A Well-Prepared Staff Will Maximize Holiday Returns

Think about past holidays when you were a retail customer wondering where the help was. Don’t risk losing even one customer who might go to a competitor by scanting hiring and training. The customer you lose today might have been one of your best clients in the future. According to famed investor Warren Buffett, it takes 25 years to gain a client, nine seconds to lose one!

Ensuring that you have adequate staff for the holidays takes planning, so don’t put it off until the last minute. First, make a checklist of crucial things to consider, such as how many salespeople, administrative people, and extra hires you’ll need. Other considerations include how to find them, how long the hiring process will take, and training. You have to know who will train them, and when. It’s critical that you have a plan to handle these and other holiday hiring issues.

You also need a firm policy that deals with holiday staffers. It should address and clarify such issues as pay and commissions; hours and dates they’re expected to work; the fact that they are not eligible for benefits (unless your policy states otherwise); and any other special issues, circumstances, or situations specifically related to holiday employees.

One good way to find holiday staffers is to bring back people who have helped you before. These include former temporary workers as well as retired employees and those who left your company to raise children. You already know them, they’re familiar with your business and your policies, and they require much less training than someone new. You also can bring them back for Valentine’s Day and other busy periods, special events, etc. And you can use them throughout the year to fill in for sick days, odd hours, inventory, vacations, and other situations where you may be understaffed. Your best seasonal people can even become full-time, regular employees when you have staff openings.

If you’re still short of candidates after tapping experienced seasonal people, here are some options for finding holiday help: local high schools and colleges, stay-at-home moms, retirees, staffing agencies (for instance, Diamond Staffing Solutions has a holiday-hire staffing program), referrals from employees (offer your employees incentives to get holiday staffing referrals), clients (every jeweler has clients who love jewelry and have the personality to be terrific behind the sales counter), vendors (some local vendors and sales reps are off the road for the season and would love to make a few extra dollars; plus, they know your store, your merchandise, and your business, and your people know them), and local newspaper ads.

Once you’ve found some suitable seasonal candidates, it’s critical to conduct the kind of due diligence and screening you’d do if they were full-time candidates. This means running background and credit checks on all seasonal staff. Otherwise, you open yourself up to negative staff issues that can potentially derail your holiday season.

After you’ve developed your staffing game plan and hired holiday staffers, the next critical factor to consider is training. Think about what kind of program you have in place and whether it’s adequate to ensure seasonal people will be properly trained. For example, if you’re considering hiring someone for the sales counter who has never worked a day of retail of any kind, make sure you have a program to teach them retailing fundamentals as well as basic jewelry selling. Someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing will be forced to direct clients to experienced permanent staff, who undoubtedly will be busy with their own clients. Being passed off like this can offend clients and frustrate regular staff.

Don’t hire temporary staff just to kill time with clients until experienced salespeople are available. They should be hired to serve and satisfy clients the way a permanent staffer would. A client shouldn’t know that the person waiting on them is temporary help; they want to know they’re being serviced by someone knowledgeable and experienced, who will help them make the right jewelry purchase. Use your inexperienced holiday people for non-selling positions such as door greeter or gift wrapper.

Allow adequate time to train holiday staffers. It’s just as important as training permanent staffers. Don’t throw a set of keys at a brand-new seasonal person and expect him or her to wing it. We’ve seen this happen hundreds of times over the years, and it’s almost always a disaster. Holiday staffers should never be behind your cases without product knowledge. You will instantly lose your credibility with a customer by having people behind the counter who have no idea what they’re showing or doing.

Hold training sessions for holiday staffers after-hours or on Sunday, when there are fewer distractions. If you treat their training as an afterthought, so will they. Your permanent staffers will pick up on this too. You’ll hear staff members say things like “This is just the holiday help,” as if they’re second-class citizens.

Treat holiday help as if they’re permanent members of your team. Set goals and expectations for them as you do for permanent staff, and hold them to the same rules as the rest of your staff. Introduce seasonal people to regular employees and make sure they understand your store, clients, policies, business goals, and philosophy. Recognize them for their contributions the way you would full-timers, and treat them as valuable members of your team by acknowledging their birthdays, inviting them to participate in company events, etc.

Don’t start holiday staffers on the same day. It may be tempting to get their indoctrination over with all at once, especially if you’re hiring more than two seasonal people. However, bringing two or more new staffers to the sales counter for the first time, during your busiest period of the year, will be frustrating for you, them, your staff, and your clients. None of your new people will get the extra attention they’ll need to ensure their first experience in your store is a positive one.

The way seasonal staffers are introduced to your company and its culture will make a difference in their success or failure. Don’t rush the process. You’ve invested a lot in them up to this point, so see it through to ensure that, once they hit the sales floor, they’ll do it with confidence. It will take more time later in the season, and cost you sales, if you don’t do it right the first time.

Seasonal staffers initially should be hired part-time to see how they perform and mix with regular staff. Part-time can range from five to 35 hours per week.

The process of recruiting, hiring, training, and integrating seasonal staffers takes time. If you wait until November to get them started, you’ll be disappointed in their performance. Now is the time to get them acclimated, even if it’s just a few hours per week. This will enable you to get them adequately trained and comfortable with your store, staff, and merchandise.