Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
March 14, 2012

Question: Our business is growing and sales are increasing, and I’m very happy about both of those things. But, as we grow (six employees now, plus my husband and me), I am seeing problems with everyone being on the same page and having all the information they need each day. When employees come in, they are supposed to walk around the store and notice any new merchandise and ask about it if they want more information. Sometimes this happens, but other times a week or two may go by before an employee realizes new merchandise has arrived. This is especially true with part-time employees. Does this happen at your store? I get frustrated and wonder when they spend so much time talking to each other, why don’t they pass on what they know?

Answer: I want to address two things in your question. The first suggestion may make the lack of communication among you and your staff a non-issue, or at least a far less pervasive problem. Why not have one central place where you write down whatever information needs to be conveyed? This could be a physical clipboard everyone reads when they start their shift, or a central computer file in Microsoft Word that keeps getting added to and updated. Information is easily disseminated and customer service is enhanced, as well. You could write about new merchandise so they know when something special arrives. This is also a great place to pass on pending information about customers, such as if you are waiting for a return call, which may get missed if a part-time person is off for a couple of days.

It is best to keep the clipboard or computer file accessible in the back room so it can be read before employees go onto the sales floor, eliminating the need to walk around before they begin to serve customers. On our clipboard list at my store—we call it the FYI Board—there is a space for employees to initial beside each entry so we also can tell who is conscientiously checking it. It might take a little getting used to remembering each day, but this works exceptionally well for us and has for many years.

I also want to respond to your frustration: I had to chuckle a bit because I have been there myself, and I was not taking responsibility for what I saw happening. If employees are talking excessively, it is your job to be direct and set some guidelines such as, “I’m happy you like each other and want to share about your lives, but please limit your conversations on the sales floor to customer service and company business.” They need to know your expectations. If undue chatter continues, then you may have to speak with individual offenders.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (www.elysianfieldsonline.com), an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to kim@retailinginsight.com.