From The Co-Founders


Tips, Tactics & Strategic Insights and Commentary
from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts

Every Retailers Lament: Finding the Good Employees

Another real challenge of 2021 is rearing its head: Whatever you used to do in terms of managing your staff likely will not work this year. 

  • Not only are the owners exhausted from dealing with 2020, but so too are your employees.
  • What took the greatest toll? All the uncertainty for everybody.
  • Plus, many folks are revisiting their priorities: what is it really worth to them to work in retail? Especially given other choices they have become aware of.

In the aftermath of the pandemics, lockdowns, stimulus payments, low unemployment, and minimum wage increases, finding and keeping good employees is even more daunting for independent retailers.

Here are two examples – from quite different organizations – of new approaches to hiring and managing staff people. Each reflects the reality that in this "New Normal," it is new for everybody, and normal for no one. In other words, the old rules may not apply.

Consider the approach* that a large chain - Barnes & Noble bookstores - is taking to address these challenges. Historically, Barnes & Noble, like many retailers, has been staffed mostly with part-time, minimum wage workers. 

Now, they are introducing "a new structure that adds rungs on the ladder — senior bookseller, lead bookseller, expert bookseller — with higher pay at each step." Their goal: "fewer employees per store, but more of them full-time and better-paid." 

Why are they doing that? To survive. It's a classic, simple concept: offer a career path! Offer some certainty. Provide something for employees to aspire to, compete for. And compensate them for that effort.

Or, here's another example. A few weeks ago, we were speaking with a specialty store owner who was near burnout.

  • Her store had survived covid, but doing so required much that other owners will recognize: time-consuming paperwork and effort for PPP loans and local grants.
  • Plus, the store's new e-commerce website was increasingly demanding of her time, and increasingly complex to manage with the in-store inventory. 
  • Bringing in a store manager from outside had been unsatisfactory.
  • None of the three part-time employees seemed ready for all of those management skills.

So how to keep the wheels on? Our recommendation: don't try to find one perfect managerGo with the strengths of each of those three people already on your staff. Each has shown they are talented and have potential.

  • Make each of them an "assistant" to the owner for the major aspect of the business which each has shown aptitude for.
  • Give all of them a raise well above the minimum wage.
  • Assure each of 30 or more hours per week. 

That recognizes and rewards each of these staff people for what she has done well, while affording each an opportunity to grow and develop those strengths; positioning each one to be successful.

Is either of these approaches the exact right one for your stores? Unlikely. 

But what they do illustrate is a strategic approach to finding a customized solution to a major challenge: attracting and keeping good people.  When all the rules have changed. 

Yet another flexibility test for Owners!


* How the bookstore chain is changing. Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times Aerts critic, May 26, 2021. 

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