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Pay the best and you get the best. It is true, and it works for showrooms — now more than ever. The war on talent continues, and owners who think they will have a successful showroom with the lowest percent of payroll are flat-out wrong. The rules of the game continue to change, and those who are winning are obsessed with having the best people in their marketplace. No displays or storefront can replace employees who know how to sell and not only take orders.
I saw an interesting article the other day.
Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Parks and Resorts announced it would pay for all tuition costs, fees and books for employees who pursue higher education. Under the Grow U program, the new education pilot initiative, employees can register for a higher learning program on their first day through 30 offered learning partners, with subjects ranging from marketing, technology and other studies. It includes all part-time, full-time and seasonal employees and takes effect the day they begin employment.
Pretty bold move; very innovative. I am sure the park has a much larger budget than a decorative showroom, but would it work if we did something at scale?
The offer Dollywood is placing for educational funding makes the organization more appealing and has the potential to boost employee morale and improve retention rates. If a showroom tried the same approach, I would open the thought of higher education to include anything post-high school that would benefit the employee’s career — from accounting to design training to truck driving if it is part of the career path. And only if there is a benefit to both parties.
Think about how hard it is right now to attract and retain staff. If you did something similar to Dollywood, it would resonate with your team and create a great publicity campaign to attract future help. The concept of an independent, family-owned company demonstrating how much it cares for its team members by investing in their education is a compelling story.
Now, I am sure Dollywood uses some method of leverage against the employees with this benefit — meaning they must stay on board for a certain time or work a certain number of hours to keep the funding. It would only make sense. While Dollywood’s program has its rules and limitations, it has grabbed the media’s attention. If you know the costs of higher education, you know this is a great offer.
Build at a Smaller Scale
I messaged this article out to some showrooms to see what they thought, and the feedback was fantastic. Building something similar to the Dollywood plan at a smaller scale would still provide impact. Here are some of the ideas and suggestions:
• Target the program to employees already working and have completed their education. For example, an employee who has worked in the office for five years and is a strong member of the staff. But she also has mountains of student debt from putting herself through college before she came to work. She mentioned before that she “will never be able to pay it off.”
Offering to help her with paying off her education is a unique and impactful way in which we may be able to show her that we appreciate her as an important member of our team, rather than only a pay bump. Maybe offer a dollar-for-dollar match to the monthly loan payment?
• Normal paycheck deductions could be avoided if a program were paid to the employee via receipt reimbursements. It also could be how the company ensures that the funds are used for education and would help sell such a program to management.
• Make the program valid if the employee works a full agreed schedule and cannot miss a given amount of time for you to continue to help with the payments.
• For showrooms, any training on design/application should qualify for reimbursement — anything to make the employee better, stronger and faster at what they do. I would suggest enterprise resource planning and selling skills training be part of this.
• Covering the costs of travel to industry events should be included. The Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair and Lightovation would all help build the skills of the showroom employee.
Big corporations such as Amazon, Starbucks and Wal-Mart publish diverse levels of reimbursement or contribution to higher learning. They all leverage it as an effective tool to groom future talent and at least get a student’s time while attending college or trade school.
Tailor to Your Team
The key takeaway here is to find a way to make it work in your business and tailor it to your team. Why not do this to an agreed amount, such as $5,000 a year? This may be a way to bring in a new rabidly loyal group of talent to your operation. Right now, it is so hard to get the attention of potential candidates, and it is not an industry that new workforce members would think of as a career path. This may help get their attention.
I have promoted Wegmans grocery stores in my past columns, but here is another reason to promote them. They try to do things other stores won’t readily do, such as offer health benefits to part-time employees. Offering this benefit brings in a completely separate set of workers and has proved a successful strategy for the company.
This is radical, innovative and expensive. However, think about the best teams in the NFL; they are obsessed with recruiting. Do they have the lowest payroll, too? I doubt it.
I suggest you consider this:
• Make sure you have a well-organized plan for hiring, training and retaining your people.
• Do for your talent what other companies cannot or will not do, including for your existing team.
• Promote what you do and get referrals from your employees. Referral hires are 42 percent more likely to stay on.
I welcome any ideas and comments on what you plan to do or are currently doing that is uniquely different. We are all in this together and need to keep our independent showrooms strong. The best showrooms I see across the country are thriving with well-trained, well-compensated employees.