Hired Up! How to Find (and Keep) Top-Notch Salespeople

“Hiring a new employee feels like a full-time job,” says Debbie Fox, owner of Fox Fine Jewelry in Ventura, Calif. “Even though I’ve gotten good at it, it’s always an educated guess. You never know what you’re going to get until they start.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many independent jewelry retailers, who look forward to vetting potential employees with a degree of enthusiasm typically reserved for root canals.

There’s reason to be wary. “A wrong hire can cost you up to $10,000,” says Suzanne DeVries, president of ­jewelry staffing service Diamond Staffing Solutions. “It’s your time, it’s your resources, it’s just very expensive in every way.”

And with so many ways to hunt for new talent these days, including hundreds of job websites, finding dedicated professionals boasting likability, loyalty, and closing skills—in roughly equal measure—can prove challenging.

Fox has used print ads, Facebook postings, and Craigslist to find candidates. Recently, she hired someone using ClearFit, a screening website that subjects would-be employees to a 15-minute personality test. “I wasn’t positive that the test results were reliable,” says Fox. “But I came to believe the test could be one good indicator in many that you have to look at.”

Chief among those for Fox are references. “My most successful hires have been ones where I’ve called and received unanimous ‘I loved them so much’ comments,” she says. “If there is any hesitation on the other end, I pass.”

Chris Arends, owner of Aires ­Jewelers in Morris Plains, N.J., has never placed an advertisement for employment due to security fears. “If you put it out there that you’re looking to bring someone into the door, there could be a scam,” he says. All of Arends’ hires have come through industry references—manufacturers and retailers he’s fostered relationships with over the years.

“That’s one of the benefits of attending trade shows and meeting people from all over,” says Arends. He zeroed in on his new sales manager, a once-local professional who’d relocated to North Carolina, after “hearing through the trade that she was coming back to New Jersey.” (So far, “she’s been amazing.”)

Arends has also hired loyal clients as part-time staffers. “You can always train someone to sell ­jewelry,” he says. “To be able to trust them is the hardest part. Often you know your clients, know their families, and you have a trust.”

The next best thing to hiring people you know, says DeVries, is hiring people you know are good salespeople. That friendly Olive Garden waitress or power seller at Coach could be your next super­star. “We find people everywhere from Victoria’s Secret to Montblanc,” she says. (As for employee poaching, it may be frowned upon, but it’s not illegal unless the employee signed a noncompete clause—all but unheard of in retail.)

Headhunting is “all part of the game,” says DeVries. “I think it’s difficult to sit behind a desk and try to hire someone. Cultural fit is as important as skill. You can teach ­jewelry. But you can’t teach someone to get along with Sally and Joe, who already work at your store.”

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