Provider Strategy

Finding Your Retail Champion

How to find, train and give employees the tools to excel at running your retail business.

One of the most critical aspects of growing any business is surrounding yourself with the right people. Find the right person to fit the mold, and your business can soar. Get it wrong and your business stays stagnant, or worse, goes in the opposite direction. As business owners, we are constantly looking for ways to grow our business. So why is it we are happy to make large investments to move our business forward, but we cringe at the idea of hiring another employee and paying market-rate for an excellent worker? The truth is, having the right retail sales professional is the key to taking your HME business to the next level. So let’s discuss who should be running the retail portion of your business, what some of their responsibilities should be, and how to train and communicate with them successfully.

What Retail Sales Traits to Seek

As in any traditional retail business, HME retail sales staff need to be friendly, compassionate, goal- oriented, self-motivated, and hard working. They also must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with both their co-workers and your customers. These characteristics will allow a retail seller to gain the customer’s trust more easily, allowing them to learn about their health concerns and find the best product to fit their needs.

While the traits above are consistent among most customer service employees in both the HME and traditional retail industries, retail sales professionals in HME businesses should also possess some additional traits of traditional retailers when it comes to product and showroom merchandising. These include knowledge of visual merchandising, product adjacencies, inventory control and sales reporting, which are essential to managing the retail portion of your business efficiently.

Internal Versus External Hiring

When looking internally, it is important to make sure candidates meet all of the aforementioned characteristics of an excellent retail seller. Internal staff may often be excellent at the customer service portion of the responsibilities, but they fall short in the equally important retail traits.

More often than not, the best retail sales professionals are found outside of your company. Generally, external applicants are a better option, because they bring fresh and different ideas, suggestions and experiences to the table. I recommend two avenues for searching for employees externally. First, seek referrals from friends or family members of current employees. Second, engage in active recruiting. When you’re out shopping or eating, pay attention to the people that help or serve you. If you notice someone that gives exceptional service, offer to interview them for the open position you have. The benefit of recruiting is you see the person doing their work firsthand.

When looking externally, be sure to keep an open mind about taking someone from outside the HME industry and teaching them the ropes. As an HME business owner, you are an expert in the industry and by spending time with the new employee every day and answering the concerns they have, soon he or she will become an expert too.

Giving New Retail Employees the Tools to Excel

Once you find and hire the right person, it’s important to be clear about his or her responsibilities and your expectations up front. Ideally a retail sales professional is responsible for all aspects of the retail portion of your business including: ordering, stocking, merchandising retail products, reviewing sales reports, making operational decisions based on the reporting, and communicating with and training other customer service representatives to reach sales and business goals.

To continue to push your employees to reach their goals, implement an incentive program. Incentive programs should be based on both customer service goals and retail sales and business operations expectations. With the right retail-minded person in the position, incentives and goal tracking will not only push them to reach goals but also continue to exceed expectations.

In order for your retail sales person to reach their full potential, set up an ongoing training program that reinforces the roles laid out in the job description. The goal of training is to supply employees with the tools they need to meet or exceed your business goals in customer service, product knowledge, and selling. There are endless resources available for you to train your employees. Ideally, you should offer a combination of individual online coursework, hands-on sales training, role playing and training on specific products provided by vendors. Exposing your sales person to a variety of training types will give them the experience to handle every customer situation.

The final step in coaching your retail sales professional to succeed is creating a clear workflow structure and communication channel between you, your retail sales person, and all other employees involved in the retail side of your business. Start by creating organizational charts and clearly explaining the workflow to the entire team. An organizational chart defines who an employee will be expected to work with on a regular basis, allowing them to communicate goals, expectations and outcomes related to retail sales and customer service. Workflow charts show who is responsible for the communication, outcomes and tasks for customer service, purchasing, management and retail sales among other tasks. Finally, job descriptions should be revisited annually with the employee and senior leadership to manage changes in the business and remind everyone of their responsibilities and tasks.

The process of hiring and training a new employee can seem daunting, but when executed correctly and efficiently, the right retail sales professional can take your business from stagnant to soaring.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Rob Baumhover, director of retail programs with VGM & Associates (Waterloo, Iowa; www.vgm.com), which assists VGM members to diversify their HME businesses through improved retail operations.

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