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Payroll is Not Just a Line on Your Profit & Loss

My dad was a journalist. Got his degree from University of Michigan in 1965 and started writing for the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper right out of college.

He worked for his future father-in-law at Toy House all through high school and college to pay for that degree and even worked part time around his journalism job to help pay for the expenses of having a new family.

There is a legendary story about how he got his start at Toy House when my grandfather gave him a 40% raise to lure him away from another job at age sixteen.

Four years after college my dad got another job offer, this time to move to New York and write for Newsweek. Once again my grandfather made my dad a substantial counter-offer 33% higher than the Newsweek offer to stay and work full time at Toy House.

1974 – 25th Birthday of Toy House
My dad and grandpa are in the white shirts on the left. My sister and I are in the clown costumes in the middle.

Now some might say my grandmother was behind this offer. She didn’t want to see her grandchildren (my sister and me) leave town. But my grandfather knew a good employee when he saw one. He always told me …

“You can never overpay for great help.”

Talking about Sears these last few days has struck a nerve. Along with the comments here, I’ve received emails with stories of families with long ties to Sears.

One long-time reader of this blog told me how his grandfather who worked for Sears for 33 years talked about how they changed their employee stock options program in the 1980’s. He speculates that started some of their “well-trained staff” attrition. 

Wikipedia tells of how Sears changed their hourly pay structure in 1992 that ended up cutting pay for several employees. This followed on the heels of Walmart and Kmart surpassing Sears in total retail sales in 1990 and preceded by a year the demise of their catalog. Coincidence?

Circuit City did the same thing in March 2007, cutting starting hourly pay and laying off 3,400 higher-paid employees. Less than two years later they liquidated.

In both cases the C-Suites were only looking at payroll as an expense to be cut instead of an asset to invest in.

You can treat your employees as an expense instead of an asset and get away with it. Amazon has done that for years. Even their new round of raises was offset by a cut in bonuses and other benefits (and was politically motivated to decrease the chance of Bernie Sanders getting the Stop BEZOS Bill passed).

It only works, however, if you didn’t treat your employees like assets first.

I may be biased but I think my grandfather had it right. How you treat your employees affects how they treat your customers which affects your bottom line.

Go find some people to overpay.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I wish I could have paid my employees better. I wish I could have offered them better benefits. Since I couldn’t, I did other things to help them out like grant all their time-off requests, work with the schedule to make sure they got the hours they wanted, feed them every now and then, train them, treat them with respect, give them responsibility, pay a stipend toward their continuing education, celebrate their birthdays and achievements, and bring in a masseuse during the Christmas holidays. Even when you don’t have the budget there are things you can do to make your staff feel appreciated.

Are Background Checks Necessary?

(Note: the last three posts talked about making a character trait list, posting better job descriptions and help wanted ads, and crafting insightful interview questions. You’ve done your interviews. Now what?)

I got a phone call. “I’m doing a background check and one of our applicants listed you as a former employer. Can you verify when this employee worked for you?”

I have made this same phone call. As employers we have rules of what we can and cannot say during one of these phone calls. Each state has its own rules. A former employer can confirm dates of employment, roles/titles, and usually answer one simple question … “Is this employee eligible for rehire?” 

It kinda sucks when you’re checking someone’s background with these limitations. If they were honest about when they worked and what they did, and they are still eligible for rehire, you learn very little. In fact, most background checks are done not to confirm a potential hire but to derail that job offer. Give me one reason to say No.

Even though they rarely ever confirm a good hire, background checks are still necessary. It is better to have exhausted all the reasons to say No. Background checks still tell you something. They tell you if someone is honest. They tell you if someone has neglected to tell you everything about themselves.

Along with calling former employers I also check the court sites. One applicant had three six-month gaps in his employment record. He told me in the interview he was working for a friend doing odd jobs. His friend must have worked at the county jail each of those stints. Another applicant was being considered for a warehouse and delivery position until the list of speeding tickets and two reckless driver tickets appeared.

Sometimes, however, a background check can surprise you. I called one former employer who said, “Wait, are you telling me she’s looking for a job? I need to call her. I’d love to have her back!”

One time when someone called me about one of my former employees the caller asked, “Is there anything else you can tell us?” He knew the answer was likely No—especially if you call a big chain store. My answer surprised him …

“If you don’t hire her, you will have made the biggest mistake in your HR life.”

Sure, seasonal retail help is one of the lowest rungs on the employment ladder. These aren’t confirmation hearings for lifetime positions so you likely won’t need the Senate or FBI. But your store deserves to have the very best. Almost all my full-time employees started as seasonal staff. If you do the proper job identifying the right team members at this stage, you’ll create the team and culture you want for the long run in no time at all.


Some employers check backgrounds before doing interviews. For big positions with tons of qualified applicants, I can understand vetting before interviewing. If you have more good applicants than you have time to interview them all, do a quick search of your District Court, State Felony, and Sex Offender websites. If that doesn’t eliminate anyone, then go to social media and see what they are posting on FB or Instagram. Chances are good that might knock out one or two people.

I preferred to check backgrounds after the interview. I only checked on the people I liked, looking for some reason to sway me off hiring that person. If they didn’t show the character traits I wanted through the application and interview process, I wasn’t wasting my time checking their backgrounds.

Although I have been used as a personal reference several times (and written several letters of recommendation), in my early days of hiring I rarely ever checked those references. I only called former employers who weren’t chain stores. I also made a few bad hires in my day and twice heard from someone who had been listed as a personal reference that told me they wouldn’t have recommended that person to work for me. I learned that lesson the hard way.

References are mainly for filling in holes in the details and finding reasons to say no. It is worth checking them. Otherwise Buyer Beware.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Check with your state’s hiring laws to see what you can and can’t ask in a reference check (and also to know what you can and can’t answer when someone calls you). Bookmark your local District Court site, your state’s felony site, and your state/local sex offender registry sites. Your customers deserve that from you.

PPS The former employee of mine got the job. She told me her boss said it was my comment that won him over. She’s been there 12 years now. I hired the employee whose former employer wanted her back. That was all the reference I needed.

Using Character Traits to Write a Better Job Description and Help Wanted Ad

I jumped the gun yesterday. I started talking to you about interview questions before we even discussed how to get the right applicants through your door in the first place. My bad.

Did you know you can “pre-qualify” your applicants? No, I don’t mean by writing, “Only people with [ __________ ] need apply.” That’s lazy and useless. You can pre-qualify your applicants by writing a better job description and a better help-wanted ad. That traits list we created helps.


Most job descriptions follow the same pattern. First a bullet list of duties and responsibilities. Second a bullet list of qualifications. It is that second list that pre-qualifies applicants. Most companies get that part wrong by listing all the required schooling and experience, without talking about whether you even have the right traits for the job.

A typical list might include:

  • [Level of schooling required]
  • [Minimum years experience doing the actual job as listed in the title]
  • [Minimum years experience doing the tasks for the job]

Just because someone did the job doesn’t mean they were good at it or had the right traits to do it well.

Instead you should be listing the traits of the person you want to hire. Here is a list I helped a fellow store owner create as the qualifications for a manager position:

The Store Manager must be someone who:

  • Can manage and motivate employees
  • Can build and foster teamwork and collaboration
  • Can stay calm and level-headed in tense and hectic situations
  • Can juggle multiple tasks during the course of the day
  • Can keep a high level of energy throughout a long day, a long week, and a long season
  • Can listen carefully and learn quickly
  • Loves to help other people grow
  • Loves to be part of the community
  • Loves to encourage and foster creativity in the team
  • Loves to play and have fun

Notice all those “can” statements? Those are the traits for the job. All of those “love” statements are the Core Values of the company. Someone who has these traits will instantly see themselves in that job description. You also have your basis for your “Tell me …” questions.

“Tell me about a time you had to motivate someone to do something they didn’t want to do. How did you get him to do it? What was the result?”


Your ad is the other place to really highlight the traits you want to hire. Once again, most help wanted ads fail to pre-qualify because they talk about the job and the duties, not the character traits. But what if you wrote an ad that looked more like this?

“Are you a team player looking for the chance to take that next step? Do you have the skills to help other people grow into their best? Do you get fired up at the chance to lead a high-performing team that gets to solve problems and bring joy to others?

You might be the perfect candidate for GTS.

GTS is looking for innovative people with true leadership skills to join us to help create and manage the kind of team everyone wants to be on, the kind of team that has fun working together, has fun being a part of our wonderful communities, and has fun finding new and better ways to serve our customers.

Yes, you will work weekends from time to time. Those days are the most fun.”

Notice how we incorporated all the can and love statements from the above description into one ad? We posted this in November for a toy store. (Yeah, November is not the best time to be hiring new managers, but such was the case.) Not only was this store owner able to find new managers and assistant managers for all three of her locations instantly, all were a perfect fit.

The first year I switched to this style of help-wanted advertising at Toy House I noticed two things. First, I had fewer overall applications. Only the people who saw themselves in the ad applied. Second, I had far more people worthy of an interview. The pre-qualifying with character traits gave me a better pool of applicants than before and made the interviewing process even easier (if slightly longer).

It all starts with the character traits you identify for each job. When you get a good list and use it to describe the job and the applicant you get better applicants from which to choose.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS We used Indeed.com for the store manager posting above. We also used Indeed for seasonal positions but she got several applicants from social media and signs in her store.

PPS Since I closed Toy House I put my hat into the ring for job searches on LinkedIn. Several times I have seen jobs I know I could do incredibly well, but the first two qualifications were often “Must have a 4-year Marketing Degree” and “Must have 3-5 years working as a Marketing Manager or similar title.” I had the traits (and even the experience) to do well in several of those jobs, but they missed out on me even applying because I didn’t have the degree or the title. I would hate for you to miss out on some qualified people for the same reasons.

PPPS Here is a job description using the traits from yesterday and my Core Values of Fun, Helpful, Education, and Nostalgia

  • Engaging – Can meet and greet people with ease
  • Friendly – Can build meaningful relationships with others
  • Caring – Can show empathy and caring for others
  • Creative – Can find creative solutions to interesting problems
  • Determined – Can find ways around objections and stick to a problem until it is solved
  • Fun – Loves to have fun on the job
  • Helpful – Loves to help others
  • Education – Loves to learn new things
  • Nostalgic – Loves to celebrate births, birthdays, and Christmas

Are you a fun-loving person who loves to meet new people? Do you care deeply for others and just want to help? Do you have the creativity and determination to find solutions when none seem possible? Are you the kind of person who celebrates holidays with a passion. Do you love to learn something new every day? You might be the perfect candidate to work for Toy House.

How Your Traits List Affects Your Hiring

It takes a lot of guts to tell Harvard you think they are wrong.

But that’s exactly what I was doing through the aughts as I was developing my own hiring philosophy. In the late 90’s I read the Harvard Business Essentials book Hiring and Keeping the Best People. Like all the other business books on hiring, it said the most important thing to hire for was experience.

Except I had one problem with that statement …

You can have decades of experience in retail sales and still suck at it.

Hiring and the Potter's Wheel Book Cover
Since I didn’t like the books I was reading on hiring, I wrote my own!

I knew salespeople in retail. I had hired people with several years of “experience.” I had worked with retail salespeople at the stores I visited frequently. Some were good. Some still sucked.

The reason they sucked is because so few retailers have any type of formal training or continuing education for their team. Experience alone does not teach you what you need to be successful as a retail salesperson. College doesn’t prepare you for retail sales either.

The skills you need to be successful at retail sales are those traits we identified yesterday.

  • Engaging
  • Friendly
  • Caring
  • Knowledgeable
  • Creative
  • Problem-Solver
  • Determined

Two of those traits are teachable (Knowledge and Problem-Solving). The other five, however, are not. The first key to being successful at retail is what your new hires already bring to the table in the way of the non-teachable traits.

The fastest way to raise the bar of customer service in your store is to fire every salesperson who isn’t Engaging, Friendly, Caring, Creative, and Determined, and start over. Add your Core Values to that list and go hire people who have those non-teachable traits. You’ll have the foundation for a rock star staff in no time.


How do you identify those non-teachable traits? Through the interview process. Let’s call it a “process” rather than just an interview because it is far more than just simple questions and answers.

I always went up front to greet applicants and walk them back to my office. The walk back gave me an early glimpse into how friendly and engaging they might be. Sure, many were nervous, but just the act of walking and talking not only calmed their nerves—which made the rest of the interview go better—and it also got me the chance to view them in a less formal setting. If possible I would introduce them to staff along the way and see how they interacted.

In the interview I asked questions only about what they did, not what they thought or believed. My favorite questions started with …

“Tell me about a time when …”

  • Tell me about a time when you were the most creative on the job. What did you do? How was it received?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond what was expected of you? What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you made friends with a customer. How did it happen? Are you still friends now?

When you ask questions about actual events in their life you get more authentic answers, not something they think you want to hear. You also gain better insight. You learn what they consider to be “above and beyond” or “creative” on the job.

When I switched my hiring process over to focusing on non-teachable traits instead of experience and actions instead of beliefs, I found the results changed dramatically for the better. None of that was in the Harvard Business Essentials book.

Experience plays a role only when that experience is “better” than the experience you are offering. Then again, if you are running your business correctly, there won’t be anyone else offering a better experience, better training, or better work environment. So don’t worry about experience. Hire for character traits and fit (Core Values). You can teach them the rest.

Sorry, Harvard, but from my experience and the experience of so many other retailers, you’re wrong.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You’ll still need to have Knowledgeable people who know how to solve your customers’ problems. Those are the teachable traits. Knowledge is simply learning all the features and benefits of the products you sell (as well as the products your competitors sell). Problem-solving is simply the process of turning a customer into a relationship into a sale into an evangelist for your store (The Ultimate Selling Workshop). 

PPS It takes a lot of guts to write your own book on hiring when it flies directly in the face of all the other hiring books out there. I did that back in 2008 and it got rave reviews. I still have a few copies left if you’d like to read it. (Sorry, only hardcover, no electronic versions.)

The Pitfall of Using Personality Tests for Hiring Purposes

I’ve taken several versions of the Myers-Briggs test and so far they all have resulted in ENFP (The Campaigner). But my N score is fairly close to the S and my F is barely across the line from T. There are definitely moments in my life when I am more of an ESFP (The Entertainer), especially when I’m playing guitar at Poison Frog Brewery or standing on stage leading a workshop or presentation. In conversations, especially debates, my ENTP (The Debater) personality kicks in and I gladly take on the role of devil’s advocate. (Not surprisingly, the ESTP personality is called The Entrepreneur. Go figure.)

Now you know why I like to wear a cape!

I’ve also taken the Enneagram Personality tests. I have always scored as #7 The Enthusiast, but I share some tendencies of #2 The Helper and #3 The Achiever.

The point I want to make is that these personality tests are fun, fascinating, and insightful, but dangerous when you use them to pigeonhole or label someone. For instance, while reading this description of a #7 The Enthusiast, it says that one of my weaknesses is my ability to stay focused. An employer might read that in the description and immediately assign that label to me. Yet most of my bosses throughout my life have talked about my ability to stay focused on the task at hand as one of my overall strengths.

Black Friday is only 45 days away. You’re in the process of hiring and training your seasonal staff. You’re looking for anything to speed up the process and help you find good people.

I want to implore you not to use the personality tests to hire people.

No one can be truly described by these tests in a perfect way, yet as a shortcut we often use the labels and descriptions to pigeonhole people and assign them characteristics they don’t have. The other downside is that there is no single personality type in these tests that fits perfectly to the characteristics you need for the job for which you’re hiring.


Rather than using shortcuts, the best way to find the perfect people for your team is to create your own “personality profiles.” Identify the most important traits to describe the perfect person for each position. For instance, if you are looking for a Salesperson, you might want someone who is:

  • Engaging
  • Friendly
  • Caring
  • Knowledgeable

If the job requires them to find unique solutions to interesting problems, you might also choose:

  • Creative
  • Intuitive
  • Problem-solver

If you sell items that require a lengthy sales process you might also add:

  • Patient
  • Determined

Then list your Core Values. These also play a role in finding the right people for your team.

Get your list together. The more clearly you identify the person you want to hire before the hiring process, the better you will recognize him or her when you start that process.

Tomorrow I’ll show you what to do with that list and how to attract a better group of applicants.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I asked my salespeople to play many roles including stocking shelves, answering phones, giftwrapping packages, and running the cash registers. My list included:

  • Engaging
  • Friendly
  • Fun-Loving (core value)
  • Helpful (core value)
  • Creative
  • Desire to Learn (core value)
  • Decent Math Skills
  • Nostalgic (core value)

Notice how I left off Knowledgeable. I’ll explain why tomorrow.

PPS Personality tests can play a role with your team, but only after the hiring is done. If you have a full understanding of the personality test shortfalls and limitations, and are willing to use them only as a guide rather than a definitive description, you can understand people’s tendencies and preferences better, which helps you position them and motivate them for better results.

Where Are the Employees?

Last year I did something I had never done before. I went shopping on Black Friday. No, not in the early morning hours with all the mobs. I’m not that kind of shopper. I went out in the afternoon to see what the stores looked like after the mobs had left.

It was exactly what I expected. I had to fight the urge to want to straighten and re-merchandise the empty, messy shelves. (I actually did some straightening in Target just to get it out of my system.)

Some of my former employees have reported the same feeling. They find themselves straightening racks and displays constantly. If you’re a merchandising neat-freak like we were, I’m sure you’ve done the same.

This was taken mid-day on a Saturday in September!

Just recently one of my former employees was in Macy’s. She was straightening a rack, as is her habit. Nearby was a group of young men searching for an employee. They were singing, “Oh Macy’s employeeeeeee. Where are yooooouuuu?”

They saw her and asked hopefully, “Do you work here?”

When she said, “No,” they returned to their singing and standing on their tiptoes trying to find help in the cavernous and employee-less department store.

As she told me this story, two thoughts came to mind …

First, if your employees don’t have that urge to straighten and rearrange the displays in other stores, you haven’t trained them well enough.

Second, the lack of well-trained employees on the sales floor will be the downfall of the department stores, not Amazon, not the economy, not their failure to latch onto some shiny new tech, not their website, not their omni-channel efforts, not their advertising.

All the traffic in the world won’t matter if there is no one to take care of that traffic.

Don’t make the mistake that has shuttered the stores of JC Penney’s, Sears, Bon Ton, Younker’s, Elder Beerman, and so many others.

Train your staff well and have enough of them on the floor to make a difference.

That will be the winning formula this holiday season.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I used to have a red polo shirt. I wore it into Target once. Once. Retailing may be one of the lower rungs on the employee food chain, but when you find the right people and train them well, you get a team where retail is in their blood. They will get mistaken for employees in other stores on a regular basis. That should be a goal you strive for your team—to have the kind of people who want to make the shopping experience better no matter where they are.

A Retail Lesson From 9/11

I was in the office this day seventeen years ago. My dad was there talking on the phone with my sister. It was in the morning just after 9am. She had called to wish him a happy 58th birthday. She had CNN on in the background and asked my dad if he had heard about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. No, he hadn’t.

While still on the phone, he turned and asked me if I had heard about it. No, I hadn’t.

I immediately got on my computer.

By early afternoon we had seen the last of our customers for the day. I had sent home most of the staff by then, too. I’ll never forget that day.

The next few days, however, were a blur. We had customers, but even they were somewhat in shock and not sure how to react or what to do. It took about a week before business came back to normal levels. Surprisingly, it still ended up being the second busiest September in the history of the store.

One fascinating memory I have from that month was how the relationships seemed to change. It felt like we were closer with our customers than we had been before. Whether that was a result of all of us going through a shared tragic moment, or if it was because it was our core customers who were the first to return, or simply because we put a premium on relationships after those attacks, I’ll never fully know.

It just felt different.

I felt a similar difference in 2014. My overall training goal that year was on Relationship-Building and Selling.

We started in January talking about Repeat and Referral business. Repeat business comes from giving great customer service (doing what the customer expects). Referral business comes from doing more than the customer expects, so much more that she has to tell her friends.

In February the topic was the greeting, how to say Hi and welcome the customer to the store. In March we worked on listening skills. In April we worked on how to decipher what was in our customer’s mind. What were her fears and objections? What problem was she trying to solve and how could we help her solve it? What questions should we be asking and what answers should we be listening for?

The next three months were about closing the sale including Features & Benefits, Visualization, and Assumptive Selling.

Those six months of training were the basis for the presentations I did last August and the five new eBooks posted on the Free Resources Page. Those six months of training are now an integral part of the new presentation—The Ultimate Selling Workshop.*

I think the feelings we had with our customers in the fall of 2001 were a combination of the relationships we were building naturally and the common tragedy we all had experienced. That year was the biggest year in sales in our 68-year history.

In 2014, however, the relationship-building was intentional. Even as our market was in serious decline, 2014 was our second most profitable year and one of the more rewarding years I’ve ever experienced. It was the closest we felt to our customers since 2001.

The best stores build relationships with customers all the time. It starts by hiring friendly people who love to meet and help others. If you only do that, you’ll still be doing more than most of your competitors. The true excitement, however, happens when you teach those friendly employees how to intentionally create the lasting relationships that keep your Repeat and Referral rates at all-time highs, while, more importantly, making life better for both you and them. That’s when you’re no longer compared to your competitors because you’re on a level all your own.

It is all about the relationships you build. That’s the retail lesson from this day.

-Phil Wrzesinski

*PS The Ultimate Selling Workshop is a three-hour, hands-on session that takes the best elements from the breakout presentations The Meet-and-Greet, Closing the Sale with Assumptive Selling, and How to Push for “Yes” (Without Being Pushy) and wraps them up into one power-packed event that includes training activities for your staff, hands-on activities that drive home each point, and a map to guide you to better selling. You’ll learn how to build long-term relationships, get the most out of every transaction, and even how to attract the best, most profitable customers to your store. If you sign up now through the end of September to do this workshop this fall, you’ll get the special introductory rate of $2,000. (Call me October 1st and you might be able to talk me down to $3,000 for the same workshop—and it will still be more than worth it!)

Two Completely Different Ways to Build Your Team

I love thought-provoking questions. Here is one I was asked recently …

How do we bridge the gap between employees and corporate America?

The question makes two assumptions; first that there is a gap, and second that the gap must be bridged.

The first assumption, that there is a gap, is not hard to understand. Corporate profits and C-Level wages seem to be growing astronomically while front line worker salaries seem to be stagnant at best, and possibly in decline. Bernie Sanders just introduced the BEZOS Bill that will tax employers with 500 or more employees an amount equal to any public assistance benefits the employees qualify for because of their low income.

Many companies in corporate America are hyper-focused on Shareholder Value. Through that lens, employees are seen as expenses that must be cut, trimmed, managed, and kept under control. As long as the guys at the top keep the shareholders happy, the stock values keep rising and they keep making their money. They ask the question of their employees, “How can I cut costs more without cutting productivity?” This approach leads to that huge salary gap between the top and bottom levels of the pyramid. It also leads to the adversarial gap between employees and “corporate America.”

Image result for steve jobs hiring quoteMany companies, however, take a different approach. They look at employees as assets, not expenses. They ask a different question …

“How much more can this person add to the bottom line and what is that worth to me?”

Both are legitimate approaches and both have found their successes at the corporate level. Understanding the differences will give you a leg up in deciding which approach will work best for you.


No company will actually admit this is their practice, but for the most part, this is what they do. Their pay is low compared to others in their industry. Their pay is low compared to other measures such as “living wages.” They hire primarily for skills, invest very little into training, and look for ways to replace employees with systems, technologies, automation, and streamlining of the process. They put an emphasis on their managers to demand more and pay less.

Turnover is high at businesses like these. You might have the skills but not the “fit.” They don’t care about the fit. They hired you for your skills. Do the job or move on.

When unemployment is high, these businesses thrive because there are plenty of workers out there they can chew through and spit out. As long as the top guys keep the stockholders happy, they’ll have all the cash they need to keep the machine humming.

The downside to businesses like this is that they have to cycle through several employees to find ones that have both the skills to do the job and the personality to fit into the culture. When unemployment is low, workers have the opportunity to move on to better jobs, better pay, and/or a better atmosphere. These companies spend a lot more money hiring than they do training and are willing to discard employees at a moment’s notice in their quest to find the right people.


Most companies pay lip service to this ideal. They claim this is their practice, but unless they are actually “investing” in their employees, it is merely lip service. Investing in your employees means you are spending time, energy, and money on your people with the belief that they will pay off with better productivity over the long run. In fact, it is the long run that drives these businesses.

Companies looking to appease shareholders take a short-term view, looking to beat expectations each quarter. Companies who look long-term are willing to invest more for payoffs down the road.

These companies are slower to hire, looking for corporate fit more than just for skills. These companies spend more time and energy training their employees to do things their way. These companies make sure the work atmosphere is attractive as much as productive, knowing that employee turnover can often be more expensive than paying for quality training programs and niceties for the team.

When unemployment is low and workers have the power, these companies will have the better pick of the litter because employees want to go where they are compensated and appreciated. Plus, since they spend more time and energy on the fit, they have less turnover and are looking for fewer people, and can therefore be more picky.


While I am obviously biased toward the latter, both methods work. Amazon has been making a killing, becoming a trillion-dollar company, while being known for notoriously horrible treatment of their warehouse employees. Turnover at their fulfillment centers is high, and Bernie Sanders wants to tax them for not paying those people a living wage.

Apple is another trillion-dollar company where people are lining up out the door trying to get an interview. As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

The key for you is to make a conscious choice about the approach you are going to use. Then take those steps necessary to fully embrace that approach.

If you wish to view your employees as expenses, find better ways to streamline your processes to make them more efficient. Automate everything that you can. Build systems that eliminate too much choice. Spend your money on hiring, and hire specifically for the skills you need so that you can spend less money on training. Be quick to fire and move on when an employee is costing you too much. Don’t get attached to your team, either. Keep the gap firmly between you and the worker-bees.

If you wish to view your employees as assets, find ways in which they can bring you value to your company. Hire people who fit your culture and have the character traits you desire, then train them up to have the skills they need to be successful. When you evaluate them, look at the value they bring to the table both monetarily and otherwise. Give them the free rein to do their job at their highest level. Make them feel valued and appreciated.

Both ways work. The more fully you embrace your approach, the better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS My grandfather definitely fell into the Employees as Assets category. He always believed you could never overpay for great help, and that when you find the right person, invest heavily into that person and pay that person enough to keep him or her.

PPS If you’re going to take the Employees as Assets approach, here is one investment sure to pay dividends—The Ultimate Selling Workshop. No matter what you sell, this three-hour training workshop will lay the foundation for creating long-term relationships with customers that lead to higher conversion rates, higher tickets, and higher customer loyalty. You’ll get your customers to buy more and brag more about you at the same time. I am offering a one-time special. If you book before the end of September to do a training before Thanksgiving, you’ll get the special low price of only $2,000. You’ll get the theory, practice, tools, and techniques to turn your staff into rock stars.

PPPS To answer the second assumption from the original question … If you take the Employees as Expenses approach, you don’t ever want to close the gap because you’ll be too emotionally invested in your team to be able to fire quickly and move on. If you take the Employees as Assets approach, there won’t be much of a gap at all because both you and your team will be fully invested in your success. The gap only exists where corporate America favors profits over people.

“Attracting Millennials” and “Ten Mistakes:” Two New Free eBooks for You

I have a file on my computer named SCHEDULE. It has every schedule I ever created for the Toy House staff dating back to the fall of 1996. That was the year my dad turned the hiring, training, and scheduling of the staff over to me. In 1997 I hired my first Millennial. Granted, the term was still in its infancy, and the defining characteristics of this new, emerging generation born between the years of 1981 and 1996 (according to The Pew Research Center) or 1982 to 2000 (according to the US Census Bureau) were yet to be labeled.

Regardless of the years (or labels) you use to define “Millennial,” in the twenty years from 1997 to 2016 I hired, trained, and worked alongside dozens of people from this generation. I even raised a son born in 1998 who falls under the US Census Bureau’s definition, and while I laughed at all the jokes and negative stereotypes given to this group of people, I knew many of the older guard were missing something.

I often run into people who hear the word Millennial and automatically think Lazy, Self-Absorbed, Selfish, Entitled, Snowflake.

Yet in 2005 when I was called for a job reference for the first Millennial I ever hired, I told the employer, “If you don’t hire this person, you will be making one of the biggest mistakes in your HR career.” She was one of the hardest, smartest, most intrinsically motivated people I have ever known. She just celebrated her thirteenth year with that organization.

What is funny to me is all those negative stereotypes assigned to Millennials were previously assigned to Gen X, and before that used to describe the Baby Boomers. I think we tend to look down on the younger generations and never believe they work as hard as we did. Do that at your own peril.

If you are looking to hire or sell to Millennials, instead of looking down your nose at them, I suggest you look up to what they aspire and meet them there.

They don’t have all the answers, but they are asking some interesting questions that we all should be considering.

Questions like …

  • How do I live more Eco-Friendly?
  • How do I create a more Sustainable world?
  • How do I stay out of Debt?
  • How do I avoid falling for the Hype?
  • How do I help the Collective to grow?

If you want to attract this generation and all their spending power to your store, you need to help them answer those questions and more. You’ll find plenty of ways to do that in my new Free eBook Attracting and Selling to Millennials on the Free Resources page of my website.

(PS The eBook is great, but this is one presentation where the live version is so much more mind-blowing than the print version. Contact me to schedule a time to talk to your team or organization.)


The other new Free eBook is called Ten Mistakes That Sideline the Sale. This is strictly a Customer Service book that focuses on some easily correctable mistakes we all make. Some of them are mistakes we make thinking we are offering Great Customer Service, when really we’re killing the mood. Some of them are mistakes that happened to me just this past weekend.

If you’re looking for simple things your team can correct that will immediately affect your bottom line, you might want to start with this list. Pick one or two to work on each month and you will be pleasantly surprised at how many more repeat and referral customers you’ll get this holiday season.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You might be wondering why I give these away for Free. Heck, I don’t even make you subscribe to my blog to get them. One reason is that I have subscribed to several blogs myself just to get information, and while I get some information, mostly I get email after email trying to sell me something to the point that I am afraid to subscribe to anything new.

I don’t want to be that person to you.

Another reason is that I want you to succeed. If the point of writing this blog is simply for me to make money selling stuff, then it doesn’t fit with my Core Values of Having Fun, Helping Others, and Education. The point of this blog, my website, and my purpose for Phil’s Forum is to help as many small businesses as possible. The money will take care of itself.

Finally, while I know you can bypass the whole concept of paying me to be a speaker or coach and just download all this content, I also know by hiring me you get an experience and information that goes far beyond these three to six page eBooks. In the live presentation you get this information tailored to your specific industry. You get context and relevancy and tips and ideas directly related to what you do day in and day out. You get the chance to ask questions, get clarity, and expand the topics to fit your needs. These eBooks are simply the notes from presentations, written generically to fit the most possible industries. They are reminders for those who have sat through a live presentation, minus some of the stories you’ll never forget that drive home the point but take too much ink.

PPS One last thing … I also know not every independent retailer has the budget to hire a coach or go to a big retail conference. If you’re in this category, you deserve to have access to this kind of information as much as the next person. Consider me a library. Borrow as often as you’d like.

I Thought She Was the Owner

Often someone from my staff would enter my office and say, “I have an idea.” Often I would answer, “Great! Run with it!”

“But don’t you want to hear it first?”
“Is it consistent with our Core Values?”
“Will it cost the company a lot of money?”
“Run with it. I hired and trained you. I trust you.”

In Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive, he shows how “autonomy” is one of the key elements for motivating your staff to do their best. Autonomy gives them a feeling of ownership and a sense of pride. Autonomy also empowers them to make decisions and take care of customers the best way they can.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

I know. This is scary. But what if they screw up? But what if they don’t make good decisions? But what if they aren’t as good as I am?

Have you ever thought if you hired well and trained well, they just might end up being better than you?

Sure, giving autonomy to your staff is scary, but in the long game it is how you build a winning team.

I was in Athens, GA recently when my tennis shoes died. I went to the New Balance store where Cameron helped me find the perfect pair for my needs. (Did I mention I have odd-sized feet? Oh yeah, yesterday.)

She was smart. She was well-versed on the products she sold. She studied how I walked. She asked questions about what I did when wearing these shoes. She listened, repeated things back to me, asked more questions, then told me why she was suggesting the pairs she suggested. She was amazing!

As I was checking out, I just had to ask, “Are you the owner or manager?”

“Oh no, I just love working here.”

Cameron had the autonomy to make decisions and act as if she owned the place. She was in such control that I believed she was the owner.

That should always be your goal—to hire and train so well that your customers are so impressed by your staff member that they think he or she must be the owner.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Autonomy is letting your team members do the jobs they were hired and trained to do without someone breathing down their neck or constantly looking over their shoulder. Note the word “trained.” Don’t give them autonomy until they are trained, but once trained, set them loose. They’ll make a mistake or two at first, and you’ll help them learn from those mistakes, but in short order they will become the person you expected them to be when you hired them.