You already know how valuable your employees are to you. But do they?
If the notion of an employee recognition program conjures images of hastily made certificates, gold stickers and helium balloons, you’re likely rolling your eyes at the possibility of implementing one.
But here’s the thing: What you might consider mere HR puffery delivers very real business results. Numerous studies suggest employees who feel valued are more productive, thus making you more money. Besides, there are many ways to show your appreciation other than selecting an Employee of the Month.
Here, retailers with a track record of retaining top talent share their insights.
As an owner or manager, you know you’re doing something right when somebody who’s been with the company for three years is affectionately called the “new guy.”
David Ferrell, a store operations staffer at Fox Pools & Spas in Hendersonville, Tenn., is the new guy among 20 tenured employees. Most Fox service technicians have been with the company for five to 10 years. The exception: a senior staffer who recently celebrated 26 years. A retail manager is coming up on a decade of loyal service, and the company’s online marketing director counts five years.
What’s the secret?
Lately, viral videos.
Each week, Fox staffers put aside their daily to-do lists to produce “Tuesday Tips.” The web series typically begins with an amusing vignette that segues into a tutorial on pool care. For example, in one episode, an employee gets slimed Nickelodeon-style. This leads into a message about the importance of safety covers. (No, there’s not always a connection between the skit and the educational bit.)
While the goal is to generate web visits — and ultimately store traffic — there’s an ancillary benefit: It’s an opportunity to cut loose and foster camaraderie.
“It’s the highlight of the week,” says Brandon Windsor, the firm’s resident digital marketer. They’ll have produced more than 20 episodes by the time pool season wraps up this month.
“Tuesday Tips” gets the blessing of Fox’s general manager, Lisa Ezell, who not only allows her employees to shoot these abbreviated sitcoms on the company’s dime, but also shows up in a supporting role and even volunteers to whip up batches of slime when needed.
“We’re really lucky Lisa gives us the leeway to do these things,” Windsor says. “Everyone comes together as a team to pull these off. … Some employees are a little shy, but we try to get them involved anyway.”
The videos also provide an avenue for employees to address some very real workplace frustrations, such as when certain staffers were preoccupied with a mobile game called “Clash of Clans.”
“Everyone was talking about wizards and dragons and things, and I just shook my head and said, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Then I said ‘Wait a minute, this is a Tuesday Tip!’” Windsor recalls. “In a way, it’s very cathartic for us to act out some issues we actually have.”
Yes, Windsor is saying that making viral videos can lead to conflict resolution. And if it doesn’t, then there’s always the alternative — beating each other senseless with pool noodles.
But long before “Tuesday Tips” became a weekly group therapy session of sorts, Fox Pools & Spas has always cultivated a sense of family among its team members. Birthdays, babies and life milestones are always a big deal. Company trips aren’t uncommon. Employees have left to pursue other interests only to be welcomed back with open arms. And Ezell prides herself on providing a healthy work/life balance.
“My people here know that they can always come to me,” Ezell says. “We have that kind of relationship. … We’re just real people and family oriented.”
Of course, the first step toward retaining employees is hiring the ones most likely to stick around. That’s easier said than done, but some believe they’ve found a magic formula.
Don Riling is the vice president of Olympic Hot Tub, with five retail locations throughout the greater Seattle area, plus a service and outlet center. He oversees 38 employees. Many have been onboard for nine or 10 years, a couple salespeople well over that, and an HR administrator who boasts more than three decades of service.
The retail side of the business tends to attract talent from faster-paced settings, such as department stores where employees earn less of a commission, but achieve a higher sales volume. To go from that to a hot-tub dealership is not always an easy transition. That’s why Riling is upfront with potential recruits about the realities of the business.
“One of the things I always tell people when I’m interviewing is that you need to learn how to decelerate,” Riling says. “This isn’t the fast-paced environment you’re used to. You deal with fewer people, but your rewards can be greater.”
This seems to weed out the mere jobseekers from those who want an honest-to-goodness career in the industry. As a result, Olympic Hot Tub has a stable sales staff, which is largely composed of more seasoned retail professionals, many of them women over the age of 40.
“They may have kids, own a home already and are at a place where they want a career,” Riling says. “They don’t want to go through a turnstile every two years.”
Here’s another strategy that Norm Coburn swears by: “We believe in the try-it-before-you-buy-it concept,” says the president of New England Spas, a three-store operation headquartered in Natick, Mass.
That means applicants have to put in a day or two of work. It’s a win-win for both candidate and employer, because both can see if it’s a fit. Plus, existing employees get to weigh in on the hiring decision.
“That works really well for the delivery guys because they need a partner that’s going to hold up their end, literally,” Coburn adds.
You can’t argue with the results. Coburn recently crunched the numbers and determined that 38 percent of his staff have been with him eight years or longer.
For the long haul
Once employees are hired, the key to keeping them content, dealers say, depends on the person and position. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
For example, those in the service department tend to be a low-maintenance bunch, happy to stay the course for a steady paycheck and opportunities for advancement. If there is a clear career path laid before them, they’ll likely follow. That’s been Coburn’s experience. Those hired for the company’s valet service are entry level. However, with training and education, they can eventually graduate to full-fledged technicians.
“That’s worked out really well for us,” he says. “It’s hard to hire hot-tub technicians, so this gave us an opportunity to hire from within.”
Keeping the sales staff motivated is another matter.
“If you just earn your money the same way day in, day out, every single year, it becomes boring to win,” Riling says.
That’s why every two or three years, he reviews compensation plans and incentive programs and changes things up. For example, employees accustomed to bonuses based on the number of units sold each month may suddenly find that their bonuses depend on monthly revenue instead. It keeps them on their feet.
“Otherwise you get complacency and people get tired of playing,” Riling says.
Plus, you can always sweeten the pot with non-financial incentives. Coburn has had success with tickets for primo seats at Celtics and Red Sox games, and curiously, Cirque du Soleil.
“That’s actually really big around here,” he says.