Suzanne Sears is president of Best Retail Careers International.
What do you do?
Sears: I solve staffing problems for retailers.
What is the biggest challenge facing retailers in finding staff?
Sears: What retail leaders tell me most often is that they cannot find highly skilled staff willing to work at the prices they feel they’re able to pay. Then once they do find that gem of a new hire, the person rarely sticks around more than two years, so the turnover is high and seemingly endless.
What are the best ways retailers can find staff?
Sears: Retailers, well especially retail human resources departments, have not yet caught up to the new age of one-on-one real-time social media recruiting. They’re still relying on old tools from when there was a talent surplus, 2008 or so, with old crutches like job ads and job fairs or apply online to our job boards. These techniques just don’t work anymore in the quantities and at the speed retailers need them to, especially with younger generations.
What retailers have to do first of all is to create an employment brand and culture people actually want to join: be part of. Secondly, they need to have a dedicated social online media recruitment program where they’re truly speaking to candidates in real time. Candidates expect and demand instant engagement but firms often don’t reply for weeks. What they encounter now is blocked emails to the HR departments and stern messages to apply online.
I break down all those barriers. I have a vast online retail chat community talking to retailers at every level, C suite to street level, every day. It’s doubtful that retailers will get to that level any time soon so they need to hire people like me, except I think in Canada at least I’m the only retail firm that specializes in social media recruitment.
What should retailers be doing to attract people to the industry? How can retailers make the industry attractive?
Sears: What’s missing from most retail hiring programs is a straight-out-of-college management development program. That used to be common. New grads were recruited and developed over years to become retail leaders. They were also well paid to do it.
Squeezed for profits, I know of very few big firms that do it anymore. There aren’t too many parents happy to hear their child is working minimum wage in retail after four years in college and a $50,000 education loan to pay off.
Retail has to once again be seen as a viable, respectable career and not just as a job on the way to starting their real career.
Retailers also have to put the fun back into retail: the feel good stuff. They have to rewrite the jobs to create a culture of meaning and fun. The excessive pressure to hit sales quotas for no reason but for the profit of the investment management fund owner is not much of a motivator.
People want to feel they’re working for a great brand, a great cause.
Yet retailers are still strictly limiting access to things new grads want such as flex time, breaks when they need them, socially on the job and cellphone use.
Honestly, the old command-and-control nature of retail has to go because the new generations don’t buy into it. They want teamwork and fun. Retailers could easily do it.
What’s your sense of how bricks and mortar retail is doing in Canada with a challenging economy combined with the increase in e-commerce?
Sears: Honestly, I’m not so worried about e-commerce destroying bricks and mortar. E-commerce is about acquiring a thing at the cheapest price the quickest way. That’s great for paper towels. No one I know finds e-commerce fun or easy. It’s a heck of a lot of hours spent comparing every widget feature to another. You don’t come away with much of a feel-good experience.
Shopping, or going to the bazaar if you will, has been going on for thousands of years in humanity. It’s part of our nature to socialize that way and will continue to be so. Canadians still want that social experience. They enjoy the hunt and feel and touch, and people watching.
What retailers need to do to keep it going is to integrate both silos so they support one another. But beyond all that, they have to make walking the bazaar as much fun as they do in Morocco. Smells, touch, experiences, things to see do and touch, live music. Malls have to become villages of human constant interactions and stop being long halls of stalls with goods.
To the degree that retailers get that bazaar concept and use e-commerce as their warehouses to support the main event stores, the future will sort itself out quite well. Sears always did just fine with a catalogue and stores. Not much has changed.
– Mario Toneguzzi