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Hold on to your best workers

How high is your employee turnover? Shop owners and others share ideas for making your store a desirable place to work.

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By Pamela Thompson
Published: March 14, 2017
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Keep employees

You’ve probably heard the adage, “People are known by the company they keep.” When I was manager of an art department, I changed the wording around to “Companies are known by the people they keep.”

Retailers know they can reduce labor costs by improving employee retention. Here are a few ideas from hobby stores in the U.S. and Canada to improve your retention rate:

Treat them well
“Pay good employees as well as you can,” advises Tom Palmer, owner of South Side Trains in Milwaukee. “Try to offer small fringe benefits, such as a surprise lunch for everyone or a gift card. Most importantly, make sure you thank them for all their help and be as nice as you can—even when they royally screw something up!”

Make them happy

Mike Guest, owner of Wings Wheels and Waves in Massillon, Wooster and Alliance, Ohio, agrees with Palmer that employers and managers should make sure employees feel appreciated. He points out that employees stay “because they like their job, they like the work environment.” To ensure employees stay, he advises employers to make sure they are happy. “This does not mean cater to them. It means giving them time off if they need it, or even a weekend when they are not expecting it. Giving them regular reviews and raises; a 10- to 25-cent raise every 90 or 120 days does not cost very much but makes them feel good about themselves. Buying them lunch once a month, especially after a busy week. If you give an employee a list of tasks and they finish them, it’s OK for them to sit behind the counter if there are no customers to take care of.”

Offer regular hours
Scott Thorne, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Ill., says, “My employees stay because of the fixed hours. They have a regular schedule every week—no checking the weekly schedule to see when they need to come in—and they never get sent home because we don’t have any business. Most are part-time, so the work supplements their other job and the extra paycheck is a nice bonus without a lot of onerous work. They also get benefits such as paid holidays, free snacks and a retirement plan.” He adds that “they leave if they are part-time, as most are, and want full-time work.”

Create a home
“Employees stay because they like the work environment, the customers and the friendships that develop, and also because of their love of the hobby,” says Bob Scott, owner/manager of The Credit Valley Railway Company Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont.  “Almost everyone who works here is involved in the hobby in some capacity—whether it’s a local club, organizing local train shows or building custom layouts for customers in their homes or place of business,” he adds. “Most employees leave because they have moved too far from the business to make it viable to work at the store. Some have gone on to a career better suited to their education but are still customers and very involved in the hobby.”

Provide incentives
“An employer must create incentives to keep employees,” advises Fred Obermeyer, owner of Obies Trains in Apache Junction, Ariz. “Giving your employee special discounts and a bonus paid day off for selling more products is a good goal. Sometimes you must give to get. Remember that no one wants to work holidays or Saturdays. You might consider two days off with pay for working on holidays or Saturday as a special gift. Employees love this. And giving them your net cost for purchased items is a reason to stay. Get to know your em-ployees and take them out to lunch once in a while. Make your employees feel welcome at your store.
“Set up a point system that rewards them. When the points get to 1,000, you either award cash or paid time built up for their vacation. The more you offer, the longer they will stay. If they’re late, you deduct points, and so on. ... This system will keep your employees on their toes, eager to get high points. A raise in salary can then be determined at the end of the year, according to their chart. Remember: If you don’t give, you won’t get. That’s a rule of thumb.”

Be flexible
Stacie Cope, who owns the HobbyTown in Boise, Idaho, with her husband, Chris, notes that employees stay “because of the atmosphere. We hire a lot of college students, and we accommodate their schedules as much as we can so everyone can have fun.” Employees leave the store be-cause they graduate from college and “go on to careers in their field of study. Sometimes employees leave for a full-time job with benefits. We offer only part-time work and can’t offer those employees benefits.”

One common reason employees leave is that managers don’t develop their people. Managers must find areas and ways to improve and expand the skill set of their employees. Continually nurture and grow your employees.
Donn Carr, president and principal of the Carr Management Group in Orlando, Fla., points out, “People work for people; they do not work for businesses.” He says that most managers are not taught the art of developing people.
Another reason people leave is boredom. Carr says, “A great boss will challenge employees to accomplish things that may at first seem inconceivable. Rather than setting mundane, incremental goals, the great manager will set lofty goals that will push people out of their comfort zones.”  Allow them to be creative and contribute and innovate.

Susan Green, director of customer success at KPISOFT in San Francisco, says one way to stop turnover is to change your workplace culture. Most employees are reluctant to explain why they’re leaving. It isn’t really because their new employer pays more, offers better benefits and gives them more time off. Green says that most employees leave because of culture—which means that if you create the right culture, employees will stay.
“When communication is open and feedback is encouraged, all you have to do is listen,” she says. “If employees are given the environment for growth and success, your attrition rate can become nonexistent. But it takes time, dedication to the cause, and focus on creating a workplace that everyone wants to be a part of. Seek out tools that will give your company a jump-start by measuring success and providing your company with a road map to follow. And remember: Great companies aren’t born, they’re created.”

Here are six other common reasons why good employees quit:
1.) Employees feel invisible. They feel underappreciated, or that their boss doesn’t care about them. You should thank your employees on a regular basis.

2.) You have bad managers. At small stores, the managers are often owners who never received management training. You should get educated right away, whether by books, conferences or classes. “People leave managers, not companies,” says Victor Lipman, a writer for Forbes. Invite a few employees to a fact-finding meeting and see what will keep them happy and engaged. Invest time and effort in training your managers.

3.) You hire and promote the wrong people. When I managed an art department, one of my bosses promoted an artist to team-lead, which created havoc because he made the wrong choice. Taking time in hiring decisions is key to minimizing problems. Hire the right person for the job. A person with an outgoing personality might make a great salesperson. A person who would rather crunch numbers than talk to others might make a fabulous bookkeeper. Know what you need when hiring.

4.) Employees are not engaged. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that only 32 percent of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs. The majority (50.8 percent) were “not engaged,” while another 17.2 percent were “actively disengaged.” Those in the last group make excuses for their poor performance, complain about others, and spread their bad attitude to others. These are employees you do not need.

5.) You don’t honor commitments. This is another managerial sin guaranteed to run off good employees. Integrity and honesty are two essential traits of any good boss. Keep your word and commitments and you will earn the trust of your employees.

6.) You hold them back. “Talented employees are passionate,” says Donn Carr of Carr Management Group. “Find out what those passions are and work toward giving them challenges that fill their passionate needs. It just may surprise you what they can do when you let them out of that little box you’ve kept them in.”

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach, speaker and writer. You can reach her at
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