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From Home Furnishing Business

Manning the Boat

Keeping Good People on Board and Pulling in the Same Direction, High Morale All Start at the Top.

How’s your store’s “mental health”? Can you the keep people in place who make your business prosper, or do you face problems with employee retention?

If it’s the latter, read on: We’re taking a look this month at ways to retain the talent—and personalities—that benefit your operation; and how to keep them fired up about selling home furnishings. Some of it might seem plain common sense, but some messages bear repeating.

Got a problem with your best people leaving for another opportunity? The first place to look for a solution is in the mirror, according to Joe Milevsky, CEO of JRM Sales & Management, Acworth, Ga.
“It starts with the owner and goes down to managers,” he said. “If the sky is always falling, if anything employees do that’s good is ‘just part of doing their job,’ it won’t be a place where people want to work.
“I preach positive feedback—a 10 to 1 ratio of praise to criticism. It depends on the individual so that might be 5 to 1, but the point is I’m always looking for good things. I want to create an environment where it’s going to be enjoyable to work.”

MORE THAN MONEY
Keeping good people on board is more than money and benefits, agreed Taylor Ganz, vice president of finance, planning & administration for Atlanta-based furniture retail consultancy Profitability Consulting Group.
“You want to know the number one reason people leave a business or a company? They hate their supervisor,” Ganz said. “It’s not the money, it’s not opportunity elsewhere, not retirement. They feel unappreciated, and they hate not the company, but the guy the work for.”
During his days at furniture retailer McMahon’s, Ganz remembered a number of people who said they liked working for the store but absolutely couldn’t work under their supervisor.

“It was my fault for not dealing with the supervisor, and I let both sides down,” he said.

Another non-monetary link between employees and their jobs is knowing their contributions are valued, added Ganz’s colleague, Rene Johnston-Gingrich, vice president of training and development at PCG.

“You show that appreciation in action and in words,” she said. “Customize how you show that appreciation to the individual.”

For example, one employee might enjoy recognition before the entire staff with a lot of hoopla—another might prefer a quiet pat on the back away from the spotlight.
Morris Furniture, Fairborn, Ohio, is big on setting a positive tone from the top, said Dan W. Little, human resources manager. That helped maintain retention and morale during the recession.

“Lead by example—if managers and leaders are upbeat and positive it is contagious,” he said.  “Be positive.  During a management meeting in 2008 our CEO, Larry Klaben, stated we have some of the best associates in the industry, and we will come out stronger when the economy improves.  He repeated this message consistently during full staff meetings.  It was a very effective message.  And he was right.”
COMPENSATION/BENEFITS ISSUES
Setting the right tone and atmosphere in the workplace is key, but after all, people do work for money and the security of employee benefits. The strongest compensation and benefits packages incorporate performance motivators.
“I like bonuses,” PCG’s Ganz said. “Bonuses have to be benchmarked and tied to ambitious, but achievable, goals. You have to reach those goals, and that takes favoritism out of the picture. Bonuses aren’t occurring if achievement’s not occurring.

“People think they’re entitled to raises—it’s like an annuity.”
Don’t allow any discussion of salary among employees, and make sure that’s in writing.

“I’ve fired people for discussing salary,” Ganz noted.

“What we find is there are many ways to compensate salespeople,” said Milevsky at JRM. “If I had my choice, I’d go 100 percent commission versus 100 percent salary.

“That said, if I get into a company with a great environment and accountability, in theory commissions aren’t needed, but in practice that rarely happens.”
He added that, during the hiring process, the prospect’s pay preference can speak volumes.

“In the interview, if they say they want a salary versus commission, what does that tell me?” Milevsky said. “It tells me they aren’t confident in their abilities, or they just want a pay check.”

On the other hand, if a prospective salesperson wants commission only, make sure they understand “customer opportunity” rules and don’t run roughshod over other employees.

Brashears Furniture typically offers salespeople a base around 70 percent of their potential earnings plus commission, said Susan Brashears, an owner at the Berryville, Ark., store.

“This protects a salesperson during a slow month so they don’t get panicky and pushy; and still provides for a commission incentive,” she explained.
In addition to a strong benefits package from a retail standpoint—health coverage, 401k, etc.—Thomasville stores are big on performance incentives and recognition.

“We recognize top writers each month,” Beth Sweetman, senior senior vice president of human resources at Thomasville’s parent company, Furniture Brands International, St. Louis. “We’re also in the process of developing a President’s Club where we’ll celebrate the top writers and top stores for the year.”

Don’t forget the holistic side of the benefits you offer. Wellness programs are good your employees and can be good for your business. Morris Furniture, for example, has motivational incentives such as “Raving Fan” recognition programs for superior customer service, but also gives employees a chance to stay in shape.

“We have a state of the art fitness center available to all associates at no charge,” Little noted.

Jill Benson is an attorney specializing in employment issues in the Greensboro, N.C., office of Womble Carlyle. Her clients have seen measurable benefits especially in the last two years from wellness programs including cholesterol screens, exercise in the work place, and weight loss programs.

“The research shows that employees are missing work less and that it makes them feel more valued,” she said. “I know it’s helped several of my clients retain employees.”

THE RIGHT ATMOSPHERE

An attractive showroom that creates a great environment for shopping keeps customers coming back. And a working atmosphere of open communication, clearly outlined responsibilities and team spirit keeps the employees serving your customers on board. And again, it starts with you.

“Creating a fun, positive environment, that has to be a top-down value,” said PCG’s Johnston-Gingrich. “It’s not about warm and fuzzy, it’s good business. … There’s an old cliché that happy employees equal happy customers, and happy customers equal good business.

“Customers pick up on it immediately—they’re hugely sensitive to a store’s energy.”
Thomasville relies on store and district management to set the tone.

“My view is everyone wants the same things from work: Feedback, whether good or bad, on performance; understanding the strategy of the company; and people want to know when they’re doing a good job,” Sweetman said. “That comes from the store manager and the district manager.”

“We can tell which stores have the best managers. They’re the ones with the most satisfied, productive employees,” added Christine Bonnell, human resources lead at Furniture Brands. “I think it’s up to the store managers and district managers to continually teach people to do their jobs better.”

For example, Thomasville stores hold morning gatherings that cover some component of customer service to give associates new tools to improve their performance.

At San Diego-based Jerome’s, quarterly, one-hour roundtables take place in various departments and stores.

“Small groups of six to eight—a mix of associates with senior management—meet to discuss openly their thoughts on the company and solicit their ideas and suggestions for improvement,” said Vice President of Human Resources David Markowicz.
Make sure you’re meeting one-on-one as well, suggested Milevsky at JRM.

“Have one-on-one meetings and not just to talk but also to listen to what they have to say,” he said. “I had a meeting with a larger company—10 to 12 managers with the owner—and we were talking about this subject. A manager asked how they could possibly find the time for all these meetings. The owner responded, ‘How can we not find the time?’

“We think we’re in the furniture business, but in fact we’re in the people business.”
Encouraging a sense of friendly competition helps build teamwork—and keep everybody on their toes.

“We have some kind of competition or game almost every month for our salespeople,” Brashears said. “We frequently put them on teams—sometimes with salespeople in other stores. They have fun with the friendly competitions. It may sound silly, but it is good for morale and keeps them focused on sales as a group.  They watch everyone’s sales closely and encourage each other throughout the month.”

It’s all about building a company that’s customer-centric, Milevsky said.

“Mom and Pop build a great company, where they’re doing everything. They grow and need help so they hire people to do some of those things—but those people don’t own the company,” he said. “Those people need job descriptions, they need performance measurements, and they need to be trained properly to that job description. They need regular periodic evaluation.

“Create a policy to make that happen. That way it’s not just about the money, the incentives, it’s that people understand what’s expected of them. The only thing worse than having no rules is having them but not holding people accountable to them.”

That means a clear, professionally done policy manual; and a process for resolving conflicts in the store.

“Develop your skill sets to confront and resolve conflict,” Milevesky said, adding that conflict can’t be avoided. “If you sweep the snake under the rug, it will bite you at the worst possible time.

“Celebrate successes, celebrate victories,” he added. “We’re trying to create an environment where we breed success.” 



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