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How to Hire Right and Keep Them

By Judi Perkins, President of VisionQuest


The Retail Management Workshop


Retail Business Supplies

Recruitment isnít just about hiring, itís about retention, and that means hiring the right person in the first place rather than someone who merely appears to be the right person. It costs far more to hire and train a new employee Ė on any level, in any industry - than it does to retain them. And this is certainly true in the retail industry which typically has a notoriously high rate of turnover. So before you set out to expand your organization with additional bodies, you need to define what traits and personalities those bodies are going to exhibit.

Retail, obviously, isnít the normal 9 to 5 job. For store managers it includes weekends, nights, and holidays. Youíre on your feet much of the day (or you should be) and often dealing with cranky customers. If youíre on the district level, youíre likely to be traveling, and you may be responsible for a significant amount of hiring Ė which will make or break your region and its profits. Sounds like a dream job, doesnít it?

As a former recruiter whose experience spans multiple industries, all too often I saw holes in the profile of the candidate my client company wanted me to find. Questions Ė designed to go deeper than a basic job description - would bring thoughtful silences before the answers came. When you consider this occurrence was mirrored by candidates I approached, itís no wonder that many companies who handle their own hiring find that 6 to 12 months down the line one or both sides have become disillusioned and part ways.

So before you go recruiting, you need to know exactly what you are recruiting for. Itís not enough to require previous successful experience working with a parallel product or merchandise cost level. A big-box retailer doesnít always need a big-box background. Successful employees on any level share a number of common traits regardless of the industry in which they work.

If youíre a chain bookstore growing a region and plan to open up 15 new stores within a specific time period, does it matter if the person you hire has experience in media-related products? Or is it more important that they have experience developing a successful region of multiple locations?

In this line, think outside the box and look at similar industries with some of the same characteristics: grocery stores, restaurants, and drugstores are some, all of which focus on profitable expansion, merchandising, long hours, and hands-on management. If youíre hiring a store manager, you could even include call centers and cruise ships as well as retail operations outside your specialty.

Differentiate between what you can teach, and what you canít. You canít teach passion, nor can you teach intelligence. You canít teach common sense and you canít teach the willingness to do oneís job to the best of oneís ability. Management either cares about its employees or it doesnít, and is willing to be accessible and mentor, or not.

With that, managers Ė on any level - either realize that their success is based on the contentment and success of their employees, or they donít. In other words, it starts at the top. There is no difference between successful organizations and those that are unsuccessful, except for the people they hire and the decisions those people make.

Donít misunderstand what Iím saying. Iím certainly not advising taking a manager from a manufacturing plant and hiring this person to run an upscale, menís clothing store. Although the literal job responsibilities are technically ďtrainable,Ē regional management has no time - and thereís no reason to - train an entirely new set of skills, lingo, principles, and wisdoms.

We talked about the importance of having a good retention strategy in place before you begin hiring. Without a plan for retention, any problems you have within your management configuration and employee structure will be readily apparent and continue to perpetuate.

The best way to find out what goes into a successful retention program is to ask your employees. Youíd be surprised how helpful, innovative, creative, and wise many of their suggestions are. Itís the first rule of marketing: you canít give the buyer what he wants if you donít know what that is. Additionally following this path actively demonstrates that you care about your employees.

When I was a recruiter, one of the reasons for leaving I heard most often was ďItís not anything like they told me it was.Ē If you offer things to the candidate, you better be able to follow through. Donít say you hire from within if you donít. Donít say itís a fun place to work if your turnover in sales staff and management is consistently above average. Donít tell your new hires that you take them into consideration if you dictate, assign, and turn a deaf ear,

Hereís a fact: there are companies who are known as a terrible place to work and whose employees rarely stay very long. These are the first companies recruiters raid. In a large number of cases, amazingly enough, management never seems to realize that excessive turnover indicates thereís a problemÖ..with them, not the employees.

A big factor in retention is respect and rewards Ė whether youíre talking about your sales staff on the floor or district and regional managers for meeting their goals. Are there generous performance incentives? Do the earned percentages get smaller or larger as the achieved profitability goals get higher? Or are there whispers among your employees that the company is cheap?

Remember, too, that employees at different levels have different needs. So a one-method-fits-all retention program probably wonít go far in guaranteeing your employees stick around.

Itís much easier to hire employees through even the traditional methods when the buzz on the street is that youíre a great place to work.

Where to find new employees? Of course there are the traditional methods: job boards, newspaper classifieds and word of mouth. But there are innovative ways to approach the traditional methods, as well as some unusual methods that are successful.

Your corporate advertising team works hard to brand your store name as a great place to buy whatever it is you sell, and the same approach works very well in hiring. Testimonials are the best way to do this because theyíre objective.

As retailers, you know better than anyone that sales are built through relationships. If thatís true for a service or a tangible product, wouldnít it be even more applicable when the relationship asks the person to be part of that organization and interact with others as its representative day in and day out?

Survey your employees on different levels. Why do they work there? Why do they like it? Why do they stay? Instead of only running an ad advertising your sales, run a display ad for hiring purposes. Thank your employees by name and in the same ad, run a testimonial from one of them with their picture. Develop a campaign with several employee testimonials. That gives you added credibility and keeps the ad from becoming too familiar.

Make sure each testimonial addresses a specific (and different) point thatís important to people who are looking for a job: pay scale, incentives, mentoring, consideration and respect, the family atmosphere, whatever. But donít make it generic and donít engineer it. Youíll completely undermine its effectiveness. It has to be real, and it has to be in your employeeís own words.


Prior to starting her firm, VisionQuest, Judi Perkins was a search consultant for 25 years in both the contingency and retained market, including a short stint in the temporary and local permanent placement markets. She has owned her own recruiting firm and successfully assisted numerous repeat clients in hiring all levels of management. She now enlightens both job seekers and companies on how to make the right decision the first time.

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