From Home Furnishing Business
By Powell Slaughter
Toronto furniture retailer Decorium is blending big selection, looks at a value and a family touch to create a home furnishings destination for Canada’s largest metropolitan area.
A constantly changing showroom, marketing that verges on “guerilla” and a willingness to change have Decorium making moves this year.
A new location in a prime Toronto shopping district and a high-end gallery at its existing store has the family owned retailer optimistic for the year to come.
A DEVELOPING STORY
Decorium’s roots trace to the manufacturing operation that Steve’s grandfather, David Forberg, started when he immigrated to Canada from Europe.
He began manufacturing dinettes in the early 1950s, becoming one of the countries largest producers in the category. Forberg’s father, Joe Forberg, had joined the business, and David suggested opening a retail operation. A few years later, Joe’s brother came on board, and the Grand Designs retail brand grew to include eight stores.
In 1986, the family started Decorium as an import business for the design trade, offering chairs, chests, armoires and accent pieces from Italy, Spain, the United States and Asia. In the early 1990s, a recession in Canada and new tax laws put a squeeze on Grand Designs, which led the family to close the eight stores and turn Decorium into a retail business, located in what had previously served as the distribution center for Grand Designs.
CREATING A DESTINATION
As a retail operation, Decorium started in 5,000 square feet of the facility, but quickly expanded.
“Being open to the public, it took on a new life,” said Steve Forberg. “Now we’re a full-service store, with a full range of styles from classic traditional to contemporary to modern to glamour, to leather and fabric upholstery to rugs and accents. We have 700 rugs on display in the store.”
With one exception, Decorium doesn’t brand any manufacturers. Everything in the store is a “Decorium” item.
“Our customers say, ‘I bought this Decorium sofa,’ or ‘I bought a Decorium dining room,’” Forberg said. “We are the brand.
“The only thing we brand separately in the store is HGTV (product).”
On the floor, Decorium wants customers to be wowed by selection and understand they’ve arrived at a true shopping destination with outstanding looks at a value.
“We want them to feel they’re in a unique environment that offers a good customer experience,” Forberg said, “with high-end looks at accessible prices.”
Decorium also encourages customers to keep coming back to see what’s new.
“We’re constantly shifting product in our 60,000-square-foot showroom to make it fresh for the customer and keep it fresh for our sales staff,” Forberg said. “We have 60 to 100 new items on the floor each week. We have customers who come in monthly to see what’s new and fresh, and how things are laid out.”
Decorium relies on two taglines in its marketing: “Definitely—Decorium” and “Just what you’re looking for in a furniture store.”
“It’s a one-stop shop. In our advertising we ask why visit five stores when you can visit five in one,” Forberg said. “We’re large enough to move a lot of product, and we’re small enough to care.”
In addition to radio, magazine and direct mail, Decorium relies a lot on what Forberg called non-traditional advertising.
Commuters in the Toronto area see Decorium’s message via outdoor advertising on bridges, bus shelters and in the subway system.
“My philosophy is to try to advertise where others aren’t,” Forberg said. “I like to swim in a pool where no one else is swimming. Once people start swimming with me, I try to jump out of that pool and into another one.”
A HIGH-END MOVE
Decorium’s new store is located on Toronto’s Yonge Street in the upscale Rosedale area. Most surrounding stores don’t run more than a couple thousand square feet, so Decorium’s 9,000 square feet there make a statement. Plus, the location was home to other furnishings retail operations, so Decorium will be filling a gap.
“It’s a trendy part of the city,” Forberg said. “The new store on Yonge Street is on the longest street in North America. It runs from Lake Ontario to the Northwest Territories. In Toronto, it’s the street to be—it’s like being on Rodeo Drive.”
(Check this link for Yonge Street’s significance in Canada: En.Wikipedia.org/Wiki/Yonge_Street)
Renovations are nearing completion, and after a scheduled soft opening later this month, Decorium will hold a grand opening event in April.
“That store offer’s the fashion and style our brand’s known fore but it’s in more of a boutique setting,” Forberg said. “There’s more layering, more accessories, and overall it’s a little more high-end.”
This past fall, Decorium also opened a 5,000-square-foot high-end gallery at the main store branded as “Signature Collection by Decorium.”
The space features a decidedly upscale product selection, complemented with fixtures such as crown molding, hardwood floors and wainscoting.
“We’ve partnered with some factories for some exclusives that are really unique and high-end,” Forberg said.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
“Business was challenging, obviously in 2008 and 2009,” Forberg said.
Sales leveled in 2010, though, and he reports double-digit growth for the past two years.
“There’s an analogy I like to use,” Forberg said. “We’re like a retractable roof on a stadium. As a family business, we can open it and close it as needed. We’re hands on, we can watch our expenses, and we live and breathe the business.”
Decorium’s making moves, so Forberg feels pretty good about what lies ahead for furniture retailing in general and his family’s business in particular.
“If we listen to the news, how things are hard, we can get complacent and stand still,” he said. “We’re not going to let the economy and the news people tell us times are tough and that we need to hunker down.
“We know when we have to hunker down, and we can when we need to. We’re opening a new store, we’re taking risks, and I think those who are willing to make a leap of faith are the ones who’ll be successful.” HFB
Decorium co-CEO Steve Forberg is a father of two boys—10 and 12—and is coming up on his 15th anniversary of marriage.
Away from the store, he enjoys family time, both at home and on the road.
“We love to travel as a family,” Forberg said.
A hockey forward in his younger days, Forberg still spends time on the ice.
“I coach both my boys in hockey, and in my spare time I like playing hockey and golf,” he said.
Decorium at a Glance
• Founded in July 1986.
• Flagship location is a 100,000-square-foot store and distribution center in Toronto with a 60,000-square-foot showroom and 40,000-square-foot warehouse
• Opening a 9,000-square-foot location on Toronto’s Yonge Street in mid-February, with grand opening set for early April.
• Employees: 64
• Key management: Steve Forberg, and brother, Howard Forberg , co-CEOs; father, Joe Forberg, “ambassador”; Danny Abladi, distribution center manager; Tara Lindsay , advertising manager/buyer; Phil Raso, sales manager; Gabriella Mocanu, controller; Maribeth Bautista, customer care manager.
• Annual revenue: $10-20 million
• Web site: Decorium .com
Gel continues to be the buzz ingredient of choice among many leading bedding manufacturers, as more and more beds featuring gel (frequently infused with memory foam) were introduced.
One of the main appeals of gel—cooler sleep—was also a recurring theme in the new beds on display. Besides gel, this is also achieved through ventilation techniques as a result of retooled mattress construction.
And adjustable beds continue to be a hot trend among leading bedding manufacturers, as the technology continues to pull away from the hospital/Kraft-matic senior-citizen stereotype and emerge as an important add-on for younger consumers.
Here’s a round-up of the new bedding products shown at Las Vegas Market.
Sealy unveiled its updated Posturepedic line, which encompasses three series:
• Posturepedic Hybrid, a half-gel memory foam/half-springs line;
• Posturepedic Gel, which combines gel memory foam with titanium alloy coils; and
• Posturepedic Classic, which features Sealy’s redesigned Classic Coil.
The company will launch the new Posturepedic beds with an invigorated advertising campaign based on its acclaimed “Whatever you do in bed, Sealy supports it” campaign. New commercials coming to TV are geared to make an emotional connection with viewers by touching upon how key moments of life are spent in bed.
Serta announced it will build upon the success of its gel/memory foam-based iComfort line with iComfort Directions, which adds four new models to the collection.
The new beds feature EverCool Gfx, which adds grapheme for support and heat dissipation; Cool Action Dual Effects, which has new gels for support and coolness; Pods Gel-Active Support, which are macro-gel discs that add support; and ThermoCool Fabric Covers that have Tencel fibers for moisture transfer. The four new beds will range in price from $1,999 to $2,999. The company also showed its redesigned Perfect Sleeper mattress line, which includes a new Sleep To Go pillow that will retail for $39.
Simmons launched two new collections, Beautyrest Recharge and Beautyrest Recharge World Class, which will replace its Beautyrest Classic and Elite lines, respectively. Both lines combine pocketed coil springs with gel foam. The Recharge line, priced from $699 to $1,299, feature Aircool memory foam and GelTouch foam, while the Recharge World Class series (priced from $1,399 to $1,999) adds TruTemp gel, which is said to release warmth for a cooler sleep surface. The company also announced the addition of three new beds to its high-end Comforpedic from Beautyrest line, which will be priced from $2,999 to $3,999. All three beds feature the company’s proprietary Multi-Action Support Layer.
Memory foam giant Tempur-Pedic announced a new push into sleep personalization with the Tempur-Choice line. These beds have a new multi-zone adjustable support system in which a hand-held remote allows each sleeper to modify his or her side of the bed to achieve desired a level of firmness that feels just right from more than 120 different comfort settings. The line includes the 14-inch Tempur-Choice Luxe mattress ($3,999 in queen), and the 13-inch Tempur-Choice Supreme ($3,499).
Responding to customer requests for a plusher feel, Tempur-Pedic showed its new Tempur-Cloud Allura ($4,599 in queen), which combines soft Tempur-ES material with its cozy Tempur-Top pillow top. Another new model, the Tempur-Cloud Luxe Breeze ($4,999) has Tempur-Breeze technology to add an extra-cool feel to the company’s customary support and no-motion-transfer memory foam. Finally, the company showed its new Tempur-Ergo Premier adjustable base ($1,999), which can be run by a free app via wireless Apple or Android devices. These new Tempur-Pedic products will hit retail this spring.
Boyd Specialty Sleep introduced a new line of four Natural Flex latex beds priced from $699 to $1,499 in queen. The company also showed its new Cosmopolitan platform bed that will sell for $199 in queen, as well as four revamped air beds—the Operetta, Orion, Comet and Stardust—which have been updated with Boyd’s new TPU air core and will retail from $1,999 to $3,499 in queen. Finally, Boyd showed two new occasional-use beds, the $79 Siesta mattress and $129 Comfort Ease II fold-away guest bed.
Canadian mattress protection specialist Caber Sure Fit showed its new line of DreamSeren mattress and pillow protectors, made from a variety of fabrics including terry, bamboo and eucalyptus, and priced from $59 to $199.
Classic Brands announced the addition of a new mattress to its Dormia Memory Foam Collection, as well as three new gel memory foam mattresses to its E-Commerce Collection. New accessories from the company include the Cool Gel Memory Foam Topper.
Comfort Solutions showed its revamped five-model Perfect Contour collection, which combines a foam core with layers of latex, latex gel foam, and gel memory foam. This line is expected to retail from $799 to $1,299 in queen. Also redesigned was the company’s health-skewed Dr. Breus Bed line, which now consists of six new beds: Vitality, Longevity, Endurance, Synergy, Stability and Success, set to range at retail from $1,299 to $3,499 in queen.
Europe-based specialty provider Dormeo Octaspring, which made its U.S. debut in 2012, showed its proprietary memory foam honeycomb-structured springs that are the basis of its line of beds.
Englander Sleep Products debuted its LifeStyle line of specialty gel beds, along with new gel-based Tension Ease and Anniversary models, for a collection priced from $499 to $1,899 in queen.
FXI/Anatomic Global showed its Rejuvigel mattresses at Market. The line combines soft Visco foam with swirled waves of gel for better support and air/moisture movement. The beds are priced in queen at $1,199 (11-inch), $1,499 (12-inch) and $1,899 (13-inch). The company also showed its Bed Bug Defense Shield Mattress Protector, a disposable, flexible mat placed under a mattress to protect from bed bug infestation.
Glideaway Sleep Products premiered its Natural Awakenings by Sleepharmony latex and gel collection, which includes the eight-inch Nightshade, 10-inch Calypso and 12-inch Primrose. The beds, which have a temperature-regulating treatment and a top layer of latex to remove heat from the body for cooler sleep, will retail from $999 to $1,799 in queen.
The big news from Kingsdown at Market was the unveiling of the company’s new Sleep Smart beds, which come with interactive technology that, according to the vendor, monitors a sleeper’s movements, pain, pressure and sleep patterns throughout the night, and can reconfigure the sleep setting on an ongoing basis to ensure maximum comfort and health benefits. The company demonstrated the Sleep Smart system in a closed-door theater in its Market space.
High-end bedding specialist E.S. Kluft & Co. showcased its Aireloom brand’s Adapt-and-React collection, which includes all-foam, hybrid foam and innerspring versions that utilize gel for temperature regulation. The beds have a heavyweight zippered cover and a non-quilted Scandinavian look, and will be priced from $1,799 to $3,499 in queen.
Italian bedmaker Magniflex debuted its eco-friendly Linen Natursoft Deluxe line, which has a linen cover and layers of mallow extract and soy-based foam, and will retail for $3,999 in queen. The company also showed its new GeoEthic group, which are made with non-toxic, renewable materials. The Magnigel collection, into which pre-polymer gel is swirled into the foam, was also shown.
The big reveal from green-skewing Organic Mattresses Inc. was of the company’s new Point-of-Purchase program, which includes branded upholstered organic chenille materials including a headboard; pillows with shams; and an upholstered mattress base.
Pure Latex BLISS rolled out its new Yulex collection, a line of mattresses, toppers and pillows made with eco-friendly biorubber from the Yulex Corp. According to the company, these beds will offer a lush feel not commonly associated with environmentally friendly beds. The line includes the eight-inch Eco, 10-inch Sustain and 12-inch Renew.
The five-model Response Sleep System by Sharper Image collection was shown at Vegas Market, and, according to its manufacturer Southerland, can provide zero-gravity pressure relief, responsive support and contoured comfort. The beds have layers of open-cell Talalay latex and foam layers.
Adjustable base specialist Reverie showed its high-tech 7S (Supreme), which features “Made for Mobile” technology that enables control of lift, massage and other functions by tablets and smartphones via a remote app. The base will sell for $1,700 in queen.
Under-bed specialist Seahawk Designs unveiled a new upholstered 19-inch by 50-inch storage bench that complements the company’s Davenport storage foundation system. The company also introduced an adjustable bed base option, an extension to to its Casual Elegance collection.
Spring Air celebrated its Back Supporter collection by rolling out two new Special Edition Back Supporter models, available in firm and plush feels and priced at $599 in queen.
Therapedic International showcased its Agility collection, which combines gel foam and micro-pocket coils for coolness and support. Bio-based Preserve VG gel is swirled into the bed’s foam compound. Four models, Dash, Tango, Freestyle and Crossover comprise the line, which ranges in retail price from $1,299 to $2,499 in queen.
My second position was with a client that I worked with by way of the Fortune 500 that asked me to come to work for them. It was a dedicated third-party logistics provider that was privately held and employed just over 120 people. Less structured than my previous job, but attempting to become a “real” company.
This brings me to my present position as publisher of Home Furnishings Business. A team of five, the majority of us work from home, with some support from our parent company. Each company has had its share of pros and cons, but each was driven by the fact you must have good employees to deliver on the promises you make to your clients.
At one time or another with each place I have been employed, I have hired, fired or have been counted on to keep morale up within my group of employees. I know the old saying, sh*t floats downhill but it amazes me how quickly a senior manager will run when such tasks come up.
Right or wrong here are a few things that I have learned along the way.
When hiring, don’t try to just fill a vacancy. Use this time to find an “upgrade” and find someone that will work well within your team. If you hire a person that is motivated, smart and has a good work ethic, you can train them on the necessary skills to help them be successful in the position. They will grow into the role. Don’t rule out hiring from outside your industry, sometimes a fresh set of eyes, ears and ideas is what the position needs as a jumpstart. Explain what is needed for them to be considered successful and supply the tools to make that happen.
Firing, this is a tough one for most people. In today’s world of documenting potential issues, problems and inch-thick personnel files, it’s my thought that a person has a pretty good idea which path they are on before the firing takes place. If you have completed your supporting documentation and included it in this file, you should have no concerns about your next step. You have outlined what was needed for that employee to be successful, and they have not reached those goals. Lose no sleep when terminating an employee; you’ve had discussions along the way about performance issues and addressed this with each item that was put in the file. Cut the cord and move on, your team will be better for it.
Happy employees are more productive employees, but keeping employee morale up is a difficult task. Management needs to keep an eye on morale. Good employers will make sure an employee is feeling happy and secure in the position, so they can focus on doing their job and not have concerns about the “what ifs”. It’s a fact that an employee will be more productive if they feel good about the company. Remove any doubts employees may have, and you will be rewarded by them. Be sure to acknowledge employees for the effort they give. Celebrate the wins and always be sure to include families in your celebration. The family may not be on your payroll, but they are a vital support for your employee. It’s important for family members to feel included and part of your team.
This issue of Home Furnishings Business delves into these topics. Take a moment to read it and learn from others who are much more seasoned than me in what makes a successful team in the furniture industry. I’m sure you will walk away with an idea or two that will help you become more successful and create a team environment that will exceed your expectations.
The jury’s still out on the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, on businesses.
Jill Benson , an attorney specializing in employment issues in the Greensboro, N.C., office of Womble Carlyle, noted that employers will have to provide coverage in companies with 50 or more full-time employees. The next big deadline is March this year to give notice to employees, but that could be pushed back.
“It’s not clear yet what minimal essential coverage will be,” Benson said.
Taylor Ganz, vice president of finance, planning & administration at Profitability Consulting Group, said he’s spoken to a number of retailers who are reducing some full-time positions to part-time; and all part-time positions to 28 hours a week or less in order to reduce the number of employees they must cover in a health insurance program under the law.
“Some are raising prices, but they should be raising prices anyway,” Ganz said. “Up to now, a healthy benefit package has been a useful retention and recruitment tool, but because of the uncertainty around the new regulations it’s unclear how many retailers can offer the full level of benefits. … It’s the uncertainty about the law’s mechanics.”
With a huge number of retail associates spread over its Thomasville store network, Furniture Brands International has stayed abreast of health-care reform developments, said Beth Sweetman, senior senior vice president of human resources.
“We’ve been on top of health care reform for a couple of years, and we already comply with the legislation—we know what’s coming,” she said. “For us I think it will be an attraction and retention tool. Benefits are a significant spend for Furniture Brands, so we watch that carefully.”
Susan Brashears, at Brashears Furniture in Berryville, Ark., doesn’t expect much impact from Obamacare on the retailer’s benefit packages.
“We were already providing insurance for our people, and we have under 50 people,” she said. “We actually got a small rebate back from our health insurance company last year.”
It’s been almost two years since Home Furnishings Business took a look at hiring, and a lot has changed in that time.
Last time we addressed this issue, the economy was digging out of recession. Now, business is on the upswing for most furniture stores compared with first-quarter 2010, and the general economy is in far better shape.
The gist is that while hiring for jobs in furniture stores isn’t the seller’s market it was a couple of years ago, retailers looking to expand their business had best maintain good hiring practices to ensure the associates encountering customers and the back-of-house personnel processing and delivering orders are up to the challenge of servicing an uptick in business—now’s no time to skimp quality hires.
It boils down to making hiring and talent scouting a process, versus a reaction to meet an immediate need.
HIRING, PROSPECTING 24-7
“Recruiting is a job that should be carried out 365 days a year regardless of whether you have a position to fill,” said Taylor Ganz, vice president of finance, planning and administration at retail consultant Profitability Consulting Group. “There are two reasons: First, every organization has its dead weight whether it’s a mom-and-pop with nine employees, or a Top 100 (retailer) with 700. You should always look to upgrade the weakest talent on your team.
“The second reason is at some point, you will lose an indispensable, can’t-live-without member of your organization. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Your employee might get another job opportunity, a spouse might get relocated, they might be in a snowmobile accident—you name it.
“If that’s when you start scrambling for a replacement it’s too late,” Ganz said. “The most important part of leadership is developing a deep bench.”
Constant awareness of people who could make your business better is key to that constant search. Joe Milevsky, CEO of consultant JRM Sales & Management, suggests that retailers always stay on the hunt.
“I had a client who was at a convenience store, and the employee went so over the limit of what they had to do that (the client) offered a job,” he said, adding that the new hire ended up a top salesperson.
Go hunting in malls, women’s stores, shoe and clothing stores.
“I’m not going to overtly steal that person,” Milevsky said. “I might say ‘I’m looking for someone with interpersonal skills like yours. Do you know people with skills similar to yours?’ … You have to physically get out and do it.”
Look at your personal network: “People have all these great associations—church, civic groups, maybe even the golf club—but they never think to ask,” Milevsky said. “I’m always looking, always interviewing. Someone comes into the store asking about a job, whatever I’m doing I take time—if they took the time to come in, I’ll see them for at five minutes at least, maybe set up a more formal interview for later.”
All that helps retailers build a tickler file of prospects so that when they need to hire, they have a plan in place versus reacting to an immediate need.
“If they like the store’s environment, they might feel they want to work there, but don’t have the experience,” Milevsky said. “If the retailer has the ability to train that person, customers are one of your best potential sources.”
And when you must make a change among current personnel, building a pool of potential talent eases the burden, noted Ganz’s colleague at PCG, Rene Johnston-Gingrich, vice president of training and development.
“It makes these difficult changes that much easier knowing you have a pool of people to draw from,” she said.
BRING IN THE TEAM
“In terms of sales help, one of the last things I’d do is placing an ad,” Milevsky said. “Word-of-mouth is very important—you can incentivize employees for successful hires.”
Ganz suggests including words to the effect of “if you’re interested in a great opportunity, call …” on the back of all your associates’ business card so they can pass those out when they spot potential talent when they’re out and about.
“If you see people you think could help your operation, give them a card whether you have an opening or not,” he said.
Thomasville Home Furnishings stores utilize an employee referral program, said Beth Sweetman, senior senior vice president of human resources at Thomasville’s parent company, Furniture Brands International, St. Louis. Current associates get compensation for referring new employees that stay.
“A referral from an employee who knows the person and what they can do usually ends up being the best fit,” she said, adding that the chain is working to improve its managers’ ability to reach out to potential talent. “We’ve learned that our store managers need training on basic networking to keep a constant flow of possible employees ‘in the hopper.’ We’re developing networking training, because getting out in the local community is the best way to build a pool of talent. We aren’t there yet, but we’re working on it.”
Job boards, and particularly the business-oriented social network LinkedIn, are other channels that furniture retailers are utilizing to build their talent pool.
“Over the years we have tried all the traditional methods but recently we have been successfully using Indeed.com,” said Susan Brashears, an owner at Brashears Furniture, Berryville, Ark. “It is very effective in our region. You can manage your account daily. That means being able to modify the ad if you’re not seeing the response you want, and also being able to respond to candidates the same day they apply. In addition, it is very affordable.”
LinkedIn has turned out well for Thomasville’s store recruiting.
“That seems to work more effectively for us than the national job boards, though we’re on all of those, too,” Sweetman noted.
And while Fairborn, Ohio-based Morris Furniture’s most effective leads are associate referrals, Dan W. Little, human resources manager, said the next most effective is ads posted on Internet boards.
Morris also is exploring social media and have done some sourcing via its Facebook page.
What does not work at Morris?
“We have had no success recruiting for sales at local job fairs,” Little said. “The challenge is overcoming objections to commissioned based sales. This is an ongoing effort for us.”
Wherever you’re looking, always keep in mind that you cannot always hire accomplished “winners” out of the gate, said David Markowicz, vice president of human resources, Jerome’s, San Diego.
“That can be expensive, but you can train and develop the new hires into winners if they have the right attitude and a high level of enthusiasm,” he said. “So focus on hiring strong entry level people and then have a plan/program that will develop/mold them into what you want them to be.”
THE RIGHT FIT
Different departments demand different skills, but retailers contributing here differ on their hiring approach for specific functions.
Thomasville, for instance, views hiring pretty much the same way for any position, said FBI’s Sweetman.
“The way I look at it hiring is hiring,” she said. “Prospects all go to the same places, national job boards, LinkedIn groupings, so you can get an idea of what positions they’re looking for.
“As we’re hiring the younger generation, that’s where they’re going to look. Our hiring process is the same across job functions.”
Morris Furniture looks for sales position candidates through referrals and the Internet.
“For sales positions, we do not limit our search to just applicants with past sales experience,” Little said. “Many candidates without sales experience can be molded into top sellers. We have found that some past candidates with sales experience had selling strategies or customer service attitudes that were not conducive to our team oriented showrooms. When screening an applicant we look for skills we can’t teach—integrity, work ethic, teamwork.
“We generally do not run print ads for sales positions with the exception of a store opening. Sourcing via the Internet creates a steady flow of applicants who are Internet savvy.”
When Morris is opening a new store—the retailer has a new Ashley Homestore location on the way—the retailer adds “Now hiring” information tags to print sales advertising, and uses signage at existing stores. A similar message appears on press releases when applicable.
“We have had a high success rate with internships for local college students,” Little said. “Almost a third of our interns eventually came on full time after graduation.”
He added that for entry level and delivery positions, those are areas where print seems to do as well as the Internet in generating candidates.
When examining candidates for particular positions, fit the skill set and the personality set to the ideal you have in mind for that position, suggested Rene Johnston-Gingrich at PCG.
“It’s a little like Internet dating,” she said. “What’s your ideal, what are your must-haves, and what are the deal-breakers?
“During the selection process, do the work—that lessens the chance of hiring the wrong person.”
Is there an applicant with strong organization skills and willingness to take direction but whose interpersonal style might be lacking? Think back-office or warehouse versus the sales floor.
“Most people can be trained, but don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole,” said PCG’s Ganz. “Look at their skill sets in previous jobs where they were successful, and whether they can transfer that to your operation.”
THE SIT DOWN
OK, you have a pool of potential talent for your store, and you’re “open to buy.” Following are things to watch for during the interview process.
“There are two things I can’t teach. The first is interpersonal skills,” Milevsky said. “If I think I can change someone that momma and poppa couldn’t change, I’m probably making a mistake. Do they like people, do they have the ability to listen, do they have ethics and morals, how do they see themselves?
“Second is their internal motivation. … I can demotivate someone, but the motivation itself to succeed has to come from within. I can provide a great environment that encourages them to succeed, but I can’t make them succeed.”
Watch for red flags during the interview, said Ganz and Johnston-Gingrich at PCG.
“I was interviewing someone once, and she cursed,” recalled Johnston-Gingrich. “Nothing huge but she did it so casually, and I recognized a lack of professionalism. … She was also talking about a conflict situation at her previous position, too, which was a bad sign. She charmed me the rest of the interview, though. I hired her but ended up having to fire her.”
Ganz has two very important words: resume gaps.
“Anyone can give you a resume and fill out an application, and if they list someone as a reference, they can generally count on (a good word),” he said. “What you have to do is look for employment gaps. Say they had a position from 2002 to 2004; and another from 2006 to 2008. You want to know what happened between 2004 and 2006.
“In today’s economy, people aren’t afraid to say they’ve been out of work, but if there’s a gap, you still want to know what they were really doing. If they were unemployed, you can ask what kind of job did you look for; what did you do to occupy your time; what were your job-hunting strategies?”
That can give you an idea whether they were showing initiative, or just sitting around collecting unemployment.
And above all, check those references, and beyond that, perform adequate vetting of the people you’re considering for interaction with your customers.
“Looking at our clients … they often miss one gigantic step, and that scares me—they don’t vet properly,” Milevsky said. “When they don’t do that I see a lot of mistakes that lead to (termination).
“Background checks, I had one client with an applicant that gave a false Social Security number. Today it’s so easy to check all that information—a day or two versus a week or two.”
The Legal Side of Hiring
Jill Benson, an attorney specializing in employment issues in the Greensboro, N.C., office of Womble Carlyle, has advice for furniture retailers who want to make sure their hiring practices meet legal requirements.
She noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has new rules for background and credit checks of job applicants, and documentation is essential.
“Most employers and retailers conduct criminal background checks for their employees,” she said. “The EEOC issued an enforcement guidance in April 2012 (governing hiring practices).”
Is your employment application up to date with current applicable language?
“Update your employment applications to say, ‘have you been convicted’ versus ‘have you been arrested,’” she suggested as an example. “Make sure there’s a disclaimer to the effect that if you answer ‘yes’ to a conviction or arrest, it does not automatically disqualify the applicant from employment.”
Look at your policy on background checks.
“For example, employers cannot have a blanket policy that they don’t hire convicted felons,” Benson said. “It’s perfectly legal to conduct a background check on a new hire. However, make sure you are considering the nature and gravity of the criminal offense, when the conviction occurred, and how it relates to the job in question before making any adverse employment decision. You can consider convictions, but not necessarily an arrest. And how does the conviction relate, if at all, to the job in question?”
The Legal Side of Hiring
She suggests that employers weigh the factors, and make sure there’s no blanket policy or prohibition against convicted felons.
“You don’t see many problems at the hiring stage unless you unlawfully discriminate—and it doesn’t have to be intentional,” she added. “Every company should have an Equal Employment Opportunity policy.”