Managing Human Resources

Managing Human Resources

A never-ending responsibility

lou_dzierzak_90x110Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak,

A typical to-do list for a snow sports specialty retailer may look something like this. Review inventory levels. Schedule status meeting with buyers. Carve out an hour or two to demo a new pair of skis/snowboard sent by a vendor.

While each one of these examples is important, they share a common theme. All three are product based. That’s where most retail shop owners and managers talents thrive.

Human resource management represents and equally important operational responsibility and in this field, many managers aren’t nearly as experienced or skilled.

“These owners and managers are talented and have a lot of product knowledge,” notes Bill Ford, president, SESCO Management Consultants. “Retailers are good at what they do in terms of industry products but they don’t go into business to hire people. At some point, one person can’t do it all and they have to hire more people. That’s where the real challenges come in. Most retail store owners don’t implement the systems necessary to manage human resources.”

Following federal employment guidelines can be relatively straightforward but human resource issues like unemployment claims, sexual harassment claims, discrimination lawsuits and social media policies make human resources a challenging business issue.

Like many small companies, Willi’s Ski and Snowboard Shop, Pittsburg, PA handles most human resource responsibilities in-house. “We don’t have a lot of extra staff and we all wear a lot of hats, “says Kjerstin Klein. “Those services would be wonderful but there’s just not enough in the budget to use them on a consistent basis. It’s primarily a financially driven decision to not use human resource services.”

Klein acknowledges that staying current on a wide range of ever-changing human resources issues is challenging. “Trying to keep up with things like employee manuals and keeping them updated is tough. It’s difficult to know when you need to do an update,” explains Klein.

Egon Zimmermann Sport Chalet in Nashua, NH also manages human resources in-house. “I don’t know if this is the best way to do handle human resources, we’ve been doing without it this way for so long,” says Stephan Hausberger.” There may some things out there that we just don’t know about.”

Ford’s company, SESCO Management Consultants, provides human resource management services as a SIA member benefit to deal with troublesome issues when they arise. “Managers can deal with human resources tasks until that one issue comes up that becomes very difficult and emotionally challenging because they don’t have the systems in place to manage people,” notes Ford. “It’s not a tangible problem. They can’t put their hands on it and fix a ski boot or repair a jacket zipper. These are emotional issues. We will get clients that will call at their wit’s end.”

Firing an employee is one example of stressful situations that can have legal and financial implications if not handled correctly.  “Firings can be scary,” says Klein. “For any human resource issue you wonder if you handled it the right way. Could I have handled it differently? Negotiating in those waters is challenging. That’s not my specialty. You do the best you can and consult a lawyer when you have to but that’s an expensive approach.”

Ford often hears from managers who have been dealing with difficult issues for months. “Their initial reaction is that I hope this issue will go away. Instead the issue gets worse. They call emotionally drained,” said Ford. “They are dealing with misunderstandings, miscommunications or someone who lashes out in anger instead of professionally managing the situation. That’s when things go wrong.”

Hausberger reports the store reviews employee manuals with new employees and expects them to follow the expectations. A small shop with seasonal employees, high turnover is a human resource challenge.

Located in New Hampshire, where like most states, employees are hired and fired according to an “at will” policy. “We take a simple approach. Most of our employees are not under contract, employed at-will,” says Hausberger. “The employee handbook spells out what we would like to see and guidelines we go by.”

There are misconceptions about “at will” employment regulations. “Managers say we can just separate at will. You can, but if that employee goes to a federal or state agency and claims wrongdoing, without proper documentation of an employee’s actions that lead to getting fired, retailers can face daunting prospects with unemployment claims,” reports Ford. “What happens when a disgruntled employee contacts the Department of Labor or state human rights agency and files a discrimination charge?” notes Ford. “We find that younger Gen X or Gen Y are much more likely to seek outside support. They don’t mind challenging an employee concerning their rights. That holds a real challenge for employers.”

Fortunately, Klein and Hausberger haven’t had to deal with that level of problem. “We’ve been fortunately that no one has come back at us,” says Hausberger.

In addition to managing federal and state employment documentation requirements, human resource managers must also be prepared to address new issues like social media. “Retailers should put in place policies on Internet use, cell phone use, social media use. If an employee, even after hours and on their own computer, is bad-mouthing an employer, the employers can take action. We recommend employers have policies in place,” explains Ford.

That’s just one more task for an already time-challenged shop owner to deal with.  “My managers handle some of the human resources, I handle some of it and the office staff may handle the rest. We don’t always have good communications between everyone and something could fall through the cracks,” says Klein. “I often have to do some research to find out how to deal with an issue that comes up and then disseminate the information to everyone involved.”

Ultimately, Ford says, most retailers are doing the right thing but should consider using professional services. “Clients hire us because they want to be proactive. They want to do the right thing, understand and comply with the law. They want to manage their human resource issues proactively. Knowing that their employees are their most important asset, the better we manage human resources issues the more successful the company will be.”


Snow sports specialty retailers may be able to successfully manage human resources in-house but those responsibilities are becoming more complex and important. With all the other operational tasks at hand, are you ready to address issues like these?

Presented by Bill Ford, president, SESCO Management Consultants

  • Would you be able to defend a discrimination charge if an employee or ex- employee filed one?
  • Do you have an employee handbook that clearly states your policies and expectations?  Without one you cannot defend your actions.
  • Did you know that 20-25 percent of employees are abusing prescription medication? Are you in a position to deal with these issues?
  • Did you know that a wage hour audit is more likely today than ever and the average fines are 30,000 to 50,000 per employer?
  • Are you using proven tools and assessments to hire the right person the first time?
  • What would you do if a federal or state auditor came knocking on your door, would you be in compliance?
  • Do you have a policy in place to deal with an employee who criticizes your store in social media postings?

Best Practices
Managing a successful snow sports specialty retail store requires expertise in an ever-changing array of business operations. Human resources, event planning, marketing, product selection, social media and e-commerce are just a few examples. Lou Dzierzak has written about these topics for over a decade. Best Practices will shorten the learning curve by offering case studies, resources and how-to tips from experts in specific fields. If you have suggestions for future topics, please feel free to contact Lou at