Hiring and Training Successful Associates

Hire and train successful associates

Cris Willis

For many retailers, “managing people” is their weakness.  You probably started your business because you love what you sell.  Buying the merchandise and doing beautiful displays in your store is fun.  Planning events and promotions and the marketing to go along with them lets your creative juices flow. You may even have an accountant or other paid professionals to help you with the business’s paperwork and legal needs.

Then there is the staff.  The people that make up the front lines of your business.  You probably love each person that works for you but managing them as a team can be quite difficult.

I remember growing up, my father always said that he loved his business, but managing the personnel was the hardest part.  When my husband and I took over our family business, the part that scared me the most was managing our team.  I can say that of all the challenges we face as retailers, managing our associates was the hardest.  Over the years, we managed teams ranging from 30 associates to 100.

Here are my thoughts on how to best manage your team this Holiday Season.

Over Hire for a Deep Bench

With the uncertainty of this COVID Christmas, I recommend hiring more people than you think you need, even if it is just one more part-time person. Even if your foot traffic is down, you may need more staff to handle more tasks. There is more cleaning and sanitizing to do during COVID, especially in a busy store.  If an associate does contract the coronavirus, they may be out for up to two weeks. Or, they could be home caring for a sick family member. Remember, the flu and pneumonia will also still play a factor in the holiday season. You need to prepare in case something like this happens during your busiest weeks of the year.

Bob Negen, with WhizBang! Training has described this as having a “Deep Bench” this season. You want to have enough part-timers who can step in and cover some more shifts when needed.  These people need to be well trained and able to do the job.  Click Here to watch Bob’s video explaining The Deep Bench.

You need to be hiring these new associates now. I recommend hiring seasonal part-time associates for a 2-3-month job. If they are wonderful, you can always offer them long-term employment in January.

If you are looking for associates, here are a few suggestions.

  • I recommend that you are always taking applications. Never tell someone that you are not hiring. This way, you will always have some applications on-file you can refer to when you have a job opening. You never know when someone will quit. Always be on the lookout for your next great associate!
  • Have a page on your website for Hiring Now or Careers, where people can fill out an application for your business.
  • Keep an eye out for an awesome person doing a great job while you are out in your community.  Give them your business card and tell them that if they are ever looking to make a change to give you a call.
  • Reach out to local colleges and high schools that offer a work-release program. Some of our best associates were high school and college-age kids we felt like we helped to raise!

Over Train & Cross Train

Many retailers have good intentions when it comes to training their new employees but never fully get it done the way they wanted. It ends up being haphazard and passed off to another associate to teach them how they “think” it should be done.

You need to have a Policies and Procedural Training Manual that includes all of the basics of working at your company, like asking for time off, what the dress code is, what the return policy is, or how to run the register. I highly recommend you have all of this written down to give them. Some associates will be more oral learners than visual learners, so I suggest you make a video of yourself presenting this manual’s essential parts. Every new employee should be given this manual and asked to read it before they arrive for their first day of work. Then on their first day on the job, they should watch any training videos you have made.

Make a checklist of your new associate’s training schedule so that they know exactly what is expected and the time frame in which they should get it all done.

Your new and longtime associates will need continuous product training and sales training. So, plan some sales training meetings with your associates early in the season. Selling your merchandise is why your store exists, so you must cultivate a culture of SELLING in your store.

Bob Negen with WhizBang! Training developed a 6 Step selling process called “The Perfect Purchase.”  If you would like a great sales training program with all of the work done for you, check out The Retail Sales Academy by WhizBang! Training. To watch my videos explaining the 6 steps, check out the Retail Clarity Business Coaching YouTube channel.

Be sure to cross-train all of your associates to work in all areas of your store. Your employees are more valuable to your business if they can work in multiple departments, stores, or in the backroom. With the possibility of associates being out due to illness and more this holiday season, you need a Deep Bench that is Well Trained, and Cross Trained.

Develop a system where your associates can keep up with all of your events and promotions, goals and metrics, new products, and social media talking points.

Here are a few suggestions for the best ways to communicate all of this to your associates:

  • Private Facebook Group for your team – This is a great forum to share all of this information with your team, including inclement weather notices and so much more.
  • Consistent Team Meetings – Have team meetings throughout the season at a consistent time.
  • Email – Send your team a weekly newsletter email with all the information they need to know for the week. Include new product training information, selling tips or focus of the week, event and promotional activities, and more.
  • Know It All Wall – Take over space on the wall in your backroom with a bulletin board where you can post up information. Have each associate initial all of your documentation so that they are accountable for reading it.
  • Notebook or Folder by the register or time clock – Make a special notebook or folder that all associates know to look at each day for any updated communications from you. Again, have them initial it so that they are accountable for knowing that information.

The most important function of your training program is to set non-negotiable standards for your employees. They need to know exactly what is expected of them. Too often, we assume that they know, and we wonder why they are not performing to our expectations. Write it down and communicate it to them. As Bob Negen always says, “If it ain’t written, it ain’t real.”

Coach, Coach, Coach

Once you hire great people and train them, you must coach your team continuously.  Coaching will lead to increased sales and increased morale.  In order to be a good coach, your associates need to know your non-negotiable standards, and then you coach them to meet them.  Your challenge is to give your staff ongoing training and then constantly coach them to use and improve their sales and customer service skills.

When coaching your team, be sure that you are specific with your praise so that they know which behaviors you would like them to repeat.  If there is a problem and you are angry or upset, make sure you use unemotional language to correct them and not escalate or make this coaching seem personal.  Be prompt when you see behavior to praise or if you see a bad one, nip it in the bud asap.  The longer you wait, the less effective your coaching becomes.  Never correct behavior when other coworkers or customers can hear.

To keep your employees performing at high levels, you must reward them. Here are a few ideas you can use.

  • Set a goal for how many coaching moments you want to have each day, and then get on the floor and do it.  In my store, we used what Bob Negen calls the “one-sentence wonder.”  It is just like it sounds; one simple sentence to reinforce the desired behavior or to correct an undesirable one.  Walk up to the employee, give your one-sentence feedback, and move on.  If you do not set a goal for yourself or your manager, you will get busy and realize that the day went by, and you never made sure you were watching to catch your team doing things right.
  • Set Goals and Have Contests.  You can set group goals around the store’s daily sales, the overall items per transaction, or the average dollar sale.  If the store meets the goal, reward your team with a pizza party or an ice cream social, etc.  Or, have individual contests to see who can get the most people in the dressing room, who can enroll the newest customers into the text program or loyalty program, or have the largest sale that day.  Reward your winners with things like gift certificates to your store or coffee gift cards, or even cold hard cash.  It does not have to be big; people just like to be recognized for doing a good job.
  • Write personal thank you notes to your associates.  This was always one of my favorites.  At the end of the day, I would think of something awesome someone did, and in my busyness, I forgot to give them a pat on the back.  I found that writing them a personal note and either mailing it or putting it in their workspace for them to find really help to build morale.  Be sure to be specific about what they did, so they know that you are aware of what they do.

Reward your team for doing what you want them to do, the way you want them to do it, and you will be well on your way to coaching an excellent retail team.

Creating a team of superstars is the most important aspect of your business. Each member of your team is either making you money or losing money for you. For more information on creating a Super Star Team, check out the Retail Mastery System from WhizBang! Training.

This blog’s information comes from my personal retail experience and the things I learned from the Retail Mastery System.

Next week we will take a deeper dive into events and promotional ideas for the month of November.

Cris Willis

Cris is a business coach for independent retailers. With 25 years of experience owning and operating a family business, she now guides retail owners to make smarter decisions regarding inventory management, marketing, sales training, product assortment, and more. When not at work, she loves to travel the country with her husband in their motorhome.

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