We've all been there:
You walk into a retail store looking for a certain product. You glance over to the counter and see a few store associates hanging around. You notice two of them joking around while the other is leaned over the counter, staring at their phone as if looking away would cause the end of the world.
Retail store associates often get a bad rap. In many cases, they're Millennials who feel under-paid, overworked, and are simply not passionate about their job. When push comes to shove, it's hard to trust the fate of your company in the hands of someone who can't wait for closing time.
This doesn't have to be the case. In fact, there are a number of retailers - within and outside of the pet industry - whose employees are kind, attentive, responsible, and bringing in sales left and right. Retailers like Nordstrom, Sephora, and yes, even PetSmart, are known to have some of the best customer service in corporate America.
So, what separates those store associates from your own? What makes them so great that they become renown for their customer service?
You might think it comes down to paychecks, bonuses, and simply working for a corporation with a big name attached to it. While those are often great benefits, they aren't the primary cause.
Instead, we've found that the difference between retail employees who stand around waiting for their shift to end and those who strive to make each day better than the last comes down to one thing: empowerment.
Here are a few ways you can start empowering your pet store employees.
Provide Employee Education
If I were asked to walk into an auto repair shop right now and give suggestions to customers on how to fix their car, I'd have no idea what to say. I'd be at a loss for words, frustrated that I don't know how to do it, and definitely not excited to do that for a living.
But that's because I know nothing about cars.
The same goes for your employees. The more they know about the pet industry, the up-and-coming trends, and the brands and products in your store, the more empowered they'll feel to sell them to customers.
That's why employee training is so crucial. It provides pet store employees with the tools they need to help customers make the right choice.
There are a few ways you can provide training to build employee confidence:
- Let your employees take products home to try with their pets
- Create focus months with specific themes (i.e. August as "Dog Kennels")
- Work with manufacturer & distributor reps to provide in-house education
- See if your rep has any webinars and other more interactive education materials
- Turn it into a game - whoever can "sell" the right dog kennel to you gets a free coffee
Give Them Responsibility
When you have an employee who doesn't seem to want to go above-and-beyond, it's pretty difficult to even consider giving them even more responsibility than simply showing up on time. Yet, perhaps that's just what you need to do to make them feel more empowered.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks once said:
“People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.”
Start off with something small. You don't have to let them run the whole store for a week, or anything, but even a small amount of responsibility may empower your employees to take charge.
Let them merchandise an end-cap display, re-organize the stockroom, or simply come up with a Facebook post for the day. Once they've accomplished the task successfully, reward them by assigning something a little bit larger, and a little bit larger, and so on.
Listen to Their Input
As humans, we all have ideas. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but most of us just want our ideas to be heard.
Encourage free-thinking and creative ideas by asking your employees for their opinion. If you're looking to make a change or evolve somehow, ask them for their feedback.
Consider asking something like, "How can we get more people in the store this month?" or "How would you merchandise this display to boost sales of these dog treats?"
Make it a part of a regular team meeting, ask them one-on-one, or even create a brainstorm board in the stockroom where you ask questions and ask your employees to provide responses on the board.
The key is to consider every idea before immediately turning it down. Even bad ideas can turn into genius innovations. Instead of responding with, "I don't think so...", encourage them to further develop it by saying, "yes, and...?"
When employees feel like their ideas are being heard, they'll feel more included in the success of the business. They'll feel as though they have a say in the success in the store and will be more willing to make that happen.
After reading the introduction at the beginning of this article, the last thing you want to do now is let your 19-year-old store associates have a mobile device in their hands, especially in front of customers.
Yet, when done correctly, technology can be an invaluable method for keeping up with customers who have everything at their fingertips.
With a mobile device, your employees will feel empowered to find online information about a product they may not be quite as familiar with, check what's in stock, or even publish an Instagram post to promote your store. This provides the opportunity to enhance the overall shopping experience for your customers while keeping your employees engaged.
Whether you decide to put your employees in charge of merchandising the store or make time to listen to their ideas, make sure you give them room to fail. As they develop their skills, it's important to be able to make mistakes - as long as they learn from them.
Empowering your pet store employees can feel scary at first, but it's the best thing you can do to ensure sales increase while employee turnover decreases.