Formalized communication, training and discipline processes are important to recruit and retain showroom employees.

by Jeff MacDowell

Attracting and Keeping Your Team

Having a great team can make or break your showroom. There has been a lot of discussion and practices-sharing lately on how to hire a great team — and equally as important, how to keep that team. With the economy running at a good pace and jobs available most anywhere, prospective employees have a choice when selecting where they’d like to work. 

These are two separate issues, so let’s dive in with the first.

Think about this: We are in an industry where a showroom employee often must help a demanding consumer who is typically stressed about the purchase and likely well above the socioeconomic level of the employee. The showroom employee also must locate 40 or so nonstock items, coordinate delivery and ensure everything shows up on time. All while delivering exceptional service at a consistent margin and getting a great Google review.

Simple, right?

I recently had a conversation with a 23-year-old woman who left the customer service job she had for $14 an hour for a job in an Amazon warehouse for $18 an hour. When I asked her why, she said for the $18 an hour, the physical part of the job was far less painful than dealing with people. 

I do believe the same company she is now working for is creating the demanding consumer, which helps push people out of the retail service sector. Consumers have become ridiculously demanding and all because we are used to having everything within a day with free shipping. 

Your employees need training on how to give exceptional service to offset the fact that you won’t have everything within a day. They must be able to communicate that your company’s expertise has enough value to offset the Amazon effect.

As the owner or manager, you struggle to understand why anyone would leave such a great industry offering stability, a solid income and the satisfaction of solving customers’ needs. We fail to communicate how great the plumbing showroom industry is, just as we have failed to communicate the benefits of working in the plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades. 

We need to get to the guidance counselors in high schools and tell our story. Sometimes an art student or business student who isn’t quite cut out for college turns out to be a great employee who will have a long career track in the showroom business.

The truth is, it’s the path of least resistance for income leading them away and we don’t tell the story of our industry early enough. I never imagined being in this industry myself. I eventually took a summer job in a DIY center and learned about lumber, building materials and plumbing, which led me down this career path. 

Honestly, I use very little of my college coursework in this industry and know exceptionally successful people here with only a high school diploma. If you hire for work ethics, I think you will be better off finding candidates in this market.

I have recruited from in the past. Since there is usually no one in the category of bath/kitchen showroom sales, I found myself looking with success in furniture sales, jewelry store and auto parts store candidates to transition to our industry. All consultative, complex or high-stress sales paths seem to work. Be sure to network in your community and encourage your current employees to refer their friends or family members who have similar attributes. 

A final thought on hiring: Social media has created the myth that Millennials are unmotivated and don’t know how to do basic things such as using a lawn mower or fix anything that is broken. Not true. 

I find Millennials to be smarter and highly motivated with purpose. They just don’t see the need to do things in a particular way “just because it has always been done that way.” Millennials learn differently than a Generation X employee, and it is likely your company isn’t ready for that style of learning (a topic for another article).

Employee Retention

Now onto your current employees. Are you keeping them? Are they happy? Do you communicate with them enough? Employees will typically stay if they feel comfortable and if they have a say in making their workplace better. This isn’t just Millennials; it’s all employees. If you leave your people in the dark, they will leave you.

One of the most common issues I see at companies with high employee turnover rates is the failure of leadership/ownership to communicate with their employees. They don’t have employee meetings and there is no dissemination of a mission statement, goals or values — or anything else. The owner is too busy. It is a discipline issue on the part of ownership that needs to be fixed fast.

Create a pattern of comfort calls with your employees. Monthly, at least. See how they are doing personally and professionally. See what help they need to be comfortable and have a path to success. Like all relationships, communication is key.

Formalize and do bi-annual reviews. This is difficult for many and signals a shift in culture. It can be uncomfortable for the manager, as well as the employee. But it is by far a best practice to help retain and motivate your team.

Empathy is everything. Understand the struggles of your employees and keep an open line of communication and an open door to your office when problems arise. It makes all the difference in the world.

The nature of the independently owned decorative showroom is that of being less formal, less structured and a more “fun” culture. The problem is the lack of formalized communication, training and discipline on the part of management. While I never want to see the spirit of the independents go away, there is a need for an increasing focus on formalizing business practices.