Turnover. The word alone is enough to send more than a few retail managers racing to the aisle where the Extra Strength Tylenol is stocked. Unquestionably, the ongoing churn of employees who are hired, leave shortly thereafter and then must be replaced is one of the greatest personnel challenges in retail today.
Doug Fleener, author of The Profitable Retailer: 56 Surprisingly Simple and Effective Lessons to Boost Your Sales and Profits, says that the particularly high turnover rates in retail typically boil down to one of two common causes.
The first is bad retail management. "Employees who work for a store manager they like and respect wind up liking and respecting the company they work for," Fleener says.
The second, which has become less of a problem in recent years, is the attitude that employees are expendable. "I think that more and more retailers are seeing that for brick-and-mortar stores to compete with the Internet, they need to be able to deliver a fairly decent customer experience," Fleener says.
Good vs. Bad Turnover
Fleener is quick to note that there is both good and bad turnover. This key distinction depends on recognizing that most people in retail view their positions as a way station.
"Most people take a job in retail on their way to something else," he says. "I'd rather have two years from a great employee than 10 years from a mediocre employee. Someone once told me he didn't like to hire college students, because they'll leave in four years. But if they're going to give you four solid years, you should want college students. You know they're willing to work hard, because they're trying to achieve something."
Tap into Your Hire Power
A common mistake many retailers make when looking to reduce bad turnover is to focus on the point when someone leaves, says Les Stockett, store manager for the Bridgewater, New Jersey, Circuit City. A more effective way to cut turnover is to focus on expectations when an associate is first hired, he says.
"If you don't clearly understand an applicant's goals and needs, you're going to have a mismatch," he says. "You're not going to put them in the role that's right for them. Also, if you're not good at clearly letting the applicant know your expectations, you might wind up with employees who, two weeks into the job, say to themselves, ‘This is exactly what I don't want to be doing.'"
This mismatch in expectations is the source of a lot of bad turnover, Stockett says. "It could be something as simple as a salesperson who doesn't want to be on his feet for an entire shift or a person who just doesn't have the personality to be always smiling and looking to help people," he says.
Get to Know Them
So what can an individual manager do on a daily basis to reduce turnover? Stockett says nothing is more important than ongoing engagement with the staff. Unfortunately, too many managers get so caught up in the turnover cycle that they don't have any time left for the interpersonal side of the management job.
"Many managers simply don't have the time to engage their associates and find out their hopes and dreams, what opportunities they have, what they enjoy doing, and ask if they're in the right role," he says. "They're too busy filling positions, interviewing and recruiting. They need to pay more attention to the folks who are already working with them. Happy associates are more comfortable in their environment, and they feel respected and valued. That's what makes the problem easier to deal with."
In fact, Stockett says, satisfied employees -- those who feel valued and challenged -- not only stick around, but they also may help you fill future openings. "Some of those happy associates will start bringing in their friends," he says. "And soon you won't have a recruiting problem, because you'll have more people who want to work for you than you have positions."