Hardware Retailing

APR 2018

Hardware Retailing magazine is the pre-eminent how-to management magazine for small business owners and managers in the home improvement retailing industry.

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April 2018 | HARDWARE RETAILING 53 Len Hunt, general manager of Eastman's Hardware in Falmouth, Massachusetts, has spent more than half of his 40-year hardware retailing career in management. He's worked with many good, long-term employees, but also those who weren't fit for the job. Ironically, those who aren't the best fit are often those who, according to their resume, are well-qualified to sell hardware. "There have been a few times when we've hired carpenters or electricians, for example, who have a lot of hands-on experience in their trades, but have no people skills," he says. "It sometimes happens during a time when we are in desperate need of help and are willing to take a chance on someone we think is a nice person. But you just can't put a square peg in a round hole." While it's not always the case, employees hired solely for their product knowledge are not always skilled in providing the best customer service. Hunt is not always able to make up that deficiency with training, either. Of course, he will always give new employees time to get adjusted to the retail environment. The signals may be small, but usually he can tell fairly quickly if they're not going to work out. For example, are they willing to stop what they are doing to help a customer? Do they acknowledge customers when they walk through the front door? An employee with good customer service skills who, for example, is unpacking boxes and restocking shelves, will not let a customer walk by without stopping to see if they need help. "Those small incidents can tell you a lot about a person and if that's the type of person you want to continue working for you," he says. Attitude or Experience? Hire based on attitude, not experience. For Hunt, the lesson is clear. "Look for energy and attitude," he says. "Generally, if they have those two things, they can be trained on everything else." It may seem counterintuitive that the best employees are not necessarily those with the most product knowledge, but success in the retail world hinges on good customer service, and good customer service is often best delivered by those who have a positive attitude and strong people skills. During his interview with a job applicant, Hunt will spend most of his time just getting to know them a little better, trying to get insights into their personality and character. Invest in your training process. While your employees may be full of charm, customers will quickly become frustrated if those same employees know little about the products they're selling. You'll never know whether you've made a good hire if you don't follow up with training. Without proper training, even the best new employee will soon falter. They not only need to understand the culture of your business, but also product knowledge for all the items you carry. At Eastman's, new employees start out part time before moving to full time for three or four months while Hunt gets an understanding of what type of employee they will be. During the training process, new hires shadow managers for a few days before they venture onto the salesfloor alone. There's also a manager on the floor at all times who can be a resource for new employees whenever they have a question. The manager can also periodically check in on recent employees' progress as they learn their new responsibilities. A well-rounded training program will include selling skills and product knowledge. In addition to training on the salesfloor, online training courses can offer employees a basic understanding of the products you carry. Once they have that basic knowledge, you'll want to advance them to learning how to sell entire projects. These are your moneymakers, as they include add-on sales. For more information on the range of training programs available from the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA), visit nrha.org/training or call 800-772-4424. Tips for Your Next Hire

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