Off-Target

“Expect More, Pay Less,” the slogan for Target Stores, has successfully catapulted the discount retailer to its position as the nation’s leading purveyor of cheap chic. The slogan is a great draw for shoppers who want popular designs at a lower price than they’ve seen in the malls—but more importantly, the slogan works because the retailer delivers on what it promises. Not only does it offer clever products, but its stores are attractive and its staff is helpful.

But unfortunately, “Expect More, Pay Less” also is a mantra that many businesses, both large and small, follow when it comes to employee compensation. Between the recession and a recovery that hasn’t spawned as many jobs as were lost, as well as a variety of other factors like outsourcing to low-wage countries, the American workplace is largely a buyer’s market for employers. Much of the new job growth is coming from the low-paying service sector, while white-collar professional positions remain hard to come by. So employers can (and do) get away with telling raise-hungry workers to just be thankful they have a job.

The JCK 2003 Annual Salary Survey shows that retail jewelers also are expecting more from their employees while paying less. Salaries in almost every category of jewelry store employees have dropped from previous levels. Yet at almost every major jewelry show or convention, the most popular seminars are always those devoted to building sales and getting more customers.

It goes without saying that whenever a job market improves, dissatisfied employees vote with their feet. So if this happens everywhere, that puts you on a level playing field with your competitors, right?

Maybe it does. And maybe it doesn’t. While study after study has shown that salary is not the No. 1 motivator for many employees, it still ranks very high, and if you want to build your sales and grow your business, the people who are going to make that happen are your staff. If you pay them like it’s a job rather than compensate them like it’s a career, they’re going to treat it like a job and not a career.

That also means the competition for your talented people just got a whole lot tougher. The real estate agent who buys his wife a diamond necklace could walk off not only with a beautiful anniversary present but also with your top salesperson, who foresees more money selling houses than diamond necklaces. Your bookkeeper (who, according to our survey, is one of the few positions to have seen a raise in the past few years) could defect to the school district or the county government because the health benefits far surpass what you offer. And so on and so on.

“Expect More, Pay Less” really does seem to fit the experience of shopping at Target. But the truer maxim—whether in big business, in jewelry, in retailing, in sales, or in compensation—is “you get what you pay for.”

Even, believe it or not, at Target.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com