Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
August 1, 2014

Question: I would like to pick your brain about hiring holiday help. Do you hire extra help for the holidays or does your current staff work more hours? If you do hire extra staff, when do you do start hiring? Where do you find people? What kind of training do you provide? Also, I know you pay holiday bonuses to your employees (we do, too), but do you offer bonuses to temporary holiday help? That seems unfair to our regular employees, who work hard all year. Thanks for your help and your column!

Answer: Yes, we do hire extra help for the holidays, including sales associates, gift wrappers, and usually a back-room receiving “elf.” In addition, our current staff works extra hours, both because we have expanded holiday hours and because the volume of traffic is so much greater. When we hire depends on who we are hiring. If we are rehiring past employees, which I highly recommend, they require less training and can start after Thanksgiving and still be up to speed in time to make a significant contribution when the holiday is in full swing. If we are hiring new employees, we find it best to have them start in early to mid-November to be able to get proficient on the register and familiar with the merchandise and our systems.

As I said, rehiring past holiday help is a great practice. We get to work with people we already know and like, and they require very little training. They get to work in a fun place, make extra holiday cash, and enjoy employee discounts for their holiday gift giving as well.

If we need to hire new employees, our current employees and customers are often our best source of referrals. They already love the store and have a good idea of who would enjoy working there. We print flyers with a short job description and list of employee benefits and put one in each customer’s bag for a couple of weeks in late October/early November.

For training, we offer basically the same extensive sales-floor training we would any employee, but depending on how late in the season someone comes on board, our sales-floor manager may decide to forgo parts of the usual training. For instance, if we have plenty of strong cashiers, a new employee may not learn how to ring up sales but concentrate on assisting customers on the sales floor and gaining as much knowledge as they can about our merchandise to provide great customer assistance. In the weeks leading up to December, we make time to offer additional training to the entire staff. If you only have one or two employees, you can probably tell them about new products without a formal meeting, but if you have more employees than that, dedicating an hour to provide education about new products, reviewing selling suggestions (such as how to offer alternatives if you are out of certain merchandise) is the best way to go.

We also do a lot of gift wrapping during the holidays and have a dedicated area in the back room for this. We are very exact about our gift wrap, as it has become a signature look for our store. When we hire new gift wrappers, we have a training session led by a seasoned gift wrapper in which the applicants have to “try out” to make sure they can follow our formula to keep our signature look consistent.

Regarding bonuses, as a general rule employees that are only with us 4-6 weeks during the holidays are not eligible for the daily holiday bonuses we pay to permanent, full-time and part-time employees. There are exceptions. For example, our store manager may make an employee who comes back every year during the holidays eligible for a full or partial bonus. This is handled on an individual basis. Because everyone contributes to a successful holiday season, we pay all employees a small holiday bonus as a “thank you,” even if they are not bonus eligible.

Kim Perkins is the former co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to