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Hiring for Retail: Three Tips for Thinking a Few Steps Ahead

by Gabor Holch, Campanile Management Consulting

Have you ever been served by a shop assistant who treated you like a VIP yet gave you assertive advice when you got stuck with your choices? If so, then you met a retail specialist representing the exception rather than the rule. If the person in question was a supervisor, you may even have met the tip-of-the-tip of the iceberg.

In this indispensable but challenging industry, finding smart people committed to service can sometimes be hard. And finding retail specialists who will perform well through an upward career path is even harder. Why? The answer lies within the conflicting performance requirements that appear between career milestones.

Participants in my workshops are often surprised by the performance requirement pattern of service professionals, especially when it points out that low patience is actually a plus. In addition to being impatient, successful retail candidates need the ability to focus on the customer’s need rather than their own, and be highly comfortable with human interaction as well as the ubiquitous and often strict procedures of their trade.

Finding employees who are friendly, chatty, fast and compliant is already a challenge. Identifying the ones who will also qualify for promotions makes the task even more difficult. While an entry-level retail specialist needs to be a good listener, supervisors need to take control and solve problems confidently. In critical situations, the friendly, chatty behavior of a good shop assistant can even become a weakness. On the other hand, many managers notice that assertive would-be managers are all too likely to leave retail jobs at an early stage.

But fear not. Creating recruitment and development methods to attract and retain retail stars and future managers alike is not impossible. It does, however, require the careful analysis of the positions and your people. Consider incorporating these three tips into your hiring and retention process:

1. Define a specialist-manager ratio. Not every retail specialist will make it to supervisor or manager, and that’s okay. If they look carefully enough, most organizations can establish proportions between the number of people needed on various levels. When hiring retail specialists, bear in mind that 3 out of 10 shop assistants will make it to supervisor, for instance, and one will make it to manager.

2. Hire with a career path in mind. Defining a ratio will make life easier in many ways. Try using assessment tools to create different profiles for future levels of responsibly, and check candidates against each. Reach out to candidates in different ways, knowing that natural-born retailers like to be found, while future managers tend to enjoy the hunt for a job. Management material can be hired slightly above quota, with the expectation of a higher early turnover in that category.

3. Make sure everyone has options. Successful retail companies win the hearts and minds of employees by creating dual career paths, one leading to management and the other to high-level specialization. Not everyone loves dealing with people issues. Giving specialists (whether retail or supply chain) a chance to shine, assume more responsibility and make more money without managing others is often the key to making them stay in the company and do what they do best.

About the author
Gabor Holch is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) specializing in leadership development, communication and cross-cultural management. Following an early career in diplomacy, for the last decade he has been running his Shanghai-based firm, Campanile Management Consulting providing management and leadership solutions to multinationals and SMEs. He is a regular speaker and author, and active in various professional associations.


Thad is a senior marketing director at PI.

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