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September 6, 2017

As a member of our manufacturer’s representative team, I call on several hundred retailers each year, which gives me a glimpse of different management styles. The store owners who have invested in their employee’s training stand out—especially those who have taken the time and effort to build a company culture of teamwork and customer-oriented spirit.

I know that our industry is still generally known for independent retail outlets, and I also know that many think that something like “team building” is for the corporate scene, but I’m here to tell you that even a one unit store can develop a professional, motivated staff that will impress customers.

In this piece, I won’t be writing about weekend bonding trips or corporate teamwork games. What I speak of here is what I have personally seen succeed in team building at the independent retailer level. With a little effort, any business could emulate this.

If you go to the internet and search for “team building,” you will see that most of the articles there will tick off a long list of team building ideas, many of which are over the top for a single unit retailer. But what quickly becomes evident is that the following four concepts rise to the top of the list when discussing a path for building effective teams. I’ve listed them below in what I consider is the order of importance.

Communication: Many people feel most comfortable when there is a firm, clear understanding as to what is expected of them, but if they feel they are valued by management, they will try harder and stay longer.

Collaboration: People tend to feel more positive toward their place of employment if they have some say or feel that their ideas are listened to by management.

Motivation: This can be the hardest part of team building. It takes constant effort to design and implement events that will make the workplace an interesting and rewarding experience for employees.

Competition: Building a friendly competitive atmosphere will increase sales all by itself. Spiff is a wondrous thing. Even if the monetary reward isn’t all that great, there are still bragging rights when someone achieves their goal.

I have seen standout stores that have interesting team building ideas. Here are a couple of team building ideas that especially caught my attention:

One idea that I think is exceptional is what The Pet Shop, owned by Vanessa and Dylan Schmidt in Mesa, Arizona, has been doing for quite some time. Every time they hire a new employee, they take a picture of them (wearing a Pet Shop shirt) and post it along with a brief biography on their Facebook page, welcoming them to the team and introducing them to their Facebook followers. This simple act brings the new employee to their customers’ attention and makes the new hire feel like part of the team.

Another example of great team building comes from Clark Feed & Seed, in Bellingham, Washington. The owner, Larry Oltmann, is a very organized person, and you get that sense when you walk into his store. But what stands out are his people. The quality of the staff has never failed to impress me. His employees are not only professional, but they’re ready and eager to help. Oltmann once explained to me that Bellingham has a state college branch as well as a technical college in town that he tries to draw from whenever he can. He feels that if someone has the gumption to attend college or a technical school, they probably will make a good employee. Even though Oltmann has the advantage of being located in a college town, it takes vision and constant effort on his part to maintain the atmosphere required to build and maintain a good professional team.

Everyone’s sales team (even if it is just a family affair) needs some tender loving care. Even if half their time is spent cleaning cages and aquariums, they are still your sales team. If you remember that and try to keep them engaged and motivated, you should see positive results.

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