How to Hire Great Retail Employees

Couple with laptop in the living roomPrior to a recent retail opening, I was asked to visit a franchisee to evaluate his new crew. I discovered all of the employees were bland, boring and bad.

The problem is that none of them were customer-focused. Without that, the store would fail disastrously.

When I challenged the small business owner why he hired them, he explained, having had a background hiring for a set of convenience stores, “I just wanted to be sure they wouldn’t steal from me.”

While the chances of a great hire are about 50%, many employers continue to pick the wrong employee over and over. I don’t want that for you…

Here are six tips on how to hire great retail employees.

  1. Hire people to work more hours, more shifts. While most retailers think they should hire lots of part-timers to maximize their flexibility, that often means you have more employees who are disengaged from your brand’s success. That’s because if they are working two, three, or four jobs, they don’t have the time to settle into your culture. In fact, they may be bringing another culture to your own – which may not be good.
  2. Look for employees who play well with others. While it’s great that your applicants have outside interests and hobbies, many times these activities take place online or as an individual. Retail requires the exact opposite. During your interview, you’re looking for evidence that they are engaged in the real world with other human beings, so craft your questions accordingly.
  3. Past behavior determines future behavior. I’m all for goals and plans of what someone hopes to do in the future, but interview questions about their future plans are a poor gauge of how an applicant will work in your business today. Form your interview questions around specifics; give me a time you went out of your way for a customer, etc. If they can’t give you such details, it is rare they will do that for your customers. Likewise, when they can tell you specifics based on their past, they know what that desired behavior looks like and how to deliver it.
  4. Sell them on why you’re a great place to work. It’s not enough to grill new applicants – you have to sell them. Talk about your history, how you view the environment you have created for your customers, what remarkable service looks like, how you want customers to feel and what your management style is. This is one of the most forgotten aspects of hiring. The truly great applicants will see how you are a fit for their personal style of working and be more inclined to take a job, should you decide to offer it to them.
  5. Don’t trust your gut.  If an applicant is telling you everything you wanted to hear about their abilities, successes and how they’ll put that to work with you – find something not to like about them.  Gut instincts can trip you up so ask something like, “I’m sure you can agree no one is perfect. Can you give me a time you didn’t give great customer service and how you handled it?” The great employees can pinpoint such a time and tell you what they’d have done differently or how it was resolved. The poor employees will just tell you it never happened.
  6. Hire after a cooling off period.  You’ve had that experience when you meet someone who just clicks.  Don’t hire on the spot! Have them call you back at 4:00 pm the next day, after you’ve had a chance to call their references. After you’ve seen other people. After they’ve had a chance to sweat a bit on whether or not you will hire them. That keeps you firmly in control as an employer.

As to that franchisee, we worked with him to see how he needed more extroverts, helped him craft questions related to something other than theft and as a result he hired a whole new crew before successfully opening his doors.

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor®, has helped thousands of businesses in hospitality, manufacturing, service, restaurant and retail since 1994.  His clients have ranged from multi-national luxury brands to small business mom and pops. With over thirty years experience beginning in the trenches of retail and extending to senior management positions, Phibbs has been a corporate officer, franchisor and entrepreneur. His speaking presentations are designed to provide practical information in a fun and re-memorable format. His newest product is, his online retail sales training. No matter how long an employee has worked for your small business, now they can master the skills to build rapport and make a sale from virtually anywhere in the world 365 days a year.

Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana
Ajeet Khurana wears many hats: author, angel investor, mentor, TEDx speaker, steering committee of the NASSCOM Start-Up Warehouse, Director of Founder Institute, Venture Partner with the seed initiative of a top Venture Capital firm, and former CEO of IIT Bombay’s business incubator, among others. Before all this, he was entrepreneurial twice in the field of education and web publishing. As a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, he taught e-commerce back in 1993, when the term "e-commerce" had not yet been coined. An undergrad in computer engineering from the University of Mumbai, and an MBA from the University of Texas, Ajeet is presently an active name in the startup ecosystem. From starting two ventures as a solopreneur, to helping a large number of startups with their go-to-market, he has never shied from getting his hands dirty. At the same time he has helped dozens of startups raise investment. He truly believes that small business owners are driving change in the world, and need to be facilitated as much as possible. Innumerable small businesses have gained from his attitude, vast professional networks, financial acumen and digital mindset.

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