TDmonthly Magazine!
September 2013 | Vol. XII - No. 9
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Holiday Staffing - 10 Tips for Specialty Stores

A great staff can set your store apart from generic mass-market competitors


With additional reporting from Chris Lundy and Brenda Ruggiero

What's the best way for specialty stores to boost their sales this holiday season? Stand out from the mass-market competition! This means having high-quality specialty products — but a knowledgeable, friendly, and reliable staff is just as important if you want to make a favorable impression on your customers.

Below, retailers shared with TDmonthly Magazine their best training and staffing tips for the holiday season. See what they had to say, then decide which strategies to incorporate into your hiring and training plans this year.

1. Look for Energetic Staff

Employees "must have a bubbly personality to work with children," Debbie Rogers, owner of Bear and Friends in Johnson City, Tenn., opined.

Deran Muckjian, owner of Catch a Falling Star in Lexington, Mass., agrees. "The employee must be able to look [me] in the eye, and not be shy or laid back. They must be excited to be in a toy store."

However, they should also know how to keep calm when things get hectic. "As things get busier approaching the holidays we really try to emphasize to our staff the need to remain calm. It is paramount in a somewhat frantic environment to be polite, attentive, and thorough with each customer that comes in. For many of our customers the holidays are the only time we see them and they deserve the same level of assistance that a customer would get in the slower summer months," Dean Smith, owner of JaZams in Princeton, N.J., shared.

2. Don't Be Shy

"We tell staff to get out from behind the counter and be friendly. When you are physically nearby, customers are more likely to ask you questions — even if they say they don't need help," Mary Porter Green, owner of Curiosity Zone in Ashburn, Va., told TDmonthly.

3. Keep it Simple for Seasonal Staff


"We give seasonal staff low-pressure, simple jobs like wrapping and restocking. There is a lot of pressure to get 'the right toy' for the holidays, and seasonal staff cannot be trained adequately, nor be expected to handle the volume of customers," Smith from JaZams shared.

4. Support Existing Staff

"We try to support existing staff by hiring folks to do the low-pressure jobs...We also try to take the pressure off existing staff by buying extra treats, coffees, & breakfasts on the weekend," Smith of JaZams told TDmonthly.

"We hire through word of mouth for part time and gift wrappers. I offer a $25.00 bonus to staff per person that they recommend that we hire," Diana Nelson, owner of Kazoo & Company in Denver, Colo., told us.

Another way to keep existing staff in your good graces? "Find out what kind of hours your current employees are looking for and try to meet their needs and make them happy" before hiring new staff, Joe Beradoni Jr., owner of Pun's Toys in Bryn Mawr, Pa., advised.

5. Be Flexible

Being flexible with existing staff can make the holidays easier too; a happy staff makes for happy customers. "Allow time off if they want. Let them switch shifts. Make sure the schedule is covered, but allow them to make choices," Denise Magstadt, owner of Imagination Station in Kalispell, Mont., advised.

6. Know Your Products Inside Out

"We make a recommended toy list broken down by age group and gender so that our staff knows what to point out," Porter Green from Curiosity Zone advised.

Another reason it's important for employees to know your products is so they can suggest complementary items to your customers, Kim Emigh, manger of ecommerce at Growing Tree Toys in State College, Pa., told us. "Always think about the 'up-sell.' There are a lot of toys during the holidays that lend themselves well to purchasing add-on's or similar items, and people will typically consider this during the holidays.Training is key! Staff needs to know product well so they can feel comfortable helping customers, which means not only knowing what is popular, but also being familiar with those lesser-known, yet still excellent, items."

7. Work With Reps

Muckjian from Catch a Falling Star said that he has salespeople come in and do training, so everyone is up to speed on the latest products. They'll hold employee game night, where they serve pizza, and sales reps from the game companies come in and teach the employees how to play their newest games.

8. Be Prepared

"We are hiring now...the people that we bring on now are the lead employees for the holidays and responsible for training the temp Holiday Help," so they need to be fully trained before the season begins, Nelson from Kazoo & Company shared.

"We try to make sure that most administrative work and ordering is done by mid-October so that, as owners, we can be fully supportive of our staff on the sales floor," Smith of JaZams said.

9. Make Do with What You Have

Shana Hack, owner of Moon Rabbit Toys in Santa Fe, N.M., said that she keeps the same staff for the holidays, but gives them more hours, so she doesn't have to train all new people. Employees double up on shifts during the busiest hours.

Bryan Raddatz, manager of The Time Machine in Manchester, Conn., follows a similar strategy. "We expand everyone's roles" during the holidays, he said. They also typically increase part-timers' hours during the busy season, rather than hiring and training new staff.

10. Just Go For It

"The best way to train someone is to have them 'Jump into the fire with two feet.' There's a crash course, but really, it's learn as you go. It's too busy to really take the time on training," Cynthia Phillips Strinich, owner of Phillips Toy Mart in Nashville, Tenn., shared with TDmonthly.



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Justina HuddlestonWriter's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author

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