Retaining Senior Managers And Buyers
Lessons Learned From Snow Sports Retailers
Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak, Lkdcom@visi.com
Experienced store managers and buyers are a tremendous asset to snow sports specialty retailers. But at times, retaining senior staff members can be challenging in terms of salary, benefits and job offers from competitors.
Over time, store managers and buyers become great assets to a specialty shops reputation. Unfortunately, for both storeowner and employee, there can come a time when salary expectations are no longer compatible.
“Owner managers can’t just do it all. They’ve learned to grow by hiring other people,” says Bill Ford, president, SESCO Management Consultants. “Retail store owners have only so much that they can spend on compensation and benefits. At some point, if money is the driver for that employee, the storeowner might lose them.” Ford adds, “That’s the tough reality. They have to have succession plan in place where they have someone they can train and develop to move in and replace that senior person.” SESCO Management Consultants is a free SIA Retail Membership Benefit.
Viking Ski & Snowboard Shop, Chicago, IL, has employees with long tenures, some with over 15 years of service. Bob Olson, owner, Viking Ski & Snowboard Shop understands the compensation issues. “We’ve been able to maintain a good staff but there have been challenges. People reach a maximum of what you can pay. You can only do so much,” notes Olson. “People can make more in other companies. It’s different now than it was in the past.”
Roy Notowitz, managing director, Notogroup, an executive search firm with experience in the outdoor industry agrees. “You can’t force people to stay. You can pay them more but that only gets you so far,” says Notowitz. “There’s a maximum value you can assign to certain roles. Once you hit the ceiling for that role you have to find ways to add additional responsibilities that add value at a higher level.”
In addition to financial compensation, Olson reports a shifting mindset in younger employees. “Younger people are not as career oriented to stay with one company. They move around more.”
Hi Tempo SnowSports, in White Bear Lake, MN, has operated for more than 35 years. Brad Nelson, owner, estimates more than 600 people have worked in the store over that period. “We tend to attract a younger demographic and view them as transient. We get to have them for 3-4 years and then they cycle out. They develop a skill set coming out of our store that is extremely valuable. The experience looks very good on their resume,” Nelson reports.
While retail employment offers some advantages, many people want to have a sense of a career path. “Millennials have an expectation of pretty rapid advancement. The challenge is developing and training these individuals who have a need to feel like they are advancing,” says Notowitz of Notogroup.
Nelson responds, “We have limits are where can you go with them. We tend to attract people who are attracted to different things that found in a corporate setting.”
Salary increases aren’t the only way to reward senior employees. In many cases, intangible benefits like flexible hours can have a major influence.
“Our managers work 25-30 hours per week in the summer so they have more time with their families. People like that we offer some flexible hours,” reports Olson, Viking Ski & Snowboard Shop. “We try to make it fun at work and ski together and be a family oriented business.”
At Hi Tempo, Nelson follows a similar approach. “We have learned to let those employees set their own hours and schedule. They never worry about punching a clock. We can offer them the freedom of schedule that you can’t match with a corporate schedule,” reports Nelson. “They are open to take time off to attend to a child or other responsibilities. But then we don’t feel bad when they have to work when the store gets slammed during the busy season.”
Notowitz says, “Flexibility is important whether they are a young person who wants time off to travel or a parent trying to juggle those responsibilities.”
Ford, of SESCO Management Consultants, describes this approach as psychic compensation. “Some managers enjoy working in the ski and snowboard industry, environment and culture. Part of the appeal is the culture that’s created for the employees,” says Ford.
Zandy Wheeler, co-owner of Skirack in Burlington, VT emphasizes the importance of the work environment. “Culture is key because buyers and managers have to buy into the spirit and focus of the store. Yes it is an intangible benefit for the employee, but it is also a critical part of the identify of the place and this benefits the customers and the store’s competitiveness as well. One key parts of our culture is that our staff is known for being knowledgeable, helpful and trustworthy. Our culture includes the requirement that we do our job with energy and commitment even though a retail job can involve long hours and challenging situations,” added Wheeler.
Understanding what motivates current senior staff members can help shop owners create meaningful compensation packages for future hires. “What’s important to the employee? At some point in life their motivations and goals may change,” says Notowitz.
Investing in Training
Retailers clearly understand staff turnover is a fundamental part of managing their business. Part-time staff come and go throughout the year. Investing in training for senior managers and buyers who have longer tenures offers significant returns.
Notowitz offers, “Shop owners should create a culture of ownership. Not necessarily actually giving an employee an ownership stake but allowing them to share in the success of the company. People want to feel fully utilized. If they don’t feel like they are using their full capabilities, they may get bored and look elsewhere. Investing in training is a good strategy.”
If the shop is growing and the owners are looking for additional profit engines such as e-commerce or event marketing, senior managers may see more opportunities. “Store owners not only have to provide a competitive salary but also create opportunities for the senior manager and the employer. As long as the pie is growing there are opportunities for everyone,” notes Ford.
Preparing for Promotion
Acknowledging that even senior managers and buyers with long employment histories may leave, storeowners that implement formal training programs may manage those situations easier.
“We used to lament the loss of key people but every time someone leaves, someone good steps in. It’s a way we reenergize ourselves,” says Nelson. “My perspectives about how things should be done are formed based on my past experiences. I really rely on the new vision of the people coming in. I need them to challenge my perceptions.”
Finding qualified and talented people to step into management roles is a constant challenge. “We’re not finding the younger people we would want to train to become a buyer in the future. We don’t see many people who want to work the weekends,” says Olson. “We’re always looking for people. You have to love this sport to be in this business. People also need to live and raise families. We can’t offer the benefits other companies can. You always have your eye out for someone else.”
By offering competitive salaries, responding to intangible needs and understanding what motivates employees are important elements of a compensation package. “Look for employees best suited for your company, culture and environment. What can you learn from the shop’s best employees? Why do they stay? Why did others leave? Doing analysis on tenure and attrition and trying to understand your workforce can add a lot of value over the long run. Knowing that you will not retain everyone, be proactive and create channels for people to come into the organization,” says Notowitz.
People stay for a wide range of often very personal reasons. “Finding out some of those reasons and some of your employees’ values can be extremely important to retention. We do adapt our compensation mix to enhance the lives of our staff,” added Wheeler of Skirack. “Some of the benefits vary from person to person. We have been trying for several years to build equity between pay for senior staff on the buying, selling, accounting, IT, Web and other areas. We have not succeeded as much as we would like because of market forces, longevity, talent and areas where we may choose to focus a hire because of a critical need.”
Nelson believes it takes at least a year for a new salesperson to understand how the store operates. At that point, sales people may be considered for more responsibility if a more senior manager or buyer leaves. “I want to keep them as long as possible but when they go I’ve realized that’s not the end of the world. The next person has always been there to step up,” says Nelson.
Wheeler comments on nurturing future senior employees. “Grooming, encouraging and challenging younger staff is the basis of our ‘farm’ system of building employees who may one day fill a spot which inevitably will open up at some time that you least expect it,” says Wheeler. “I believe that an environment where people are active participants in the problem solving as well as shaping the direction of the company is rewarding for me. This is the environment I promote and we want to work in. People who are active and invested have more fun and help out more.”
Ford recommends storeowners think of employee turnover as an organizational issue that needs formal planning and attention rather than reacting after a valued employee announces plans to leave.
“The reality is, it’s about being system and organization dependent not people dependent. If someone leaves you can train someone to grow into the position and be fine,” says Ford. “If you are people dependent, they may walk out the door with your business.”
SESCO Management Consultants provides free and discounted human resource management services and consulting as a SIA Member Benefit to help deal with HR issues when they arise. SIA Retail Members enjoy benefits that save money and offer insight into the snow sports industry to help your business grow. Join now or renew your membership to continue receiving SIA’s key benefits & resources.
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 Lkdcom@visi.com.