TDmonthly Magazine!
September 2004 | Vol. III - No. 9


The People Advantage: Staffing for Success

Article Synopsis
  • Creative Kidstuff is an example of a company that looks for fun and creative employees
  • Quality of staff: key in maintaining a competitive edge
  • Customer service: the difference between success and failure
  • Recruiting is about hiring the RIGHT person

Ask Creative Kidstuff CEO Roberta Bonoff what the key to success is and she can boil it down to one word: Staff. “Our staff is the biggest asset of our business, without them we wouldn´t exist" Roberta says. Since opening its doors in 1982, Creative Kidstuff has been winning the hearts of parents, teachers, and most of all, kids, with hands-on, DO-touch, award winning stores. With six free-standing stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, 22 departments in Marshall Field´s stores, and six airport locations, Creative Kidstuff is always looking for fun, energetic, and creative employees.


For most retailers, the quality of the staff is a key sustainable competitive advantage and point of differentiation from their competitors. While each store may have a different product mix, it’s the employees and their level of customer service that makes the difference between success and failure. Unfortunately, as owners, operators, and managers, we often fail to invest the appropriate amount of time and resources to our staffing. Let’s look at a few aspects of Recruiting and Retaining quality employees.

Recruiting – Successful retailers know that recruiting is a daily activity. Don’t wait until a position opens up. Recruiting isn’t about hiring a person; it’s about hiring the right person. You want a person who complements your current team and is passionate about your products and customers. Consider these Dos and Don’ts of recruiting.


-- Recruit your regular customers. Roberta Bonoff has found that her customer base is her best source of staff. Who better to hire than someone who already knows your products and enjoys your store?

-- Create a bag stuffer about joining your team. Offer a generous employee discount and other fun-related benefits.

-- Reward both employees and customers for referrals. Use the money you’re not spending on “help wanted” ads.

-- Have a sign in your store letting potential employees know that you’re always accepting applications from people who love toys and children.


-- Put help wanted signs in your windows. First, it communicates to customers that you might be understaffed. Secondly, do you really want applicants who come in only because of a sign in the window?

-- Hire someone solely for the sake of hiring someone. It’s important to hire the right person.

-- Hire someone just because they have retail experience. Hire for personality and train for success. You can teach someone about your products but you can’t teach someone to smile and respect your customers.

Retain – Retail has one of the highest turnover rates of all jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail employee turnover is 44 percent annually. Retail workers cite low pay and high stress levels as the two most common reasons they switch jobs. Turnover directly impacts a retailer’s profits due to lost sales and the cost of recruiting and training new employees. Keep in mind these Dos and Don’ts for retaining your employees.


-- Make sure your compensation is competitive, at or above market rates. Create plans that reward the store team for success. At Creative Kidstuff, all stores work as a team to achieve their goal and then receive a bonus based on making the plan.

-- Create a fun work environment. Put together fun and innovative employee contests that keep work fresh.

-- Spend the time and money to create a structured training program. Employees want to do a good job but they need product knowledge and the skills to be able to.

-- Develop your employees by giving them additional responsibilities. Cross train your staff so individuals can fill in when other staff members are on vacation or leave for another position.


-- Forget that retail can be tiring and stressful. Try to be flexible with staff schedules and employees lives. Creative Kidstuff promotes the importance of employees "being there" for their own families.

-- Let employees leave at the end of the day without thanking them. Employees need to hear that you appreciate their efforts. “Thank-you” goes a very long way toward retaining employees.

In the end, to be a great place to shop you need to be a great place to work. Give your employees plenty to smile about, and they’ll give your customers plenty of smiles. And that, I guarantee, will bring you success.

Writer's Bio:

Doug Fleener is a Lexington, MA-based retail consultant and speaker.  In his spare times he takes his wife and two daughters on business trips to area toy stores in search of smiling employees.

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