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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).

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