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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Motivating your employees will increase your sales and decrease your headaches!

Do you employ sales clerks or sales professionals? There is a world of difference between the two. A sales professional knows the store inventory as well as you know it. She is happy, enthusiastic, and enjoys her job. She is invested in your success and enjoys the craft she is promoting. If you have a true Sales Professional working for you, count your blessings!

Alternatively, a sales clerk does little more than collect the money at the register. She is bored during her shift and wishes the day would go by faster. This job is not part of her life plan but she needs the cash. In fact, she wouldn't be working for you if a better job fell in her lap. She resists change and thinks that your ideas for store promotions are lame. She will not talk up store events or hand out bag stuffers unless she knows that you are watching. Of course, she is happy to sit around collecting a paycheck for as long as you are willing to pay her for babysitting the cash register.

Ugh. The reality is that many retail shopkeepers have more experience with Sales Clerks than Sales Professionals. Unfortunately, one bad apple really can ruin the bunch. An unmotivated employee can be toxic to your work force. I remember, somewhat shamefacedly, a summer job experience I had as a college student. I had landed an internship at the Worker's Compensation Bureau Legal Department. I was immediately assigned to...where else...the Mail Room. No sweat....I was all about building my resume and was fresh faced and enthusiastic.....for a while. It didn't take long to realize that my co-workers didn't have much of a work ethic. All Mail Room employees---every single one---spent the morning watching game shows and the afternoon watching soap operas on a little black and white portable TV. The little bit of work that was done during the course of the day could easily have been accomplished by one part time employee. The lackadaisical work standard appalled first. Unfortunately, by summer's end I experienced a twinge of resentment when forced to leave the trials and tribulations of General Hospital's Luke and Laura to actually deliver mail!

Was I a bad employee? Yes, but in truth, I was not solely to blame. I was bright and eager to learn. However, I was poorly trained and had no one evaluating my performance or coaching me. The same is true for many retail employees. Oftentimes, new hires are taught how to operate the register but are not given the tools they need to move beyond Sales Clerk to Sales Professional. The majority of employees who fall short do so because of a failure at the management level.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

Inspire and motivate your staff through example, education, training and incentives! You can turn a mediocre employee into a business attribute, but the burden is on your shoulders. After all, the speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. You must be positive and enthusiastic. Do not bemoan the state of the economy or make excuses for lagging sales. Negativity is toxic and contagious. Tweaking your world view to a more positive outlook will benefit your staff, your sales, and your blood pressure. Challenge yourself to get through the day without saying "No." If a customer comes in looking for 16 gauge wire and you are out of stock, don't simply say "We are out." Offer her the 18 gauge at 10% off. If an employee has a suggestion for a promotion, don't tell her why it won't work. Rather, brainstorm a way to make it work.

While I intuitively sensed that watching soap operas on the job wasn't putting me in line for employee of the month, I was not clear on what it was that I should be doing. I took the path of least resistance and fell in line with the employee culture, pathetic though it was. People do not automatically know what you think they should know, regardless of how basic it is. You must be perfectly clear on your expectations. Younger employees will text on the job unless you establish a rule about cell phones. Employees will hide behind the register unless you define your desire to have them walk the floor. Set up a process and put it in writing. I watched a store owner become increasingly frustrated as she stopped to answer the phone several times while ringing up customers. The customers grew annoyed as the check out process became interminable. The only store employee was in a back room winding yarn, oblivious to the mounting chaos at the register. The shop owner was angry that the employee didn't answer the phone, even though the employee hadn't a clue that she was expected to take on the task. It would have been very easy to establish protocol regarding the phone but the store owner chose instead to spend a whole lot of time and energy being frustrated over a simple and easy to resolve issue. You will get what you tolerate!

Do you want your employees to engage your customers? Don't just tell them to do it...teach them how to do it! Role playing is an under used but incredibly effective teaching tool. Prepare index cards that describe several types of customer scenarios. One could be:

Middle aged woman
"just looking"

Brainstorm with your staff as to how to best handle such a customer. Possibilities include:

"We sure have a lot for you to look at!" followed by a brief overview of the store layout.
"We just got in some spectacular turquoise beads/silk yarns/etc. Would you like to see them?"
"What project are you currently working on?"

This sort of practice is actually problem solving and will help your staff feel more confident when they work with customers.

Establish your daily sales goal and train your staff to do what they need to do to meet it. One way to get there is through the UPSELL. Have you trained your staff to do it with every purchase? Do your employees even know that you think add on selling is important? There are a number of ways to do this:

When you see the customer walking around with product, offer to take it the register. A customer with free hands is more likely to buy more.

When you see the customer choose a product, talk about a companion product that goes hand in hand with that product.

Keep basics at the register so that you can take advantage of the "I forgot I needed that" sales opportunity. Office Depot keeps reams of paper by all of the registers and employees are trained to ask if the customer needs paper.

Micro management is a guaranteed motivation killer. No one likes to exercise initiative if it will cause them to be subjected to criticism. Gift your staff with the ability to exercise ownership of certain aspects of day to day operations. It is hard to let go but the rewards are worth it! Have a creative writer on staff? Put her in charge of writing the first draft of your newsletter. Employ a social butterfly? Have her brainstorm store promotional events. Give your staff a degree of autonomy in handling customer issues. Perhaps each staff member can have the discretion to give one customer 10% off one item each week.

People are motivated by a number of things: money, recognition, and a need to please, just to name a few. Get to know your staff so that you can best gauge the incentive systems that will be most effective in your store. Financial incentives can be particularly successful. After all, an hourly employee will simply not be as motivated to sell as one that will "get something" out of the sale. I once worked for a law firm which put $200 into a monthly "kitty." Each attorney was required to bill 140 hours each month. All of the attorneys who billed more that 140 hours shared the money on a pro rata basis. It certainly worked to motivate me! I routinely billed extra hours and came to count on an extra $50 to $70 dollars in my paycheck. The $200 proved to be a small investment for a substantial increase in revenue.

Consider a similar incentive for your sales staff. Establish your monthly sales goal. Once the goal is reached, you can reward the employees on a pro rata basis based upon their share of the the sales. It will certainly make your staff concentrate a bit more on selling!

Another way to motivate your staff is through weekly sales contests. Sales people are generally competitive by nature and many businesses owners use competition to motivate team members. Consider a STAFF BINGO game, where different store related goals/activities are written in the squares. The first employee to complete five activities across, down, or diagonally wins a prize. It is fun and reinforces the employee training. Email me for a copy of a craft store employee bingo game card.

The bottom line is that well trained employees are happy employees. Spend your energy on creating a store climate that is upbeat, positive and creative. You cannot control the economy, but you can control your attitude. Be the leader that your staff wants to emulate and you will be on your way to retail success!

CHALLENGE QUESTION: A client recently recounted an experience she had at a promotional event hosted at her store. A toxic customer (one who is also a small time competitor and who makes small, infrequent purchases while advising store customers that she sells similar product for less) registered for the event. She showed up and started handing out business cards. My client asked her to stop and the customer became somewhat indignant. She settled down but complained to a store employee (who is her friend) about the treatment she received. The employee told her that she understood both sides of the issue (ie, the desire to hand out business cards vs. the store owner's desire for her to stop). I see a number of issues at play in this nightmare. WHAT DO YOU THINK?


  1. Unfortunately I (as the store owner) would have quickly (before my head exploded) but quietly (so as not to disturb my customers) escorted her out of the store and would have informed her that she was no longer welcome if she was intent on continuing this behaviour.

    I know that there would be a million ways to better handle this situation, but it would be way beyond me to tolerate this... the nerve!

    Sandy Skene
    Sunstones Beads & Gems
    Sechelt, BC

  2. Regarding the challenge question...I agree that the store owner was spot on in asking the person to stop handing out business cards. Because this person is so vocal, I would have followed up with an invitation to coffee and steer the conversation around how the two might work together on future events since the customer wants to reap the promotional rewards of hosting an event. Once the store owner explains splitting the costs/benefits of such an event, I would bet that she will not have further trouble with this customer.

    I frequently have customers come in and tell people where they might find something for less and I do not hesitate to interrupt the conversation and start discussing what the customers are working on etc. Seems to work when done with a smile.

  3. This is a difficult situation to resolve via a "win-win" scenario! This toxic customer is socially inept, to be sure. The downside to a confrontation is that she will spew negativity to anyone who will listen. However, my guess is that she is so difficult that most folks will give her rants little credibility. What a nightmare!

  4. Cathy:
    YOU ARE BRILLIANT! Frankly, your solution is gracious, charming, and disarmingly effective! You get bonus points because it resolves the matter without any of the yucky negative emotional drama that seems to plague the female of our species. I nominate you for the Steel Magnolia award. Dang,girl! That was good ....really good!