments and fabrics. This enables them to properly serve the customer and gives the customer confidence to know that she’ll end up with the right denim for her. Product knowledge gives your staff important selling points to help drive sales and customer satisfaction.
I can imagine you saying, “Gee, Dan, that’s great, but how do we find these people?” After all, the elves seem to come to Santa more than Santa having to find them. It’s true that finding great staff is the hardest part, but in actual fact, they are everywhere. Recruiting is an art form. In your day-to-day life, as you meet people who are outgoing and willing, tell them that you are looking for people just like them to work at your store. Always carry a bunch of extra business cards, and when you meet someone outgoing and willing, give them your card. You may find them more easily than you think. I also took a great tip from an independent coffee shop that has a sign that says, “We’re always hiring!” That communicates to their customers, as well as prospective staff, that the shop is successful and growing all the time, and who wouldn’t want to work for a company like that?
One last thought: When you find someone that you think is perfect for the job, we recommend that you don’t hire them just yet but put them on a trial shift. Have them come in on a Saturday and work a few hours. Do not train them, but just see if they are able to engage customers in conversation and have fun on the floor. That’s all you are looking for. If they can pass that test, they deserve a place in your store. You’ll be amazed at how many can’t pass this simple test, but if they do, they are worth retaining. And if they don’t pass the test, you will have found out before putting in a lot of time training them and getting them set up on your point-of-sale and payroll systems.
Your staff are a big part of why shoppers shop at boutiques, and their contributions are enormous. Hire people that are outgoing and willing, and your store will be a happy, productive place, where even Santa might shop!