Keeping Store Staff

In an industry infamous for high turnover rates and seasonal staffing, retailers continually face the challenge of hiring and retaining store employees.

Part of the big challenge, says Kathy Mance, vice president of the Washington-based National Retail Federation’s NRF Foundation, is that a large portion of the available labor pool scoffs at working in retail. “People still see retail careers as dead-end, minimum-wage jobs,” Mance says. “Look at Nationwide’s Super Bowl commercial with Kevin Federline dreaming he’s made it big, and he wakes up as a quick-serve-restaurant employee. You can’t give retail a much more negative image than that.”

It’s true that the hours — which typically include nights and weekends — aren’t for everyone, the pay isn’t exceptional, and schedules depend on seasonal fluctuations in the business. But there are a few steps you can take to hold on to your store staff.

Sweeten the pot

Obviously if you’re paying higher wages than your local competitors, store staffers are more likely to stay with you. Many retailers do pay above the average retail wage of $10 an hour, according to the NRF. But it’s not always about the size of the paycheck: Offering benefits that are usually reserved for full-time or corporate employees can go a long way in keeping store staff happy. Seattle-based coffee merchant Starbucks and Conshohocken, PA-based furniture merchant Ikea both offer full health benefits, for instance, while Starbucks goes further with stock-option grants and 401(k)s with matching contributions to employees who put in as few as 20 hours a week.

Involve store staff with corporate culture

Communication from management in the corporate office is key to retaining employees. Of the 1,003 retail employees and job seekers polled by St. Louis-based performance improvement firm Maritz in October 2005, 38% were not satisfied with the way their organization communicated with them, and 32% did not regularly receive feedback on how their work contributed to the success of their organization.

“I’ve talked to sales associates in some stores that don’t have a clue where their company’s headquarters are,” NRF Foundation’s Mance says. “How do you expect to retain them if they don’t know the company’s culture? What can they be proud of?”

As an example of a retailer than empowers employees at the store level, Mance points to Highland Heights, OH-based personalized gifts merchant Things Remembered and its Make-a-Wish Foundation cause marketing effort. The company uses public relations on the local store level to raise awareness, and the store that raises the highest percentage of funds over its goal gets a Make-A-Wish gift donated in its name. “Valuing the store employees’ opinion, letting them give input on where the gift goes, and thanking them for their role in not part of everyday retail existence,” Mance says.

Provide a career path

Last year Delray Beach, FL-based Office Depot evaluated the training practices in its North American retail operation, then created Project Pearl, a program to provide a supportive environment for store associaties to grow and develop their careers. Spokesperson Mindy Kramer says that as part of Project Pearl, the company standardized job titles and clearly defined what’s required for associates to advance in their careers.

Qualifying for advancement requires a combination of time on the job and formal training. Candidates receive on-the-job training for their new role as well as the opportunity to participate in mentoring programs. “It’s a strategic approach that provides a career hierarchy,” Kramer says.

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