Help for the Holidays

According to one piece of Post-It Note wisdom, “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.” But if retail jewelers wait till the last minute to hire extra help for the holidays, they’re asking for trouble, says veteran retail jeweler and teacher David Peters, director of education for Jewelers of America. “Circumstances force them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, to cut corners in hiring and make bad decisions,” he says. “Others bite the bullet and, instead of adding help, will work themselves to death.”

Another obstacle to hiring seasonal help is competition from other businesses. Salaries offered by the lower end of the service industry—such as convenience stores and fast-food outlets—in recent years have risen more sharply, in terms of percentage, than have those of mid-market or luxury retailers. Some major retailers and firms offer almost double the minimum wage to attract workers, according to the National Retail Federation.

What’s a jeweler to do? Here are some tips on where to find seasonal help, what to look for in hiring them—and when to start doing it.

Sources

  • People you know. The most immediate sources for seasonal workers are the people you know—family, relatives, and friends, including those of your employees, as well as past seasonal workers and former and retired store employees. “This is probably the best and most reliable group to look to for temporary holiday help,” says Peters. “They know what you need, are familiar with your store and its operations—especially in the case of former employees—and asking them is a lot cheaper than putting ads in the newspaper.”
    Stay in touch with previous successful part-time and seasonal salespeople, and let them know part-time work is available again. Peters notes that he “developed a pool of people I could call on if needed and call back again every year.”

  • Customers. Your next seasonal employee may be on the other side of the counter: Consider customers as potential part-time workers. “When I worked as a jewelry store manager,” says Peters, “I made a note of which of my customers enjoyed jewelry and had good communication skills, who might make good part-time employees.
    “There’s nothing wrong in asking a customer, ‘Have you considered working in this jewelry store over Christmas?’ Often they will, because they enjoy working with people and with the merchandise and having the opportunity to make some extra money. And in some situations, they found a new career and became permanent employees.”

  • Referrals. “Encourage employees to be on the lookout for qualified individuals on an ongoing basis, and reward them for their efforts,” says Peters. Offer a bonus ($50 or $100) or a comparable incentive such as extra vacation time if anyone they suggest is eventually hired by your company. “You may even want to formulate this as part of company policy,” Peters suggests. Some retailers offer bonuses based on years of service (for example, $25 per year) to former or retired employees as an inducement to return for the season.

  • WWW. The Internet is a new source for finding potential employees. Some jewelers, especially large businesses and chains, include “job opportunities” pages on their Web sites. There also are several job data Web sites for the jewelry industry. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has a free and open site for posting jobs. Two for-profit sites are Jobsforgems.com and careersinjewelry.com.

  • Media. If a jeweler hasn’t begun hiring or hasn’t been able to hire the people he or she needs by the time the holiday selling season begins, newspaper and radio and TV ads can be a last resort in bringing in potential seasonal workers.

Incentives

  • Employee discounts. This is an attractive incentive to many seasonal retail workers. Peters suggests offering temporary help the same level of discounts that your permanent and part-time employees get. Amounts vary: Smaller stores often use a “cost minus discount” formula, while larger jewelers may offer “retail minus discount.” Others offer a flat percentage off products and services. Employee discounts also can vary depending on the department or product category. Discounts on diamond solitaires, for example, usually are less than discounts for gold chain.

  • Personal benefits. Some retailers reimburse seasonal workers’ commuting costs, and larger retailers needing several seasonal part-timers may even provide transportation to and from their stores.
    A guarantee of sporadic employment throughout the year can be an inducement for some. Jewelers can call on the best workers to drop in and out as needed for events such as trunk shows, Mother’s Day sales, or the week before Valentine’s Day.

  • Jewelers’ advantage. “Money isn’t the only incentive,” says Peters. The independent retailer has an advantage over other businesses in benefits he can offer seasonal workers. “During the holidays, everyone wants to maximize their dollars, so a lot of people looking for part-time work prefer non-monetary benefits like employee discounts on merchandise where they work. Others with full-time day jobs appreciate the flexible scheduling—being able to work a few evening hours each week or on the weekends to earn some extra money.”

Hiring

  • Be proactive. Some employment analysts say retailers should start looking for seasonal help by October or even September. Peters disagrees. The best time to look for potential employees—part-time, temporary, or full-time—is “when you don’t need to,” he says.
    “I advocate proactive hiring: Be on the lookout for good employees seven days a week, 12 months a year. Why wait to do something as critical as hiring employees who can enhance your bottom line? Jewelers are constantly looking for new merchandise. Why should they wait for a ‘start date’ to look for good help?
    “Even if it’s February, if you see someone with potential, tell him or her, ‘We hire people for the Christmas selling season. Would you be interested?’ If they are, make a note and call later.
    “The pressure toward the end of the year to find short-term help is all the more reason to start looking earlier,” adds Peters. “It also gives a jeweler time to get to know potential part-timers better—and even bring them in sooner for other short-term store sales and events.”

  • No shortcuts. Too many store managers or owners are nonchalant about hiring part-time help. “All they look for is a warm body to stand there and smile,” Peters says. “But just because you’re hiring someone to work only six weeks doesn’t mean you shortcut the hiring process. Whether the position is part-time, permanent, or temporary, approach hiring for each in the same way—with the same energy and the same procedures—to get the best people.”
    This also affects store security. Any employees a jeweler hires “any time of the year should have a strict background investigation to confirm information they provide [on IDs, schools, past job history, etc.] before being allowed to work in the jewelry store,” says John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance.
    “I’ve seen this happen dozens of times,” agrees Peters. “People get desperate [for temporary help] at the last minute and hire quickly without doing their homework. Then, they see their internal thefts increase.”
    If the jeweler doesn’t have the time, ability, or staff to do background checks on job applicants, “There are several computer-based companies that will research a person’s background for very minimal fees,” says Hugh Mitchell, director of security for Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, Okla.

  • Security. Be sure temporary workers know and understand your store’s security procedures, including your employee “alert system” and what to do in suspicious situations. (See “A Sense of Security,” p. 78)
    To acquaint new employees with jewelry store security procedures in general, give them copies of Jewelers Mutual Insurance videos on “Robbery” and “Selling with Security,” available from JMI. They can watch these at home or at the store before starting work for you.

  • Personality plus. When hiring a temporary employee, be sure “the person’s personality matches that of the store and its culture,” says Peters. “Too often, managers and owners find a bright, articulate person but don’t take the time to ascertain whether they fit into the store’s culture. The right job skills don’t always ensure a good fit. New employees must be able to function and thrive in your store’s culture. For example, an aggressive salesperson wouldn’t fit well into a store which stresses teamwork, while a team player wouldn’t do well in one with intense competition between salespeople.”
    Likewise, factors such as age, gender, and social or economic status aren’t as important as a person’s work ethic, attitude, and motivation for wanting the temporary job. Consider these in combination with an applicant’s past or current job experience.