November 6, 2014
Hiring Holiday Help
With the holiday season upon us and its impending crowds of shoppers, one of the things your store will have to focus on is its staffing. Do you have enough staff to deal with heavier than normal foot traffic? Do you have enough staff willing to work extra hours as you capitalize on this busy and (hopefully) profitable season?
Having enough staff at the right time during what should be your busiest sales season of the year is essential. Let’s take a look at just a couple reasons why.
If you’re anticipating lots of new faces coming into your store to buy gifts, how your staff behaves on the sales floor — how much they know about the products, how quickly they can get customers through lengthier procedures like selling a gun, and how patient and yes, nice, they are with holiday customers who may not have much of a background in firearms and their accessories — can make or break that all-important first impression. That means having adequate and adequately capable staff on hand is crucial to making a sale to these non-traditional customers and capitalizing on creating the motivation for them to come back again. Remember, they have hundreds of other retailers they can visit, but they chose your store. Make it worth their while.
At the same time, you’re providing the best service you can to these new customers, you don’t want to ignore your regulars. These are your daily, weekly and monthly visitors who will continue to frequent your store just as they do the other 10 months out of the year. Push them to the side because you think their needs are predictable and mostly taken care of, and you can quickly find your regulars the regulars of some other store or range.
Hiring seasonal staff can be the answer to making the most of both these customer types. But being a firearms retailer is a rather specialized trade, with all its attendant paperwork and regulations. Here are seven tips to get you up and running at full speed, without compromising your compliance and store integrity.
- Hire now! While business should be picking up for most, it won’t be anything like it is starting the day after Thanksgiving. Take the opportunity during these first three weeks in November to put out the call for seasonal hires, get through the interviews, verify references and get your new help trained and on the floor.
- Consider hiring for sections of your stores or only accessories and leave the gun and ammunition selling to your experienced full-time staff. This can actually be a kind of magical setup when foot traffic picks up and gun sales are perpetually in motion. Your experienced staff has the time to sell the correct gun and ammo the customer needs or wants, then, while they’re on the phone with NICS (which can be a longer process this time of year), they can partner with a seasonal associate who can walk that customer through accessories they might also like to purchase. In this way, the customer is attended to by knowledgeable staff through their entire buying experience.
- If you’re hiring seasonal help you expect to aid in the sales of all products, then assign a regular full-time staffer to be their second set of eyes on all Form 4473 and other paperwork-oriented compliance transactions. It takes an experienced eye a minute or two to review necessary forms, and that can be worth hours of aggravation during a later compliance inspection.
- Large retailers often hold an actual classroom orientation for new employees. Large or small, you can do this, too. It doesn’t have to be a big, over-the-top PowerPoint presentation or last all day, but an hour spent in a classroom setting that clearly outlines the daily processes and procedures in the store lets new employees know who they should turn to for help and explains exactly what is expected of each of them in these temporary rolls can make more of an impact than walking Bob past the holster section while telling him he should find Mark for floor help the next time Mark is scheduled to work. Seasonal staff is under more pressure than your regular staff. They don’t know the product, don’t know the layout, don’t know the staff hierarchy and don’t know you. Give them a reason to work hard for you during this busy time by providing a work environment structure they can easily understand and management they can rely on for guidance.
- Talk with your regular staff to understand that additional employees can actually be a bonus. Many full-time employees resent seasonal workers, seeing them as “stealing” their sales and commissions. However, if you get creative with something like the partner structure talked about in No. 1, you can, say, pay your seasonal employees a flat hourly rate and then arrange commissions so that your full-time employee gets a percentage of the sales made by their part-time worker. Or split the commissions on the accessories between the seasonal and full-timers. That provides an incentive not only for your full-time employees to work closely with more inexperienced workers, but to also provide the best customer service they can together to raise their sales.
- Utilize your seasonal workers where you need them most, evenings and weekends. This is about the old 2/3 versus 1/3 rule — two-thirds of your business comes in during a third of your open hours. It’s also about hiring people who are right for the firearms business, including knowledgeable local hunters who are unwilling to work during the day or weekends (so these make good weeknight employees), as well as more qualified and stable candidates who have been in the workforce for a while and want to work for some extra cash outside the confines of their 8-to-5 weekday gig.
- Consider keeping your seasonal staff on for several weeks beyond December 25. Not only can they continue to maintain a high level of customer service during this time of gift card redemption, they can be helpful for taking year-end inventory, as well as performing end-of-year store cleaning (that big cleaning you put off until your store shelves have empty spaces in them), decoration takedown and storage and restocking of shelves with new inventory.
When hiring seasonal employees, keep in mind that these could be your next full-time workers. Don’t scrimp on the interview process or neglect calling references just because you’re in need of warm bodies. All places of employment have turnover and even old Dale who’s worked behind the counter for the last 15 years is going to come up to you one day and say, “Henry, I think it’s time I retired.” Too, your regulars take vacations, have family emergencies they have to deal with and get the flu. Keeping a file full of “on-call” workers you know you can rely on to jump in with both feet can minimize the pain when those regulars need a break on the schedule. When you look at it that way, your holiday help might just be the gift you didn’t know you wanted.
Did You Know?
NSSF has a complete set of firearms business practice guides available free to our retail members. Titles include How to Write a Business Plan, Financials for the Firearms Retailers, Merchandising Guide for Firearms Retailer, Advertising and Marketing Guide for the Firearms Retailer and Employment Guide for the Firearms Retailer. Your business is unlike any other — take advantage of these special publications and help your store succeed.