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Two keys to building your best staff

Two recent studies show the value of taking a more individualized, personal approach to staffing decisions. It's a strategy that's especially important for natural products retailers.

Adequate staffing is one of the biggest balancing acts for retailers. Too few people on duty and your customer service is poor, your shelves are bare and replenishments are not on order, and your store is dirty. Too many people on the clock and you are burning through money and potentially not getting that much additional productivity. (If more than one person is doing a one-person job, they aren’t working that hard.) Either way, improper staffing can have the potential to drive you out of business. There is a constant balancing act.

National retailers use sophisticated personnel modeling systems to determine the optimal number of staff needed at any given time. It doesn’t take too many visits to one of these those stores to find short-term budgetary needs taking precedence over customer service.

Smaller independent retailers have less-computerized systems, and those that write their schedules have more frequent in-person conversations with customers affected by the service levels in their stores. But that sort of personalized, human-centered approach is a good thing for staff and for customers, according to information from two recent studies.

The first one, published in Inc. magazine, found that 40 percent of people who voluntarily left their jobs last year did so within six months of getting their jobs. An additional 16 percent left within 12 months. More than half of voluntary turnover takes place within the first year of starting a new job.

There is even more concerning news for retailers. Hourly employees, who are most of the staff in a store, leave at a much higher rate than those who are salaried. Voluntary turnover is also higher for those who work in retail. The annual number for leaving a job within a year of starting it is about 64 percent.

For natural products retailers, taking a one-by-one, individual approach to staffing can help overcome this challenge by selecting employees who will truly stick with the store for the long run. You may have a lot of people who want to work in your store because they like natural and organic products and strive to live in a lifestyle focused on health and wellness. But while they make ideal customers, there is no guarantee that they will make even mediocre employees. Straightening shelves, cleaning floors, unpacking boxes, rotating inventory are all necessary tasks in retail, natural and organic stores included. Taking the time to carefully vet your prospective staff will help them see the nature of the work in advance.

If you take the time to hire someone who is willing and able to do the work required in a retail store and they “get” the mission of your store and the products that you carry, they may be with you for quite a while!  If the passion that you feel for what you do and why is “caught” (These things can’t be “taught”!), you have great potential for a long-term employee that is focused on customers and service as you are.

The second set of findings, from a survey by eMarketer, help reinforce why staffing decisions shouldn't only be driven by computer-generated numbers. Your customers do not expect you to have lower prices than your larger competition. They shop with you to not only support the local economy, but also because they expect higher levels of customer service. Of the people who responded to the survey, 86 percent reported shopping in smaller, local stores for greater levels of service. About the same proportion--84 percent--expect personalized service, such as staff who understand their needs.  

Service and shopping experience are two of the hallmarks of an independent natural products store.  You will not be able to deliver them and stand out from your competition if you are not paying constant attention to your staff.  Are you fully staffed?  Think again.

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