In 1989 my parents bought a new computer for Toy House. It was an IBM AS400, It had three hard drives and a whopping 999kb of storage (yes, almost an entire megabyte!) The whole unit was about the size of two large microwaves stacked on top of each other. Don’t even ask about the ridiculous cost for that thing and the accompanying cash registers and work stations.
My parents didn’t know much about computers at the time, just that computers and data were the new thing to propel retail to the next level. We were ahead of the game … indie retailers weren’t computerized, heck, UPC codes weren’t yet “universal” …for a moment.
Fast forward a few years. My mom and I were reading an article about Walmart’s computer system that rivaled the US military at that time. Data was the new buzzword. Everyone was marveling at the data these new computers could churn, such as the fact that 63% of the people who bought a collector Barbie doll at Walmart also bought a candy bar. Our near megabyte of storage wasn’t up to that task.
Back then Walmart was winning the “big data” war. Today Amazon has a stranglehold on that one. It is their competitive advantage.
While data and the technology to collect that data are incredibly important, they aren’t our calling card. They aren’t our competitive advantage.
Our advantage is our staff. A carefully selected, properly trained staff can do far more than data. Data can tell you that people who bought a plastic model car also bought a plastic cement glue. People can tell you which glue, why one glue is better than the other, and how to use it in a fraction of the time that surfing online would take you. People can show you the options, give you the tips, find you the right solution (including the solution you didn’t know to search for), giftwrap your package, carry it out to your car and make you feel good about it all.
Therefore, you have to have the right talent to keep your competitive advantage.
Amazon is always looking for, even developing, the next new technology to keep their advantage. You need to always be recruiting new people.
As I promised, here are some concrete actions you can take to help your recruiting process.
- Make up business cards with your contact info on the front and these words on the back, “Thank you for providing wonderful service! I would love to talk to you about a job opportunity.” Hand these cards out to people who give you the kind of service you desire in your store. Unlike the NFL, there are no tampering laws. (As a courtesy, however, don’t go stealing your fellow indie retailers’ peeps.)
- Groom your customers. Plant seeds in the minds of your top customers about working for you. First, they already believe in you and share your values. Second, they know your products. Third, they know the level of service you already aspire to bring. As you serve them, look for the customers that would fit best on your team and start dropping the subtle hints.
- Always take applications. First, if your laws are anything like Michigan’s, you have to accept applications. If someone asks, “Are you hiring?” your response should be, “We are always looking for great people.”
- Train your current staff. The only way you’ll truly know if the new people you find will be better than the current team is by first giving the current team every chance to improve. This is the NFL model. The scouts look for potential. The coaches are the ones tasked with helping individuals reach their potential. Help your current staff reach their potential and you’ll know exactly what potential you need from new recruits to get better.
If you do these steps well, you will have a pool of talent available to you for when one of your employees decides to move on. You’ll have the talent to call on for the busy season. You’ll have good people on your sales floor and in your office all the time. You’ll have your one competitive advantage.
PS Even though #3 is important, do not have a “Help Wanted” sign up in your window or on your door or anywhere for that matter. It sends a scary message to customers that you are under-staffed and that people don’t want to work for you. It also doesn’t help you get qualified applicants. Instead you get a lot of applicants who just need to be “looking for work” to keep their benefits. The people who really want to work for you will ask if you are hiring.
If you need to advertise for new people, do it through a carefully crafted help-wanted post on your social media and/or website.
Great article Phil. I totally agree with everything you said.