Hiring and Keeping Your Best Retail Employees

Hiring and Keeping Your Best Retail Employees

Hiring and retaining store level staff can be just as perplexing as hiring a store manager. Many feel no matter how much homework, it’s still a gamble or calculated risk. Here are a few ideas and suggestions to help you hire smarter and do what’s possible to retain the good performers.

First, a few successful retailers known to us were good enough to offer some hiring tips they use successfully:

  • “We have a simple skills test that includes addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Also, we have a graphic of a ruler with arrows pointing to specific measurements. It’s true that 95% of our applicants cannot read a ruler.”
  • “We have them figure a 5% discount on a box of 50 pieces at a certain price, and calculate sales tax at 8% on the total. (We have computer registers, but they should understand the concept). Get creative, but be sure to test only what they will actually be required to do.”
  • “The last few years we have done well hiring the attitude, and training the skill. We have also done well asking the staff for their recommendations. Once an Associate told me “You’re not going to offer her a job, are you? She tried to hire me to go over to Lowe’s.”
  • “What we do is have the applicant fill out a basic application.  In addition to that, there is a small math test I give that basically lets me know if they can calculate BASIC math – you would be surprised at how many college kids don’t know how many feet are in a yard.  After the applications, I schedule interviews based on first impressions and what I see on their applications.  Then I reevaluate how the applicant is doing a couple of weeks after they start with us.”


Although experience and knowledge is important, don’t let that have you overlook a good candidate from another retail segment. Many successful retailers locate great employees over a meal in a restaurant with a top-notch server. Tractor Supply does well in hiring store talent with a welding trade background as they understand the concept of some of the issues the hobby farmer customer is facing.


Reference checks; when you speak to a reference they provide, here are a few questions you might ask:

  • Have you seen them under a stressful situation with a customer? How do they deal with and handle it?
  • Can you give me an example of a time they should brag about the customer service they provided?
  • Don’t ask about weaknesses; no one likes to admit they have any…instead, ask “Is there something skill or knowledge-wise that we can help them improve?”
  • Ask the reference if they know of someone else that knows your candidate and reach out to them; they should provide you with a completely unbiased opinion and commentary.

That leads to the next part…training which leads to retention! In a recent online survey over half of the retail respondents said that a lack of training lead to their decision to leave their employer. That starts from the first day on the job; don’t shortcut the onboarding and learning process. Make sure they have the knowledge and tools to perform successfully and delight your customers. Formal training is available through organizations such as the North American Retail Hardware Association. The cost of training versus turnover is minimal and far less disruptive to both you and your customers.

Give participants a certificate of achievement; it costs virtually nothing to create one and print off enough copies to hand out. People respond positively to recognition and it translates into loyalty. I recently saw an employee’s certificates of completion posted at the service desk where they worked.

Empower your employees…let them make it right for your customer. It can be something minimal too; for instance, in our local travel plaza the cashiers can give a customer a free coffee at their discretion…simply to say, “have a good day”. Employees love to feel as if they have some control and assuming it’s not abused, makes them feel that they’re valued to the organization.


Impromptu recognition; reward people when you catch them doing something well. It could be as simple as a “thanks.” Keep a few gift cards to local restaurants handy; an expression of thanks goes a long way towards how they treat customers and interact with their fellow employees. If you don’t want to give a cash reward and assuming you have enough staff on the floor, tell them to come in an hour late the next time they’re scheduled to work as a reward.

Have a fun gathering, for instance, first thing before opening, bring in a boom box, play a tune like Bruno Mars 24k Magic…get everyone moving and in a good mood! I’ve witnessed this in a local store; the employees all started their day smiling. A corporate Target employee was noted for his dance “technique” at work.


Want to read more? Here’s another article on staff development and retention: https://www.wolfgugler.com/getting-the-most-from-your-people-every-day/

As Joe Scarlett, retired Chairman of Tractor Supply wrote in his TSC success book, “Work Hard, Have Fun, Make Money.”

Wolf is President of Wolf Gugler Executive Search, celebrating their twentieth year in business as the leader in locating top talent for home improvement retailers and their suppliers throughout Canada the US and the Caribbean. He can be reached at (888)848-3006 or via email, wolf@wolfgugler.com. Web site: www.wolfgugler.com.

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