Summer 2008
‘Tis the Season to be Hiring By Shawn Boyer

It’s only July, but it won’t be too long before you decorate your store with holiday decorations in anticipation of a bustling fourth quarter. Each holiday season, retailers of all sizes—from major department stores to smaller gift shops and specialty stores like yours—anticipate more customers and hope to ring up record sales.

It’s not enough to prepare for added shoppers with an inventory meant to entice and please your discriminating customers. You must be equally prepared with a workforce that can deliver the same kind of customer service that your patrons have come to expect year round. This means staffing up with a well-trained and qualified workforce to match the season’s demands.

It’s never too early to start planning.

Determining your workforce

Before you begin, it’s best to take a step back and reflect on last year’s season. If you have daily sales figures available, look back at 2007 and determine when your holiday season started to peak. You may find that your busiest days began two weeks before Christmas, and that throughout the holiday season, one day of the week was busier than others. Whatever patterns you see, use them to help determine when you should staff the most people to help customers, work the cash register and stock inventory this year.

Next, think about who will be available to work the hours you think you’ll need. As a storeowner, how many extra shifts do you want to take on, if any? Speak with current part-timers about their desire to work more during the holidays. The benefits are three-fold. As an owner, you don’t experience any hiring or training costs, and you rely on employees who already have proven themselves. And employees have the opportunity to pick up some extra cash at a time of year when many folks can use it.

Develop a hiring timeline

Use last year’s sales data to determine when you’d like to have your additional staff fully trained and competently serving customers on the sales floor. Seasonal workers should be hired at least two weeks before this deadline. This lead time allows you to start them on a schedule and provide necessary training.

Most stores should be thinking about their seasonal hiring strategy by August or September and be actively recruiting by early October. Staying on such a timeline will allow you to choose from among the best applicants who have a genuine interest in your store, not last-minute folks who may want a seasonal job for the paycheck alone.

Finding the seasonal workers that are right for you

Whether it’s a seasonal effort or a year-round recruiting strategy, the best way to attract hourly workers is to employ a mix of three or four tactics. Here are some different ways to recruit:

Tap your existing workforce for referrals
Your current employees may have friends who are looking for work. Speak with your staff individually to see if they know others like them who might be interested in a position. You may consider offering your current employees a small cash bonus for any referral you hire.

Tap your existing customer base
Your best customers may be interested in working for you, but the thought may not have crossed their minds. In early fall, as you’re interacting with someone who might make a good employee, begin to plant the seed. Ask them if they’ve ever had an interest in a part-time job during the holidays, and let them know that you’ll be hiring soon. The Container Store, a large, chain retailer, is well known for looking to its customer base for both full-time and seasonal employees, and there’s no reason why mom-and-pop retailers shouldn’t follow suit.

Place a classified ad in a community paper
Consider classified ads in local community papers. These weekly papers typically charge less for a classified ad than your city’s major daily paper, making traditional advertising more affordable than you might think. Plus, you’ll reach jobseekers living in your community who want to work nearby.

Use your storefront as free advertising

While old fashioned, the “Help Wanted” sign should be in your window (or on the door). This will allow customers who stop in to remember to apply, especially if they are in the market for full-time or part-time work.

Go online to find your jobseekers
Nearly half of all Internet users (47 percent) have looked online for job information, according to a 2002 survey from the Pew Internet Project. This jumps to 61 percent when asked of those ages 18-29. Lori’s Gifts, which manages 200 hospital and medical professional building gift shops in 28 states, recently turned to online recruiting as a part of its ongoing recruiting strategy. It has enjoyed success using online recruiting to fill both full-time and part-time positions.

Training your new staff

Your work doesn’t end when you’ve identified the seasonal staff that’s right for you. You still need to train new members and work with them throughout the holiday season. In general, training for a seasonal worker should be the same as what you provide a permanent employee. You still need to convey important information about your store—in other words, what is it about your gift store that makes you different from the one down the block or the one in the next town? Seasonal workers still need to become knowledgeable about your store inventory. And, they need to understand your philosophies about customer service, as well as the exact functions they are expected to perform.

At minimum, a half day of training should be dedicated to getting your seasonal hires up to speed on your company history, store philosophies and customer-service expectations. The second portion of the day should be dedicated to the specifics of the position, whether that includes maintaining inventory, the opening and closing routine or running the cash register. The training day will give your seasonal staff a sense for what you expect of them, but the real learning comes from their opportunity to shadow your best employees for a week. In these real situations, they will become part of the team.

Motivating your seasonal employees

Even if you choose the best applicants for seasonal positions, some may walk in the door with a short-timer’s mentality. There are several ways to encourage your seasonal staff and help foster positive attitudes:

Treat your seasonal staff as you would a permanent employee. If they feel like they are treated with value, they will be more likely to show the job similar respect. If you will have openings after the holiday season because of turnover, make this known early on. Once you see that a new worker is doing a good job, start a discussion with them about the opportunity, if any, to stay on following the holidays. Alternatively, if it seems like seasonal employees are a good fit, but they are not looking for a long-term commitment, talk with them about coming back next year.

Do small things to motivate all members of your staff on a daily basis. For example, provide free snacks and beverages in the “employee-only” section to make breaks convenient during this busy time of year. Encourage friendly competition among your staff to reach a personal daily sales goal. Prizes can include gift cards for things such as coffee breaks or increased, one-time employee discounts. By using last year’s holiday season as a guide to help you hire with the right mix of seasonal staff, employing several recruiting strategies and effectively training and motivating your new hires, you should be well on your way to a smooth—and successful—holiday season.

Shawn Boyer

Shawn Boyer, CEO of, has helped hourly employers spanning the retail, service, restaurant and hospitality industries find qualified candidates since 2000. is America's largest hourly job Web site, featuring more than 9 million registered job seekers and more than 100,000 active job postings. Clients include well-known retailers such as KOHL's®, Target® and Bed Bath & Beyond® and various individual stores.

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