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Retail Sales Training (or the Lack Thereof)

I took over the hiring of employees at Toy House in the fall of 1995. My dad never really liked the job. I quickly found out why. We would hire 10 or more seasonal employees every fall and try to train them up to our customers’ expectations in just a couple short weeks. Finding good quality people wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The first year I did it, I sucked. Out of ten seasonal employees, I had two good ones, six warm bodies, and two that would be better off if they just stayed home. Not a good record.

I don’t like to be bad at anything so I started reading books on hiring. The first one I read was the Harvard Business Essentials book you see here.

The title was exactly what I wanted. I read the book cover to cover. The most important point they kept coming back to in the book was this…

“The number one factor is experience.”

So I spent the next few years hiring for experience. I only hired people who had worked retail before. And for the next few years my results were exactly the same – two good ones, six warm bodies and two people who need to go home. Yes, it was the definition of insanity.

So how could Harvard Business Essentials and all the other books I read that said the same thing be so wrong? They were making the one HUGE assumption that constant training happened to everyone everywhere. Maybe that is true in many service jobs, but continual training is lacking in the retail sector. Heck, many large chains hardly do any new employee training. One of my former employees went to a large national chain and reported back that after learning how to use the time clock there was zero training other than criticism when you did something wrong.

Untrained employees who have to learn the job on their own will never rise above their personality traits. 

I did two things that changed my results each fall. First I started hiring for personality traits. Second, I implemented both a more thorough new-hire training program and a monthly training session for the current staff. The quality of my new hires went up dramatically. More importantly, so did the quality of my entire staff.

If your competitors were training their staff regularly and you weren’t, what kind of advantage would they have over you? Now switch that around. Most of your competitors are not offering the kind of sales training they should be. But you could. Most of the managers at your competitors don’t even know how to train their employees. But you could.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a former employee who went to work for Disney. She came back and reported that the highly regarded Disney Institute for customer service reminded her of all the training she did at Toy House. She said, “They pretty much teach all the same stuff you do.”

The best way to learn what I teach and how I teach it is to sign up for the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop happening April 26th.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The second best compliment I ever received happened the day we announced we were closing Toy House. I received more than one phone call from other businesses wondering what would happen to my employees and when they would be available because, “we know what kind of people you employ.” Believe me, I didn’t employ such great people by accident. I learned from my mistakes twenty years ago.

PPS Since none of the other books on Hiring talked about hiring for personality traits, I decided to write my own. It is called Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. The book outlines what you should do. The workshop shows you how to do it.

Talent, Practice, and Luck

One day I would love to go to The Masters in Augusta, GA. I have watched it on TV so many times that I know every green instantly before the announcers even tell me the hole. I love golf. Love to play it, love to watch it. Especially this tournament.

These guys are amazing!

Image result for the masters

I have played golf all my life. I know it takes three things to be successful at golf – Talent, Practice, and Luck. Then again, you can say that about pretty much everything.

Talent in business is the skills you hire.

Practice is the training and preparation you offer.

As the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Unfortunately many businesses, especially retailers, think the only preparation they need to offer is training for new hires. That would be the equivalent of trying to play The Masters after six weeks of golf lessons. Not enough preparation for the opportunity.

That’s why part of the focus of the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop I’m offering on April 26th includes creating an ongoing training program to help your staff be better prepared for the opportunities that arise. Talent alone won’t win the day. Experience alone won’t make you lucky.

If you manage three or more people, this workshop will bring you the kind of luck that wins major championships. Sign up today!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I would take tickets to a future Masters golf tournament as barter for my services. I already know where I would stay and what I would do on the course.

The Team, The Team, The Team

If you know me well, you know I’m a Wolverine. Been one since the day my grandfather took me to The Big House at seven years old. It was the only university I applied to attend. If you know the University of Michigan and follow their football team, you’ve heard the immortal words of the late, great football coach Bo Schembechler, “The Team, The Team, The Team,”

Heck, if you’re a sports fan of any team, whether it is women’s gymnastics or men’s lacrosse or anywhere in between, you understand the power of teamwork and cooperation and working together as one unit. Ask any coach in America and they’ll take amazing teamwork over individual stardom every day.

Image result for bo schembechler the team

Why is teamwork that is so important on the playing field so neglected in the workplace?

I used to work on a team for the Los Angeles Unified School District. There were five of us on the team and each week we worked with inner-city LA teenagers at the Clear Creek Outdoor Education Facility in the Angeles National Forest north of the city. We did team building exercises with these kids. We taught them about nature and an outdoors they rarely experienced back home. We had bears foraging our dumpster, snakes slithering under our cabins, and coyotes howling at the moon.

And we had a Team.

At our staff meeting before each group arrived, we discussed who would lead each activity. That was the only person assigned any task. It was naturally assumed that the other four people would do everything else to support the activity and make sure the entire event was successful.

Now, on some teams, this might be a recipe for disaster. If something doesn’t get done, there would be plenty of people to step up and say, “Not my job.” The NMJ’s are killers to productivity and morale.

On our team, because we were hyper-focused on the experience we offered these adolescents, that was never the case. If one of us saw a job undone, we did it. Period. Everything was our job. There was never any resentment because we all had each other’s back and we all had the overall success of our guests as our goal. It was the most amazing work experience of my life, one I still think about to this day.

What made the difference?

When we weren’t leading team building exercises with the kids we were doing team building exercises with each other. We were all experienced at leading these exercises so we spent the summer creating new exercises to try with the kids. We tried them out with each other first. Our leader, Dana (he was a top-level college wrestler in the ’80’s, would love to find him again but I can’t remember his last name), worked with us all the time on communication, cooperation, problem-solving and trust – the core elements of any team building.

It made a difference for us. More importantly, it made a difference for our students (customers, clients, guests…).

This is why I am leading the all-day workshop SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS here in Jackson on April 26th. I want to teach you Team Building skills so that you can build your team to this level.

If you manage three or more people, you have a team. That team needs a foundation in teamwork that you can bring to the table through what you train and how you train. This workshop will show you how to do it the right way.

Space is limited. Sign up today!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our team disbanded when the LA Unified school teachers went on strike in October 1992. When we headed down the mountain after our last group, we didn’t know it would be the last time we saw each other. I headed back to Michigan and joined a new team that was as dysfunctional as my previous team had been functional. The difference? Leadership. Be your team’s Leader by learning how to build your Team.

Only One Out of Fourteen Said Hello

Over the last few weeks I’ve visited some big malls. Call it field research. These malls have been busy, packed with customers. These malls are also packed with stores you’ve read about that are struggling and closing locations around the country. I saw a fair amount of Going Out of Business signs. One mall is losing its Macy’s. Another has a Sears and a JC Penney as anchors. I’m sure the leasing agents are nervous.

In my last two trips I visited fourteen stores in those malls.

Only one greeted me with a sincere hello.

Only one made me feel welcome and tried to connect with me instead of bombard me with sales pitches. Only one asked me a question that wasn’t a version of “Can I help you?” or “What brings you in?”. Heck, some of them never interacted with me at all.

The traffic was there in the mall. The mall owner had done his job. The food court and the Starbucks seemed to be making sales. But there were a lot of other sales being left on the table by the untrained sales teams.

Here is a quick recap of the experience…

Six of the stores never greeted me at all. I entered the store. Looked around. Touched a couple items. Walked out. No one said hello or hi or welcome or thanks for coming in. It wasn’t that these stores were necessarily busy. Maybe they were a bit understaffed, but there are still ways to teach your staff to greet new customers even when engaged with someone. Maybe they couldn’t afford enough staff because they weren’t training their staff how to sell. Either way, I left feeling neglected.

Five of the stores greeted me with some form of,  “Can I help you?” or “What brings you in?” In all five cases I responded with the two words you never want a customer to say – Just Looking. I verbalized out loud that I was NOT there to buy. I told everyone including myself I was only browsing.

One store shoved a coupon in my hand for 20% off their already 40% off discounted prices. I guess they don’t value their merchandise very highly. Or maybe they could see I was a transactional customer and needed that little push to get me to pull the trigger? Oh wait. How could they know that considering they hadn’t asked me a single question? I will give this store credit in that every single person on their team approached me at least once during my walk through their store. They had a willingness and desire to sell, if not the actual training on how to do it properly. As misguided as it was, at least it was better than the indifference other stores had shown.

Only one store, however, greeted me with a sincere hello. This gal greeted me as if I had just entered her house. She was in the process of straightening up a display. She stopped, greeted me with enthusiasm, and started a conversation. Pretty soon we were sharing stories of trips to Florida and Phoenix and anywhere warmer than Detroit. Shortly after that I was asking her questions about product that wasn’t just, “Do you have this size in back?” We were engaged in conversation. We were engaged in getting to know each other. When she offered to show me something new she was excited about, I immediately said Yes!  I learned about a product I never would have known otherwise, never would have searched for online, never would have considered if she hadn’t first made a connection.

That is the “shopping experience” customers visiting malls and shopping centers and downtowns are craving. That is the shopping experience that gets people to come back and bring their friends. That is the shopping experience that makes your cash registers ring. Everything else is just a transaction, more easily done on a computer.

The traffic is there. You just need to connect.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you were counting, there was one store I didn’t mention. Actually it was a food kiosk. If you run a food kiosk that regularly has a line of customers, can you please make it obvious where the line starts and how it should form? Please? Don’t make me guess where to stand. Don’t make me guess where to place the order. Don’t make me stand where people have to keep cutting through me to get past me.

One Little Problem, One Big Mess

I went down to the basement this Sunday to turn on some lights and make sure it was presentable for a house showing in three hours. It wasn’t. At the bottom of the stairs I encountered a huge puddle of water and a steady drip, drip, drip from the floorboards above. There were only two things that could have put water in that area – the dishwasher and the refrigerator. I turned off the water to both of them and grabbed a mop.

The carpet remnant laying in the area was soaked. All ten by eleven feet had sucked up a fair amount of water. I rolled that carpet up and out of the way and started mopping. I figured if I could get the area clean and dry, I could worry about the source of the leak (which had stopped) later.

It wasn’t until Monday night that I found it. I fixed it with a .40 part from the local hardware store.

A small leak in the supply line to our refrigerator ice maker had dumped an entire bucket of water into our basement and almost derailed a house showing.

Isn’t that the same with business? A little leak can cost you a ton of business.

An employee who isn’t trained and ready for the floor gets shoved out there because of a shortage of staff and through no fault of his own angers the first two customers he faces.

A common problem grows into a huge hassle with Yelp reviews and threats of lawsuits because someone didn’t listen closely enough to the unhappy customer.

A mis-tagged price change upsets a regular customer who quietly becomes an un-regular customer.

A rarely-updated website gives out wrong information that causes a customer to search elsewhere for a product you have.

A Facebook page gives out the wrong hours and a customer stays home even though you were open.

An employee cluster discussing last night’s show misses a customer needing help who doesn’t want to bother the group discussion.

A missed note about being out of copy paper keeps you from printing off the directions to your customer’s favorite game and being her hero.

These are all small leaks, but they can fill a lot of buckets with the missed sales and missing cash. Some say you need to work on the big leaks first. But those are obvious and already get your attention. Keep an eye out for the small leaks, too. Although harder to find, those are easier and quicker to fix and will pay off dividends.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Fortunately, the refrigerator was a cheap and easy fix. Better yet, not knowing if it was the dishwasher or the refrigerator, I found an even smaller leak in the dishwasher that my buddy, Alan, was able to fix before it became a bigger problem. Sometimes it pays to go looking for little leaks and fixing them now before they become big leaks.

PPS When you find a small leak, your first reaction is to do a temporary fix, figuring you’ll get back to it later. Pro tip: you never get back to it later. Fix it right the first time.

Hiring People Who Believe

I stepped out of my comfort zone tonight. You read this blog because you’re an independent retailer. At least that’s who I normally write and speak to. Tonight I spoke to dentists. I spoke the Jackson District Dental Society about hiring and training.

Image result for jackson district dental society
Jackson District Dental Society

Their issues are interesting. They hire hygienists and assistants who need specialized skills and training and degrees. They hire front office staff who need to know deep terminology exclusive to their trade and the idiosyncrasies of dental insurance. They need a well-balanced staff to maximize their profits. If they aren’t seeing patients, they aren’t making money. Not exactly the same as hiring for retail.

Or is it?

As I learned years ago, there are certain skills I can teach and certain traits you have to bring with you. When you hire the right traits, your team is better right from the start.

Simon Sinek said it best… “The goal is not just to hire people who need a job; it’s to hire people who believe what you believe. I always say that, you know, if you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears…”

Hire people who believe what you believe.

In a dentist’s office or a toy store, it makes a huge difference. If you like to joke around and have fun and you hire someone who doesn’t, you’ll both be miserable. If you like everything to go exactly like the book and you hire a maverick, you’ll both be miserable.

As we went through all the steps outlined in my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, it was obvious that hiring and training is the same no matter what industry. If you follow the steps the potter follows, you’ll end up with a team that is a work of art.

And when you’re a dentist, the better your hiring and training, the longer and stronger your staff becomes, the more time you can devote to taking care of your patients.

Okay, so I wasn’t that far out of my comfort zone. I believe in having fun helping others. Tonight I spoke to a group who believes the same.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The only thing about giving talks in my hometown is that the questions usually get around to the radio ads I would run and how they were different than everything else you heard on the air. I told them that presentation happens as soon as this one ends.

Not My Job

The downside to writing a job description for each position on your staff is that you can never remember to list everything that position needs to do. Something will eventually get left off the list. Or if you do remember everything, the list is so long no one reads it, let alone memorizes it.

I had an experience last night that was clearly the case of, “Not My Job.”

I had a sit-down meal in a fast-food joint. Ordered french fries with my meal. You know the drill in these restaurants. They give you an empty cup and you get your own beverage. Want ketchup for your fries? They have those little paper cups and the big vat of ketchup. Two pumps and you’re loaded.

Except last night.

Somehow they timed it perfectly. There were only two paper cups left at the ketchup stand. I grabbed them both. I was about to tell the gal behind the counter they were out of cups, but as I started filling my cups, the ketchup ran out, too. Both nozzles on either side of the drink dispenser were dry. “You’re out of both ketchup and these little cups,” I said to the young lady.

And I got the look. You know the look. “Why are you telling me? That’s Not My Job.”

Fifteen minutes and several packets of ketchup requested by frustrated customers later and still not a single employee had addressed the issue. Apparently it wasn’t only Not Her Job, it wasn’t her job to tell anyone else about the problem, either.

Do you have any NMJ employees?

Here are two ways to solve that problem…

  1. The first line of any job description, no matter what the position, should read, “Do whatever is necessary to make sure the customer has an awesome experience.”
  2. Only hire people who care.

Our tag line at Toy House was, “We’re here to make you smile.” When new employees ask me their job description, I start with, “Your job is to make customers smile.” Then I show them how to answer the phone, run the register, ask questions, suggest the proper toys, giftwrap packages, offer tips, carry things up front or out to their car, sign them up for the Birthday Club and email newsletters, build a relationship, occupy their child, counsel them, teach them a new game, oh yeah, and sell them stuff.

The second part – hiring people who care – saves you all the hassle of writing up a lengthy job description. Hire someone who cares and they will do whatever it takes to get the job done well. The one thing they don’t care about is whose job it is to get something done. They only care that it got done.

You find those people by asking questions like…

“What do you care about?”
“Tell me a time you went above and beyond what was expected of you…”
“What are your biggest pet peeves?”
“Have you ever done someone else’s job for them?”

Just hiring warm bodies won’t grow your business. I would have written a different blog if the gal had looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry about that. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll get on that as soon as we get a free moment. In the meantime, can I get you some ketchup packets? How many do you need?”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t get me started on the overflowing trash cans or the ten-minute wait for the fish sandwich or the cold apple pies. You can’t afford that kind of help at any minimum wage.

PPS When you decide you want a better staff, buy the book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel. The steps are there for turning your staff into a work of art.

Not All Retail Experience is the Same

It dawned on me what a hypocrite I was last week. I was doing some talks to retailers at a conference and in my introduction I bragged about getting my start in retail at the age of seven when my grandfather paid my sister and me ten cents an hour to put price tags on boxes. My official start in retail came just after my fourteenth birthday back in 1980 and my full-time career in retail began April 30, 1993 – as if all those dates were important.

I say that because at the end of my talk I share a quick story about my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel and how all other books on hiring say Hire For Experience. As I tell the audience in my presentations, I used to hire for experience until I realized you can have twenty years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

See the hypocrisy?

In my book I teach that you should hire personality traits suited for the job. Without those traits, there is no amount of training that can turn them into the kind of staff you want. Experience can sometimes be a negative because that means you have a lot of bad habits to break.

Yet I sell myself on exactly that – being experienced. It begs the question… When is experience bad and when is it good?

BAD EXPERIENCE

The only truly bad experience in retail is when someone is put in a job that doesn’t match his or her personality traits. Fortunately, since you will be hiring for personality traits first and foremost, that won’t be an issue. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with lousy (or non-existent) training programs. Sure there will be applicants who worked at stores with low bars of expectations. Sure there will be applicants who worked for less-than-stellar managers who never recognized and developed the talent below them. None of those are deal killers if your applicant has the character traits you need. Just remember that you’ll have to break a few more bad habits early on.

GOOD EXPERIENCE

Some businesses have a reputation for high levels of service. That experience works in an applicant’s favor. If you have an applicant with the right character traits and five years of experience at Nordstrom’s – ka-ching! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who worked for a company who holds regular training exercises – ba-da-bing! If you have an applicant with the right character traits who moved up the ranks at a business known for service – rama-lama-ding-dong!

When we announced our closing I had several businesses reach out to ask about the availability of my staff because those businesses knew what I expected and how I trained my team. Many of my staff moved on to bigger and better things in part because of the reputation of our store.

Experience by itself is neither a good nor a bad thing. When you find someone with the right personality traits and the right kind of experience you will find some real superstars (if you can afford to pry them away from their current jobs). It is all about getting the right traits for the job first. Their experience only tells you how many more bad habits you may or may not need to break.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The non-hypocritical part is when I explain what I did with my experience at Toy House including getting the store named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars (George Whalin, Penguin 2009), winning the Entrepreneurial Vision Award in 2010, and how my Core Values of Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic were a perfect fit to toy retail (and a perfect fit to my new role as a Retail Educator).

You’re Not Perfect

You’re not perfect. Far from it. Me, too. You will make mistakes. You will ruin someone’s Christmas. You will cause someone gray hairs. You will make someone miss an appointment because they had to deal with your carelessness.

You will have some problems that aren’t even your fault. Maybe your vendor screwed up or the customer had a completely unrealistic expectation even after you explained it for the third time. Maybe you get the good spouse, bad spouse routine.

No matter what type of retail, you are going to have the unhappy customer.

I believe two of my favorite companies – Ritz-Carlton and Zingerman’s Deli have it right.

(source unknown)

They both empower their entire staff to be able to take care of a customer’s problem. Everyone from the assistant bottle washer to the garden boy to the valet have authorization to take a customer’s wrongs and make them right.

It does beg the question… Would you leave the fate of your customer service reputation in the hands of your lowest paid employee?

Yes! If you train them right.

Here is the easy format for handling about 98.7% of your unhappy customers.

  1. Apologize. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. They are angry. They perceive you have slighted them in some way. Apologize to them. “I am really sorry that this happened.”
  2. Ask. Ask for a complete description of what happened and what went wrong from their perspective. Don’t interrupt. Let them say what is on their mind. Don’t assume you know what happened. Let them tell the whole story. Apologize again, if necessary.
  3. Amend. Make it right. The best way to make it right in their eyes is to ask, “What would you like us to do?” Most of the time, especially if you have done steps 1 and 2, they will ask for far less than what you are prepared to do. Do what they asked, and then a little more. Yes, even if you’re giving away the farm (figuratively, of course).
  4. Learn. Let your staff make the customer happy. Then have them report back to you what they did. As long as they made the customer happy, tell your staff, “Well done!” Then show them a better way to handle it the next time if necessary.

You have to train your staff to do this. It won’t happen overnight. You have to role play it at meetings. You have to spell it out in writing. You have to remind them that the store’s first and foremost goal is to have happy customers and their job is to make those customers happy. Your job is to teach them how.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Unhappy customers are people, too. Treat them with respect and dignity (apologize and listen fully to their complaints) and they become a lot less unhappy in very short time. In fact, they often become your best ambassadors.

My Staff Training Philosophies

One of the fun things about closing up the shop is finding hidden treasures as I empty filing cabinets. This is one of those treasures. I don’t know when I wrote it, but I do remember writing it. I was on a flight home from a conference or workshop and one of the speakers asked us to write down our philosophy about our staff and why we should train them.

Here is what I wrote…

For those who can’t see the image or read my handwriting…

Philosophies

Staff Training –

-Staff is only as good as you allow them to be

-Staff rises/falls to your expectations

-Attitude of Management directs attitude of staff

-Communication is #1 key
–Communication of Expectations
–Communication of Information necessary to do job
–Communication two-way street

-Empowerment is key #2
–Empower to make decisions
–Empower to use Imagination/Creativity
–Empower to solve problems

-Motivation is key #3
–Motivation through financial rewards
–Motivation through personal satisfaction
–Motivation through recognition

-Need to put staff into position to succeed
–Play to their strengths
–Give them “tools” to do their job

-Have Confidence in…
–Your Knowledge
–Their Training
–Their Abilities

There you go. There’s your blueprint for a killer staff. Go make it happen.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I think I wrote this after a trip to Wizard Academy, but I’m not exactly sure. Based on where I found it, it was likely written between 2004-2009.