Tips to Independent Retailers for Hiring in Tough Times

Glenn Polyn//October 1, 2021//

Close-up on a blue sign in the window of a shop displaying the message: Come in we're hiring.

Tips to Independent Retailers for Hiring in Tough Times

Glenn Polyn //October 1, 2021//

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For the past two years, retailers around the country have been struggling to maintain staffing levels. While many people blame the shortage of workers on unemployment benefits or the belief that people simply don’t want to work, there are many reasons for the current challenges of hiring and retaining good employees. Having talked to many former retail employees, the most common answers I hear for not going back to work include caring for children at home, the fear of contracting COVID-19 at work and re-assessing their life and career choices during these uncertain times. Additionally, with major retailers offering hiring incentives as much as $300 for hourly employees, it can be a challenge for a small, independent retailer to compete.

While you can’t control many of these factors, there are things you can do to improve your chances of attracting and retaining great employees.

Safety First

Whether it’s fear of COVID or just general concern about health and safety, one thing you can do for your employees is to implement safety protocols to protect them while at work. As your business is unique and state and local requirements vary around the country, it can be difficult for independent retailers to decide what is needed to keep employees safe. A great place to start to get guidance is from OSHA. You can visit their website to view the most current recommendations for safety protocols for mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID. You can also check with your local city or county health department for additional recommendations. Finally, talk to your employees about their safety concerns and what steps you could take to increase their comfort levels.

Be Flexible

Now is not the time to be “old school” when it comes to employee work and scheduling. Rather than sticking to traditional schedules, look for opportunities to change things up if it will help you attract and keep great employees. For many employees, the ability to come in an hour earlier and leave an hour earlier could make the difference. Your POS system can be a help to you in determining when and how you can flex and adjust staffing. If your system complies sales reports by the hour, you’ll know when your busiest hours and days of the week are and can staff accordingly. Additionally, if the past two years haven’t shown us anything else, it’s proven that employees working from home are as productive or even more productive than when they’re at work. Therefore, take a look at your employees’ job responsibilities and identify what if anything they could do from home, if they want that option.

Make Work Meaningful

With all that has gone on in the world over the past two years, many people are looking for work that has meaning, not just a paycheck. As a business owner or manager, you can use this to your advantage in the hiring process. For example, if you were marketing to students in pre-vet, pre-tech and grooming programs, you could stress the animal care and handling experience they’d receive while working at your business as well as all the information they could learn about pet nutrition and products. In addition, your business’s affiliation with a rescue group, hosting adoption events and food drives for rescues and shelters can give your employees and potential employees a real feeling of accomplishment as they work to help care for homeless pets.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Communication with employees has never been more important than now. Be sure to keep your employees in the loop about what’s going on in your business and in your industry. Holding regular staff meetings with all employees is a must. Although many people complain that holding meetings takes too much time, if you do it regularly, these meetings don’t have to last long. Staff meetings are your chance to ensure everyone hears the same things at the same time and has the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions on how to improve your business and processes. Take the time to listen as well and never assume employees will come to you with problems and concerns- seek each employee out and take the time to talk to them one-on-one.

Show Your Gratitude

Too many times we take great performance for granted. After all, doing the job well is what you expect, right? However, employees really need to know when you’re happy with their work and contrary to what some employers think, getting a paycheck isn’t enough of a “thank you” to keep a great employee. It only takes 30 seconds to show your appreciation for a job well done. Simply tell the employee exactly what they did or said that was so great, tell them why you appreciate it and say thank you. For example, I might say, “Kelsey, I really appreciate you taking the lead on the adoption event we’re hosting Saturday. You’ve done a great job coordinating with the rescue and I love the social media posts you did, especially the one with the bulldog! Thank you so much for your help. I can always count on you to do a great job.”

Taking these simple steps will not only help you keep the great employees you have, but will also help you attract the kinds of employees you’ll be proud to have as part of your team.


Amy P. Castro, MA, is a business, leadership and communication expert, author and speaker who helps organizations develop leaders and build amazing teams one person at a time. She works with pet industry professionals who want to grow their loyal customer base by building a “Best in Show” team that can deliver a 5-Star Customer Experience. Amy is also the president of Starlight Outreach and Rescue, a nonprofit rescue in the Houston, Texas, area, and she has personally fostered more than 1,000 shelter pets.