Small Business Resources
By Dan Jablons, Retail Smart Guys
In my youth, I used to think that having employees would be easy. You’d hire them, tell them what to do and they’d just do it, right? Not exactly. How to find and keep the best staff possible is not something to take for granted. Having a great sales staff often drives the success or failure of a retail store. It’s worth some discussion.
When you hire new staff, the most important things to look for are staff that are outgoing and willing. The rest is trainable. Sure, it’d be great to find someone with experience in the industry or a client roster that they could call upon immediately, but more important than any of that is someone who is outgoing and willing. Why? Because you want staff that will make your customers feel wonderful when they enter the store. You want staff that will establish great relationships. Outgoing and willing people are the ones that make that happen.
Where do you find them? Everywhere that there are services provided, including restaurants, florists and administrative services. If you find someone who is outgoing and willing, tell them about your store and tell them that you are looking for people just like them. Often, that person will apply themselves or send like-minded people to you.
Once they apply, even if you love them, we suggest a sample shift. Have them go out onto your selling floor for a few hours with no training and just see if they are able to strike up conversations with customers. If they can, then you have a winner and it’s worth hiring them and training them. Note: During the sample shift, they should just strike up conversations and refer the customer to you or another staff member who can actually help them.
Most important, we have learned that the best practice is to always look for staff. Ideally, you’ll have a few people who are waiting to be hired. This keeps you secure in the knowledge that you won’t ever be understaffed, and it keeps your current staff on their toes.
Training is one of the most important jobs you have as a manager/owner. You must make sure your employees are trained or else they cannot possibly perform as well as you want them to.
First and foremost, they must be trained on sales techniques. Just because they’ve worked at other stores does not mean that they know how to sell or, more important, how to sell at your store. Make sure they know how to greet customers, how to engage with them and how to close the sale. Watch them sell, and grade their performance. Give them tips on how they could do better.
Further, all salespeople need excellent product knowledge. You can ask your vendors to come to a staff meeting — you do have staff meetings, right? — and talk about the product. We also like the idea of assigning a vendor for each staff member to research so they can present the product knowledge themselves at each staff meeting.
It probably goes without saying, but it is also critical that the staff member has a good grasp on how to operate your point-of-sale system. Make sure they know how to work the system well, even in the weird transactions. It’s a big part of customer service, and you don’t want to spend hours correcting errors they’ve made.
Once hired and trained, you must now evaluate how they are doing. It is important to tell your staff how you will be evaluating them so they know what to do to keep their jobs and keep you happy. The best way to measure sales staff is to measure their units per transaction. This is a great way to see how well they are establishing relationships with customers, how well they understand the products you offer and how good of salespeople they are. Coupled with that would be average dollars per transaction.
Watch these stats closely daily, weekly, and monthly. Discuss the stats with them and how they can improve. Measure each salesperson against the store average, and the ones that are below the average must bring their stats up. This way, you’ll give them great goals, improve their performance and improve the store’s performance, as well.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you attract staff that just aren’t cutting it. It is always best to let these people go quickly. Bad situations rarely get better, and it is best for both you and the staff member to terminate that relationship early. I had a hard time learning this and sometimes kept people longer than I should have because I felt bad for them. I have since learned that it’s a bad decision to keep bad people.
Not only do bad staff cause problems on the selling floor, they can also cause good staff to leave. Remember, your good staff members are watching how you deal with the bad ones. When I kept bad people too long, my good staff wondered if I was a good manager and, if it was bad enough, thought about leaving because they didn’t want to be in that kind of environment. Preserve and keep your good staff by dealing with the ones that should not be there.
Also, you are not helping the bad staff by keeping them around. I have found that sometimes when I terminated a bad employee, they realized that they were in the wrong industry and quite literally turned their lives around. A few of them have actually come back and thanked me. So it’s not healthy for either you or the staff member to perpetuate something that isn’t working.
Make sure you carefully follow your local laws and regulations with regard to termination. Learn and know these laws well so that you don’t find yourself in any legal trouble.
No retail store can survive without having great staff. It is something to be managed, just like inventory and vendors. Properly done, your store can become extremely popular in your community, which can only lead to better selling, better profitability and better success.