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August 3, 2015

So, how does one do that? It starts with recognizing the challenges inherent to any type of retailer — whether selling pet supplies, greeting cards or groceries — in hanging onto people.

Why They Leave

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: money. One can try to be generous to the employees in an attempt to minimize attrition and to some degree — that might be a good strategy. But you can only take it so far. The nature of the retail business is that a single employee can only contribute so much to the bottom-line. And that means one has to walk a fine line between paying employees well and recklessly overpaying them.

Largely as a result of the salary a typical retailer can offer, in my experience a disproportionate number of retail employees will either be young people just getting started in the work world or people who only want to work part-time.

Retail employees are liable to leave for a variety of reasons. They head off to school. They get offered 50 cents an hour more from someone else. They find a job with a preferable schedule. The parents of high school-age employees may be put the kibosh on working if grades start to suffer.

And of course, some employees leave because the employer decides they have to go. They’re habitually late.

They’re not good with customers. They struggle to master the job.

Whether it’s the employees’ decision to leave or the employers’ to fire them, one still has to replace them — and every second one spends working on that is time one could have spent more efficiently running a store.

Making Them Stay

So what are some good employee retention strategies for the retail environment?

First, vet your candidates well. Check references, especially former employers. Find out about qualities like punctuality, attitude and trainability. What you’re trying to determine is whether this is an employee who will come with frequent issues and drama. Have they already changed jobs frequently? What was their attitude toward previous jobs? If it wasn’t good, your ego might tell you that you’ll be the wonderful boss they’ve been looking for. But reality might suggest they carry the same sour attitude with them wherever they go.

Now, once hired, look for opportunities to make the employment experience work for employees without hurting the business. A frequent complaint of retail employees is that they can’t obtain the hours they desire, which can mean either quantity or time of day, or both. If the employee has an issue with working weekends, one could insist it’s policy that all employees work a weekend shift. Or one can see if it’s possible to accommodate the employee without causing another employee a problem. Maybe another employee prefers working weekends? Try to find a solution before letting the issue become a problem.

Also, find ways to give employees as much variety as possible in the work experience. Maybe they don’t have to work as a cashier every shift. Maybe they can do inventory, stock shelves, perhaps even deal with vendors or get a chance to learn about finance. Not only will this make the employees’ experience more enjoyable, it will also allow them to gain experience that can benefit them in future career pursuits.

I’m not a big believer in performance incentives, although my view on that is far from universally accepted. But the opportunity to make more money is something anyone would find attractive. As I said at the beginning, one doesn’t want to recklessly overpay people just to keep them. But you can come up with metrics to show employees how to earn raises. Just make sure they’re tied to achievements that help make a store profitable.

Let’s be honest: Most retail employees aren’t going to stay with a store for the long, long term. But if one can measure an average employees’ tenure in years instead of months, how much will that save in time, training and issues with customer satisfaction? Just a little attention paid to details like this might make it happen.

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