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Hiring & Keeping Salespeople - Part 2 - Recruiting

Furniture World Magazine


People can afford to be choosy about where they work, so home furnishings retailers can't afford to be passive about recruiting.
Previously in this space, we talked about the necessity of creating and maintaining a supportive and positive work environment that brings out the best in your retail team. If you want to cut down on turnover, that should be your first step because you will have fewer people looking to leave.

Nonetheless, even those special companies that do empower people and encourage creativity still need to recruit. In fact, these companies are constantly recruiting because they're constantly growing, but their recruiting job is easier because of their reputations as good places to work. See how progressive management is a benefit that comes full circle?

Eventually, some portion of the staff moves on, and in these times of expansion, more people are needed. That's why a large percentage of the home furnishings retail community is working short-staffed. They say that they are having a difficult time finding good people. Everybody who's any good has a job, and nobody wants to work retail.

There's another reason why most stores don't have enough people, especially salespeople, to adequately service their shoppers and customers. The truth is that most retailers treat recruiting like a trip to the dentist. They don't want to go there.

Yes, recruiting is hard work, but it addresses such a fundamental retail need that it's hard to understand how it so often winds up on the back burner. Imagine how much business and profit a store is losing if it's running two, three or four salespeople short.

And, because of the current people shortage and the strong business trends of the last few years, it's not at all uncommon for mid-size stores doing $5 million or $7 million a year to be short five salespeople. We are in a new age where people can afford to be choosy about where they work, but retailers can't afford to be passive about recruiting.

For the first time in our industry, I believe every company in our industry, I don't care how big or how little, has to have a recruiting budget, and not just for classified ads. The problem with classifieds is that most people run an ad only when they're desperate and they wind up choosing the best of the worst. In most cases, you will get responses from the weakest talent pool from classified advertising.

In addition to setting aside money for recruiting, managers must budget time for this critical function, perhaps as much as a full day each week.

Each manager should be responsible for keeping his or her department fully staffed. Recruiting should be written into the manager's job description. That eliminates excuses for poor performance based on not having enough people. If your department heads don't have enough people, you will be justified in asking them what they're doing to remedy the situation.

Of course, you need to use every opportunity to tell people that you are looking for new team members who are positive and who work well with others. Signs around the store, written in appealing language, should encourage shoppers to apply. But the in-store signs, which we have been suggesting for years, is just one way of recruiting the people who know and, presumably, like you best – your customers. On the weekends, when the store is absolutely packed with shoppers, set up a recruiting table. What better way to attract great new people than drawing from your client base?
And if somebody does want to talk about a job opportunity in your company, talk to them immediately; do not let them leave the store without at least thanking them for their interest and setting up an interview. Remember, you are talking not only to a potential employee but a possible customer as well.

As we said previously, though, recruiting is no longer a passive management activity. As a rule, fantastic candidates are not going to walk in and present themselves on a regular basis. Good recruiters have to get out and wear out a little shoe leather.

In the past, you may have read columns from us describing our strategy for visiting the malls, especially jewelry, apparel and shoe shops where the salespeople are likely to be on some sort of commission and may have a sense of style. They're already working in a store, which means they're accustomed to the terrible retail hours. Also, they're in a fashion industry, and if they're any good, they know the transaction is just getting started when the customer asks for a specific product.

This job requires an ample supply of business cards as well as a positive and enticing dialog that you've worked out in advance. You want to encourage the people with whom you talk to submit an application without promising them a job. You want them to know that you admire how they approach their work and that your store has opportunities that may prove worthwhile to them.

Your managers should also be aware of the competitor's salespeople who may be looking for a change. Most retailers already shop their competitors' stores. In addition to checking out the merchandise and the pricing, they should also be on the lookout for good people looking for new horizons.

If you are looking to bolster your sales floor, take a look at some of the people you may have on staff in other departments. Chances are that your sales staff makes more money, and if they seem to understand your products, have a nice way with people and want to accept the challenge of commission sales, let them try. Many of the most exciting success stories we've heard in 30 years in the business involve administrative or operations personnel changing careers into sales successfully.

Get everybody in the company involved in the recruiting effort with a bounty program to encourage and reward existing staff for bringing in recruits. If it's a one-man job, you're going to generate the results that one person can produce. If you have 50 people looking, imagine what could happen. Everybody in the company should be an ambassador for the company.

Years ago, it was enough to pay a $50 bonus for bringing in a new employee, but that won't cut it any more. Today the numbers are drastically higher than that, sometimes reaching $1,000 or more. I suggest a two-part reward that recognizes the new hire's start and then 90 days longevity.

Get acquainted with the placement offices at your local colleges and universities. These offices have separate departments for alumni placement and for new-graduates so be sure to visit both. Contact the human resources department of any downsizing company in your area, too.

Make recruiting part of your regular advertising mix. Promote your exciting job opportunities every chance you get. If you have a web site, make sure you talk about employment opportunities there, too. Dedicate a page on your site to recruiting. The Internet is fresh and new, and I've gotten some fascinating results through that medium.

When you are considering an application, don't be afraid to bring in people who don't have furniture experience. Success in furniture retailing really boils down to attitude, sense of urgency and caring more than anything. Industry and product knowledge come with time and training, but a good attitude always creates a huge headstart in our business.

We are only scratching the surface here, but if you've read this far you can see how a little imagination and ingenuity can enhance and drive your recruiting efforts. Recruiting is not easy. To do it right, it's a full-time job.

Retailers and managers who spend some time every day doing any of the above tasks come closest to finding the quantity and quality that they need. Recruiting and hiring using a fire drill approach will lead to nothing but mistakes, disappointment and worst of all, lost revenue and profits.

Look for us in this space next month when we talk about the hiring process.

Sam Leder, wrote this article while President of Shepherd Retail Recruiting. Sam has 34 years of retail management, consulting and recruiting experience in the home furnishings industry. He has been in management positions for top 100 furniture retailers including Breuners, Haynes and Rhodes and has provided consulting services to more than 300 retailers. For more information about the topics in this article contact Sam care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at sleder@furninfo.com.

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