David Harvey Jewelers is the type of store where salespeople make their careers. One employee started out in the stockroom, ascended through management ranks, and now manages one of the retailer’s two Connecticut locations. A recently retired manager, who left with full pension benefits, had been with the company since 1980.
Owner Jeff Roseman credits a spate of “intangibles” with his company’s low turnover rate. “Tangibles like salary and benefits shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says. “But the intangibles are critical: treating people with respect, making them part of the process, and making sure their input will be a part of why the firm succeeds.”
In retail—a business defined by employee-customer relationships—it pays to cultivate a culture that retains talented employees for the long haul. After all, few things are more costly than training a new employee.
Experts agree that building a staff that sticks begins with the hiring process. When interviewing candidates, “make sure they have a completely realistic preview of the job,” says employee retention consultant Richard Finnegan, founder of the Retention Institute. “Have a laminated copy of their likely schedule.… Have them go through a role play. Show them the worst-case scenario of everything.”
And when you decide to hire, be straightforward. “Say, ‘I really want you to join, but if you can’t see yourself here for three years, please say no.’ You will be amazed at how many people take themselves out of the running,” Finnegan says.
Wrangling a team of like-minded professionals is another way to create a culture of long-term employment, says Dani Muller, a Los Angeles–based organizational development consultant.
“The No. 1 thing I hear from people when asked what makes them stay at a job is liking the people they work with,” she says. “So you should hire as much for the values you want to highlight in your company as you do for skill.” The technique has worked wonders for progressive companies like Patagonia, which famously hires on personality instead of notches on a résumé.
Meaningful perks also go a long way in retaining top talent, says Muller, citing gym memberships, an occasional Saturday off, and birthdays that double as paid vacation days as great incentives for retailers to consider.
Of course, the main reason people leave jobs is because they don’t like their boss. And the most important characteristic of any boss, says Finnegan, is trustworthiness. “The best boss you’ve ever had is someone who had shortcomings that you easily accepted,” he says. “The worst boss is someone who had great strengths, but you were blind to them because you didn’t trust them.” Finnegan recommends teaching managers to be good listeners. “They also have to be very good at apologizing,” he says.
So-called “stay” interviews, says Finnegan, are another way to boost retention. “Sit down with them and say, ‘Tell me why you like working here and tell me what I can do better,’?” he says.
Because turning the mirror inward when addressing high turnover might just be the thing that adds staying power to your sales force.