The big question filling the airwaves is how can the small, independent retailers compete for qualified staff when the larger companies are raising hourly rates? With the rising costs of everything from supplies to products, keeping a competitive price on your products is harder than ever.
Independent retailers understand that competition is the norm and have already mastered the pain of the uneven playing field of pricing product. Today there is a new pain of competition, hourly wages. The ever-changing pandemic market shifts can be overwhelming for any business owner to keep up with. The sheer number of culture changes, product changes, business model changes, and the ever-present pandemic management changes can wear you down to a place where managing one more thing, like wages increases, sends up the white flag of surrender.
Business and human resources experts suggest creating your own unique playing field when competing for new hires. They advise incorporating your vision and mastery of competing for your customers into your hiring process to find the right fit for your staff:
- Lean into your vision. Your energy and focus are best spent in your own playing field and out of competition with the big boxes of the world.
- Review your bottom line and the cost of lost sales.
Lean into Your Vision
When you created your business, you had a vision of what would make your store unique and differentiate you from your competition. As you grew your business, that unique idea grew into a draw, creating the reason why your customers treat you as a destination that meets their needs. This customer draw can also be used as your employee draw. People are not robots that will only go for the highest wage. Today’s employees are interviewing the employer just as hard as you are interviewing them. Quality of life is as important to many potential employees as wages. In this pandemic era, your potential employees are hyper-aware of the health risks of working with the public. This can be seen in the number of remote jobs that are being sought after and the number of public interaction jobs that remain unfilled.
No matter your view on getting vaccinated or wearing a mask, the stories of how the public is currently interacting with retail’s frontline workers are part of the drive for employers like Costco, Target, and Amazon to increase wages. If you look closely at those stories, they occur primarily in the corporate, big box stores and corporate HR knows that in the domain of quality of life, the independent retailer has them beat and that is a bigger threat to them than wages. Offer day one health care and signing bonuses to entice candidates to apply.
Your unique playing field is primarily made up of your business culture: your values, mission and vision. When you lead with the culture you have created, it not only draws customers, but people (employees) who want to be part of that culture with you as well. The customer that is drawn to Target, Costco and other big box stores on price alone is not your core customer, nor is it your core employment pool. Trying to compete for this employee in the staffing field will not yield the results you are looking for. According to Lisa Minnini from Excellerate Associates, the independent retailer is more concerned with an employee that is the right fit for their culture and less interested in a body filling the role. Leading with your culture and vision in your job posting will attract candidates that are looking for what you offer. When Lisa is helping her business clients with their employee attraction and retention programs, she has them define what makes their company unique, fun, and a great place to work. She says, “Who you want to attract are the employees that are about more than the buck. You want the employee who feels you are a good fit into their life too.”
In Todd Palmer’s (Extraordinary Advisors) keynote speech Hiring like Nobody’s Business: The Battle for Talent in 2021 and Beyond, he talks about becoming an “Employer of Choice.” Attaining this reputation is a blend of your business’ core values, the “Why?” of your business, and clearly communicating what’s in it for the employee. It is a candidate-controlled market, and they have a lot of employment options to choose from. When they understand how your open position will benefit their life and what they value, more candidates will respond to your ad.
“When you are building your help wanted post, lead with your incentive and why you are a great place to work.” Lisa Mininni advises the opening line of your job posting is the hook that will attract the right candidate. You can test your opening lines in job postings in different markets and publications to see what the best hook for your ad is. Ask your current employees why they like their job and what would get their attention if they were looking at an ad. If you are looking for seasonal help, put that in the opening line and post a clear job description. Many job postings never specify the details of the job. Being clear will save you and potential candidates time and aggravation.
Get creative in where and how you post your job openings. Linkedin, local community colleges, and your business social media are free places to post. Creative help wanted signs can bring people in off the street to apply. Reach out to your local retiree communities, Rotary clubs, Chambers of Commerce and businesses associations to spread the word of your job opening as these are places where you can find candidates that are not driven by the dollar alone. Think outside of the box and talk to your local veteran’s office for members of the military that are re-entering civilian life. Services to enhance potential, women’s shelters, and workforce reentry programs for non-violent offenders are other out of the box and socially conscious ways to bring in additional workers. Sometimes these workers are subsidized to get them back into the labor force. Keep in mind, you may jump into all these ideas for finding employees that your feel you can afford, but you will have to address the $15 elephant in the room.
The hiring process can be an expensive one. If you add up the cost of the ad, your time spent, and the cost of training a new hire, it can cost upwards of $2000 per staff member you hire. A bad hire will cost you even more with potential lost sales, your own lost time in dealing with them, and the cost of stress on your current staff. Todd Palmer cautions against hiring out of desperation. Hiring the next person out of panic is more expensive than paying overtime to your current staff. Before you start the hiring process, review your interviewing and onboarding procedures. Do you have a phone screening process? Do your interview questions reflect your company culture? How fast are you making the offer? Do you have an onboarding process? What is your incentive to retain your staff? Knowing these things beforehand will help your write your job posting in a way that attracts your ideal candidate.
Staffing companies can help in a pinch. However, this is an expensive way to get an employee. Before you take that path, consider the sales you’re losing. Is that temp employee going to help you capture that lost revenue to a level that warrants the expense?
Reviewing Your Bottom Line
The $15 hourly wage is not as expensive as you think it is. At Coventry, we made the jump from $11 to $15 starting wage over a 12-month span. There were two main reasons we pushed this plan forward as fast as we could. Low staffing was costing us sales and we saw the impact in our staff’s lives when their wages increased to $15 an hour — without our staff we cannot be in business. They are a critical resource and can make all the difference in the success of your business, more than any raw material or product for sale. We read the writing on the wall and knew to keep competitive and recruit quality employees this starting wage increase was crucial. Ironically, instead of costing us, it added to our bottom line.
It was a rude awakening to understand that our unfilled positions at Coventry were costing us about 30% in lost revenue. Stock-outs, slow order turnaround time, and product loss due to a rushed schedule were our sales leaks. There was also pending burnout for the staff on hand and that would put us into a deeper revenue loss spiral. It was time to do the math.
I created a profit and loss statement of where we were at the moment, and then did another with higher wages, more employees and the predicted higher sales. Our percentage of profit took a 1% hit on paper. I was confused at how that was even possible, increasing my weekly payroll looked debilitating on a weekly cash flow basis, but in the big picture, it was doable. It was possible because of the additional revenue the new staff would generate. The prediction I could live with, but the reality was even better.
Spending money on employees through higher wages changes your thought process on who you hire and what you expect from them. Once we increased our starting wage, we became more inquisitive about each candidate and why they wanted to work for us. We created a clear and measurable training program to get them trained within 30 days, up to speed in 60 days, and a valuable team member in 90 days with small incremental wage increases. To be profitable at $15 an hour we must adhere to this training program. We have posted goals and expectations and coach daily on how to be a valuable employee. Not only does this keep the drama to a minimum, but it also weeds out bad hires quickly and supports the good hires. The change in attitude and productivity was unexpected, we were inspired to eliminate waste, ineffective processes and improve our communication 1000%.
Having the right number of staff allowed my managers the space to get their job done. I didn’t need to fill in for my managers anymore and I was able to re-focus on my job of finding opportunities. These new opportunities brought more revenue. My quality of life improved and that was worth every additional dollar we spent on the team that made it possible. It was a counterintuitive move to raise hourly rates, but the results were profound.
You will be challenged in your search for staff this year and next. You can get mad, shake your fists at the changing world, or you can get on board and upgrade your hiring process. But invest in your staff like you do your products. There is a reason why it’s called human resources, as they are a critical resource in your business. If this is an overwhelming process to you, take off the HR hat and hire a firm to navigate it for you. You are not required to be the expert at everything, just be the expert at finding the people who can make it happen.