Employee Relations

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I would like to pick your brain about hiring holiday help. Do you hire extra help for the holidays or does your current staff work more hours? If you do hire extra staff, when do you do start hiring? Where do you find people? What kind of training do you provide?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Last month you answered a question about how to handle a performance review when the employee is not meeting job expectations. Before I had my store, I didn’t work any place where I received a performance review from an employer. Now that I have employees, I think I should do this, but I’m not really sure how. Can you recommend a book or give me some pointers?

Name Your Game

Name Your Game

The schoolyard games you played as a kid were organized with an agreed-upon set of rules. These rules developed without much formal thought, let alone a rule book. Over generations, the 6th graders taught the 3rd graders, who taught the kindergarteners, and so it went. This was the recess culture, and every kid played by the rules passed down through the unspoken social agreements of the schoolyard.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We have an employee who doesn’t always dress appropriately. Sometimes she wears jeans with big holes; other times crop tops that show her belly. I know “holey” jeans are in fashion and crop tops can be cute, but to me they look sloppy and unprofessional. When she dresses like this, do I send her home to change?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: The other day I reached under the counter for one of our printed logo bags for a customer’s purchase, but the box of bags was empty. I went to the back room and discovered we were all out. When I asked our two sales people, neither remembered taking the last box of bags out of the back or using the last bag. How does this happen?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: A customer called today very upset because her teenage niece had come into our store with a few friends, and they felt they were treated with prejudice. I really could not get the whole story over the customer yelling that we were hypocritical, but it seems her niece and one of her friends were not Caucasian, and somehow they were treated disrespectfully in our store.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have an annual performance review scheduled for next week with an employee who has been with our company for two years and is just not working out as well as I would like. He is nice enough and is an effective salesperson, but he has some workplace performance flaws we talked about last year that have not improved. I have pointed them out to him and feel like I am nagging.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Do you have rules about employees surfing the Internet and/or using cell phones? It seems to me my sales people are always “just quickly checking email” or “sending a fast text” if I question what they are doing on the computer or their phone when I walk onto the sales floor.

Self-Guided Staff Training

Self-Guided Staff Training

It’s 6:00 on a thursday evening. You and your spouse are having date night for the first time since opening your store when you get a call from a new staff member. “Sorry to bother you,” she says, “but I have a customer here who wants to buy a $100 gift certificate, and I was never trained on that. What do I do?”

Your night isn’t ruined, but it is derailed. You feel frustrated and tethered to your store. “Can I never leave!?” you growl in exasperation as you return to dinner, questioning if hiring her was the right decision.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We recently switched to a new worker’s compensation insurance provider because they offer an annual rebate if we don’t have any claims. Now they want us to have every employee fill out a health survey and undergo a drug test. This seems invasive to me. Is this normal? Do you drug test your employees?

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: Have you ever had an employee who just can’t get to work on time? When she was first hired this didn’t seem to be a problem, but gradually there were more and more excuses and drama and now it’s just kind of “normal” for her to be late a few times a week. Occasionally she is late an hour or more but usually it is 10 to 15 minutes.

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: I recently hired a nice young woman with retail sales experience in a local boutique. Much to my dismay, I overheard her exchange with a customer, in which the customer asked for a specific journal as a graduation gift, and my employee, very politely, said we were all out of that item and then let the conversation drop!

Shop Talk: Practical Answers for tough business questions.

Question: What kinds of perks do you offer your employees? I’m looking for new ways to reward them that won’t cost a lot.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We launched our online store about five months ago and orders have been coming in. The sales are up and down. It seems like we get a few orders a day for a week or so and then it slows way down. I would appreciate your feedback on how to even out the sales, but my biggest problem is order errors.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How do i get my employees to retain information about the products in my store? When I am around, they ask me the same simple questions over and over, and sometimes I resent it, particularly when I’m busy. Any suggestions?

What Do Employees Really Want? Hint: Money Is the Least of It.

Most of the time, our automatic answer to the question of what will make employees happier is “money!” That’s what all employees want, isn’t it? More money and better benefits?

While money is a necessary and important part of the employee satisfaction equation, study after study of what makes an employee happy often has money far from the top of the list. If you give more money to an unhappy employee, you only have an unhappy employee who is wealthier than before. So, what is most important?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Yesterday we were fairly busy at my store, and a customer approached a part-time salesperson and asked where they could find a certain product we had advertised. I heard her say, “It’s right over there” and point. I know she was busy, but I was dismayed, especially after all my talk about good customer service. Big sigh. What am I doing wrong?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: When I bring a new product line into the store, its success seems to depend on whether or not my employees like it. If they do, the sales are brisk; if not, it just sits there. How can I get them to sell all our products, not just the ones they like?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: My wife had what we both thought was a great idea—purchasing T-shirts for our employees to wear like a uniform. That way they save on clothing expense, and it makes them easily identifiable as sales staff. So, we bought the shirts (which were not cheap!) and now our employees (two full-time and three part-timers) do not want to wear them. Can I make a rule that they have to?

Make the Holidays Merry

Make the Holidays Merry

Angry customers. Long hours. Missed deadlines. Sound familiar? It’s the usual litany of woes that hitch a ride on Santa’s sleigh. Little wonder that for most retailers the year’s busiest sales season is also the most stressful.

Look for more of the same this Christmas. “Uncertainty about the economy is bound to increase stress levels for both managers and employees at retail stores,” says Jon Schallert, president of The Schallert Group, Longmont, Colo. (www.destinationublog.com).

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: A customer called and complained that she had been mistreated by a salesperson. Apparently her credit card had been denied, and she felt the salesperson had a “real attitude” toward her and “demanded” another form of payment. She said she was so embarrassed by the incident in front of other customers that she will never shop at our store again.

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We’ve had some inventory items go missing over the past few months. I did some detective work to try to find a plausible explanation and couldn’t come up with one. About two months ago, we got in a few beautiful watches with semi-precious stones from a new vendor. Within a week, one watch was missing from the case.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I’ve read about the benefits of having an “open door” management style, and I really want to do that. But, if I leave my door open for anyone to walk in whenever they want, won’t I spend my day talking rather than doing my job?

ShopTalk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How can I be sure what a prospective employee has to offer? We recently hired a young man who worked at a store similar to ours in another state, and they gave him a good reference. But I think he overstated his knowledge of the books we carry, as I have overheard him making statements to customers that are incorrect and restocking books in the weirdest places on the shelves.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Last holiday season was our first, and we had no idea what to expect. We were fine up until the last week, and then it was absolutely nuts! In truth, I’m dreading doing this again and would like to look forward to Christmastime and great sales.

Fired Up

Fired Up

It's a dreadful responsibility but almost every retailer will eventually come face-to-face with the disagreeable task of terminating one or more employees.

“Firing people is one of the toughest, most unpleasant things you do as an employer,” says James Walsh in his book, Rightful Termination (Merritt Publishing, 1994). “Your stomach tightens and your throat gets dry as you prepare to call someone in for the meeting that begins, ‘There’s no easy way for me to do this …’”

Employee Theft: It's Real, It Happens, and You CAN Prevent It!

Nobody wants to think about the possibility that employees might steal money or merchandise. Most small retail store employees are like family. Despite statistics that say employee theft exists in nearly every retail store, when I think of my own employees, there’s simply no way I can imagine one of them stealing. Yet, according to a 2011 study called the Global Retail Theft Barometer, employee theft accounted for more than 44 percent of total shrink (losses from shoplifting, administrative errors, and other causes) in North America—surpassing even shoplifting.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We have an employee who has been with us about six months. She is reliable and a good salesperson. However, it has come to our attention she is scheduling private appointments with clients (she is knowledgeable in essential oils and homeopathic remedies and is also a massage therapist) while she is at work. I’m uncomfortable with this, but not sure how to proceed.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I want to impress upon my employees how important it is for them to be aware of operating costs and try to keep them at a minimum. I also want them to understand how much money it takes to operate my store, but I don’t really want to hand them my financial statements. How can I accomplish this?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: Our business is growing and sales are increasing, and I’m very happy about both of those things. But, as we grow (six employees now, plus my husband and me), I am seeing problems with everyone being on the same page and having all the information they need each day.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions.

Question: I have an employee who wants to work more hours, and I need more help, but I can’t afford to pay overtime. Can I put her on salary and let her work extra hours each week?

5 Cost-Effective Ways to Reward Your Valuable Employees

Rewarding employees with something other than cash is a cost-effective way to motivate them while letting them know how much you value their efforts. Sometimes simple things, such as handwritten notes, sincere praise, and quality communication with the boss, can be enough. But for non-cash rewards beyond these, dare to be inventive and use your imagination.

Everlasting Renaissance

Everlasting Renaissance

rofile:
Store name: New Renaissance Bookshop
Location: 1338 NW 23rd Ave., Portland, OR 97210; 503/224-4929
Owners: Jamey and Darlene Potter
Date opened: 1987
Website: www.newrenbooks.com
Hours: Monday through Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Number of employees: 13 full time, 6 part time
Square footage: 4,400 sq. ft. with 1,400 sq. ft. of office space
Annual gross: $1.8 million

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: In a recent Shop Talk, you answered a question about a requirement in the new health care law that gave store owners the obligation of creating 1099s for vendors and reporting this information to the IRS at year end. I have read that the bill was overturned, so now I’m a bit confused. Do we have to do this or not?

Good Business

A good benefits package is like a tightrope act. On one side, you want to offer a program that keeps your best employees from jumping ship. On the other, you want to trim an expense category that can account for a third of payroll costs as reckoned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Smaller retailers have a particularly hard time balancing benefits with costs. What’s the stolution? Take a new look at the array of low-cost or no-cost benefits that can keep your workers happy without busting your budget.

Good Business

Every owner wants a store where employees are cooperative and feel appreciated, where their workers thrive and customers love the resulting positive atmosphere. High staff morale is important—so important it will carry you through the difficult times that can overwhelm the joy of running your own business.

Whether yours has one or a handful of employees, every store has similar challenges in building and maintaining a great team. It falls to the owner to create an environment where everyone is encouraged to do his or her best.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I’m getting ready to open my store in September with two employees and myself working it. In a small store, is it necessary to have policies about handling cash? Am I being paranoid to think I might get ripped off?

Good Business

Good Business

Bad news. Managers hate delivering it—and no wonder. It makes people feel terrible. And it’s too easy to make a mistake in tone that can infect the entire workplace with low morale.

Leaders face a special challenge when times are tough. How do you announce budget cuts, reduction in work hours, layoffs, pay decreases, or benefit reductions and still keep your employees motivated?

The answer is to deliver bad news in smarter ways. Here are some tips for doing just that.

Sacred Serendipity

Sacred Serendipity

Profile:

Store name: The Sacred Well
Location: 536 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610; 510/444-9355
Owners: Rabbit Matthews and Barry Perlman
Date opened: October 19, 2007
Website: www.sacredwell.com
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Number of employees: 6 (3 full time, 3 part time)
Square footage: 1,000 sq. ft. including back office and reading room (600 sq. ft. of retail space)

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: How do you handle employee discounts? I only have two part-time employees, but one thinks she should be able to order anything at cost. Is this the norm for retail stores?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: We recently received many applications for a sales position at our store. I chose the three best-looking applicants (on paper) and invited them in for an interview. The first applicant was one I was really excited about meeting and hoped she would be a great asset. But when she arrived, I was put off by her appearance.

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I attended your seminar at INATS on cutting costs a few years ago. You talked about implementing an across-the-board pay cut (owners and management included) for all employees in your store. Have you reversed that cut now, and how did you do it?

Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

Question: I have two employees who absolutely cannot get along with each other. Both of them have valuable attributes and offer much to the store. Over the past few months, I have repeatedly tried to find solutions and counsel each of them about ways to work together harmoniously. Age may be a factor.

Good Business

Have you ever walked into a store and just felt uncomfortable? Perhaps you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong but you sense something is “off.” (Hopefully, you have not had this experience in your own store.) When it’s happened to me, I’ve found, more often than not, it is because the people who work there are unhappy. I have learned to look around and notice whether I see smiles or indifference. When this uncomfortable feeling occurs, I don’t stay long and I don’t often return.

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