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Owning And Operating A Small Retail Business – Advanced Basic Training
In the prior article, I covered what I refer to as the basic steps to take in order to own and operate a small retail business. These are the steps that take you to the point in the process where it’s nearly time to open your doors to the public. Now it’s time for the next stage of the process, or what I call Advanced Basic Training. This is the stage that requires even more due diligence than the basics as a lot of key financial issues are discussed here.
Remember in the first article that we named our business, stocked and priced our shelves and sales floor, and established our hours of operation. So now it’s time to move into final three stages, which are:
o Guidelines for staffing
o Wages and benefits issues
o Developing an effective marketing plan
In the basic steps I discussed in the first article, I tried to focus on some of the pitfalls you are apt to encounter during each stage. I made recommendations on the positives and negatives in this process based on my own personal experiences with various endeavors. And I’ll be doing the same with the above three steps as well. The big difference this time is that the financial aspects of your business really come into play in these three steps.
Guidelines for staffing
How many people will it take to staff your business? This is difficult to calculate when you’re initially starting. My biggest headache was always hiring the right people that would benefit the business. Let’s face it folks, the “employment pool” as I call it is pretty damned shallow — not a lot of talent to choose from like there used to be. The hiring process is still a pain for most business owners, and it’s going to be even tougher for you as a rookie business owner, especially if you are lacking the experience in this area. But don’t fret, here are some recommendations that will help you get through this process.
Don’t be overly judgmental of a person based on their appearance. Boy, this is really the tough one and I feel it is the single most important recommendation of the bunch. Good looks, proper hair length, and the person’s physique are not always quality factors; in fact you might even say that perfection in these areas constitutes a minority of individuals in society today. Not every person out there is photogenic enough for the cover of People magazine, longer hair has become an acceptable standard today, and most people today need to lose a few pounds anyway. If a person appears neat and clean in the hygienic aspects of grooming, this is an indication that they care about themselves and how other people view them. So flush that mentality before you find yourself running your business from open to close seven days a week all by your lonesome.
Can the job applicant carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation? Don’t laugh; this is a very critical factor in the hiring process as well. If they can’t talk to you, do you think they’ll be able to talk to your customers? I look for a few key “hot spots” such as how well they maintain eye contact during the interview, are they too fidgety when trying to respond to your questions, do they lack self-confidence in their answers, are they overly confident to the point of bragging — just to name a few. You can safely construe these as warning signs and reasons to shy away from these types.
Trying to find someone with experience is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Are you ready to be discouraged? Then this one will definitely do just that. I have discovered over the years that this can be very frustrating. It’s not necessarily that hard to find someone with retail experience; but it’s difficult as Hell to keep them. Let’s face it, the only jobs lower on the wage scale than retail is flipping burgers for Ronald McDonald or working in Guy Patterson’s father’s appliance store. Remember the movie “That Thing You Do”?
Look for an individual that you and your business will benefit from. During your interviewing process, get into the habit of always asking the job seeker this question – “Why should I hire you instead of another applicant?” Again, listen for some of those key hot spots (see the paragraph above about intelligent conversation) when they respond to this question. Here’s another helpful tip. Listen for the key words customer service in the conversation; it means that they are a “people person” and will relate well with your customers. This is a must in any retail business.
Employing the use of a good labor matrix (or labor formula) enables you to staff the operation properly, and helps you reach a level of profitability within that 12 month parameter. What does it take to develop the right formula? Here are the variables you need to consider:
o Fixed and variable expenses (wages, rent, utilities, advertising, cost of goods)
o Coverage (i.e., the number of bodies needed for sales, customer service, shipping and receiving, store sanitation, merchandising, point of sale issues)
o Average monthly cost of inventory (this of course varies with sales volume)
When you’re just getting started, you need to calculate the total of the first item above so that you can calculate what it costs you daily to keep your doors open. Once you’ve established a rough idea on this then you’ll have a better idea on how to start controlling this part of your overhead. The key here when it comes to adding additional employees is the customer service factor. When you can no longer handle certain aspects of store operations (e.g. customer traffic, customer service, shipping and receiving, stocking and merchandising), then it is time to think about hiring another employee.
Wages and benefits issues
What does it take to find and keep good employees? The immediate consideration is a decent wage package at each level of employ. If you study the retail industry nationwide, most successful companies are multiple location types of operations or chain stores. Managers are usually salaried and receive an override based on a percentage of the total sales volume. Additionally, monthly or quarterly bonuses are sometimes paid based on net dead profits of the store.
Assistant Managers are salaried or hourly depending on the company. Sometimes they are afforded a smaller percentage of the profits as a monthly or quarterly bonus, but this is rare. Most salespeople are paid an hourly wage and on rare occasions afforded a small commission on their sales as well. Warehouse personnel are paid an hourly wage.
Initially, you will not only be the owner, but the store manager as well since you probably won’t be able to shell out management wages to begin with. However, it would be a good idea to hire and train someone that you could trust running the store in your absence. And you’ll need to pay them a bit more than your regular employees. So keep that in mind, unless you feel like being in that store seven days a week testing your sanity levels.
You will probably start out as a 3 or 4 person operation, depending on size of the store, breadth of your product assortment, and your customer flow. If you start off as a 3 person operation, there are you, that assistant I urged you to hire, and a combination person. By combination, I mean someone who can work shipping and receiving, merchandising, and customer service. If you can afford to be a 4 person operation, there are you, the assistant, a floor person who can help customers and assist your warehouse person when needed, and a warehouse person.
With all this being said, I would urge you to formulate job descriptions for each level of employee in your store, yourself included. This way, you’re not babysitting people all the time, and can attend to your own duties as well. Heck, you may even be able to take a break once in a while, take the wife out to lunch, or even take a day off. And trust me; at some point in time, that day off idea will look pretty tasty when you start examining those sanity levels I spoke of.
In addition to the job description sheets, here are a few more strong recommendations. First and most importantly, drug test everybody that you decide to hire. This one aspect will save you countless hours of grief down the road. I hate to be stereotypical, but 9 out of 10 “druggies” are not in control of their lives — the drugs are. Theft has the tendency to become an issue as well.
Secondly, without fail, investigate their prior employment history. Believe it or not, people are not always honest on their applications, and they can really massage a resume so it sounds exactly like what you want to hear (oh, say it ain’t so). Pick up the phone, call that former employer, and remember that legally there are only 3 questions you can ask, and these are:
1. How long was this person in your employ?
2. What was their wage or salary?
3. Would you consider hiring this person again? (This is the biggy. If the person you’re talking to says “no”, you cannot ask them why. However, it is safe to assume that there is a valid reason for that employer not rehiring that person. On the other hand, if they answer “yes” you can ask the next question.)
4. How would you describe this person’s performance?
Does this help? I sure hope so. I am telling you all this from past experience, and believe me, you want to take all these things into consideration. The livelihood of that new business is dependent upon these issues. So please save yourself a lot of headaches and nightmares and reread through this part again.
The next topic here is benefits, and there’s a good possibility that the only one who will have medical, dental, and vision coverage is you. At some point in time, once the business is deemed profitable and successful, a benefits package needs to be considered for full time employees, with part time employees being included with medical benefits. In most instances, benefits are considered more critical than wages if you want to entice and keep good employees for any length of time. A well-rounded benefits package usually includes the following:
— Health insurance including dental and vision plans (after 90 days)
— 401k or some form of retirement plan (after 90 days)
— Vacation pay (after one year of employment)
— Sick pay (after 90 days)
Bear in mind that your employees are insured through your Workman’s Compensation Insurance, but that only covers them if they are injured on the job. And you are required by federal and state law to have this.
Developing an effective marketing plan
“The man, who on his trade relies, must either bust or advertise” was a quote that came from the 1700’s at the onset of advertising in this country. And there is no greater truism where marketing your business is concerned. I want to say that the quote comes from Thomas Payne, but I wouldn’t swear to it. But, it had such an impact on me when I first became interested in the advertising and marketing industry that I have never forgotten it.
This is the area of the six step process that I always enjoy the most and have a lot of fun with, not from a comical standpoint, but because this is my primary focus of financial endeavor. I’ve been around the advertising and marketing sector for over 17 years now and have really gotten my feet wet in the three major media, (i.e. print, radio, and television), and now I’m becoming well versed in the online sector as well — and not because I’ve wanted to, but because I have had to.
Once it is public that you have opened (or are opening) a new business, be ready for another one of those shark attacks. You are about to be bombarded by reps from every media imaginable, telling you that their’s is the best avenue of advertising in the world. (There’s this word that starts with “bull” that oftentimes comes to mind here.)
Here are a few suggestions when considering where to advertise. At the outset, only look at print advertising, such as your local newspaper and telephone book. Realize that for the time being, radio and television advertising may not be affordable, so you may want to put those media on the back burner. As far as the phone book is concerned, stick with a liner ad in the white and yellow pages (categorized).
When you’re considering placement for your ad in the newspaper, think about the different sections in the publication and where your business fits the best. You can start with a sixth or eighth of a page ad for three months and do just fine. But don’t think that you can advertise a month or less and start doing a land office business. In most instances, it ain’t gonna happen. Here are some things to consider when it comes to spending your money on advertising.
Advertise for a minimum of 60 to 90 days. It will take that long for the buying public to get used to your business being there. And once they know you’re there, you need to keep your name visible. It’s called “market awareness”.
Change your ads often. Run a different special each week, otherwise your ad gets stale and people won’t pay attention to it any more. Remember variety is the spice of life.
Advertise heavier when business is slow. What??? Am I ought of my mind??? Absolutely not. The typical mindset amongst business owners is that advertising is an expense, not a necessity. So when times get tough, that’s one of the first things they pull the plug on. Here’s a tip, if most of the retailers out there do that, and you keep advertising, it looks like you’re still in business when the other ones have flown the coop. Gee, what a concept — market awareness. You have to keep your name out there.
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