Your sales staff wants their pick of the 'best' customers while you want to get maximum return from your sales floor.
Staffing the sales floor properly involves recruiting, hiring, training and scheduling. Each of these components will be discussed at length in future FURNITURE WORLD issues. This article is primarily aimed at the awkward task of staffing, to effectively and efficiently meet your store's sales goals.
The three primary considerations that you, the retail manager need to address when staffing your floor are:
- Insuring that your stores have adequate staffing to
provide the highest return on customer assets (traffic).
- Allowing your sales staff to realize their need for fair incomes.
- Satisfying the customer's desire for uniform quality of sales service.
The most common mistake made by retailers is basing floor staffing on the first two issues alone. There is a conflict of interest between these two issues that can be resolved only through compromise. The owner would like to have a sales person for every customer to ensure coverage. The sales person would like to be able to select from a "pool" of lucrative customer opportunities. There is a constant "push-pull" between owners and sales people as to when the next sales person should be hired.
To make matters more difficult, retail traffic flow is not uniform. Weekends demand more sales staff than weekdays. An imbalance occurs when the number of sales people you have working at your store causes you to be overstaffed during weekdays and understaffed on weekends.
Hundreds of furniture sales people interviewed by SMG have recounted legitimate horror stories of how their compensation plans left nothing for the owner to lose by overstaffing the floor. Sales people become visibly distressed at the mere mention of hiring additional staff. The problem is that both party's needs are valid but contradictory. There is no simple formula which will adequately service each agenda.
The sole basis for a formula which will meet the needs of both the store and the sales team is one which puts the needs of the customer first. Sales people can only offer two things to your customers: knowledge and time. The amount of revenue they produce is dependent upon how much they know and how much time they spend sharing this knowledge with every customer. Knowledge can be improved by training. Time requires proper staffing. The owner, controls both.
Retailers spend a fortune every year improving the skills of their sales teams. To effectively put these skills into action, sales people require more time with each customer. Following training, however, owners and managers rarely even attempt to staff their floors properly so that sales people can translate their new skills into additional sales. The sales staff, therefore, quickly resorts to past survival tactics to help them service every customer. The result is an apparent failure of the training program when, in fact, the training may have been excellent. It simply had no chance to succeed.
Let me share an experience that the banking industry faced several years ago. As more banks began to offer the same services, customers started choosing their bank based on checking account rates and locations of automated teller machines. Banking became a commodity business. To win back customer loyalty banks had to offer new services, such as diversified lending options and varied financial services. To effectively implement these new services tellers had to be trained how to explain each service properly. After successful training, tellers were spending so much time with each customer, introducing them to new programs, that the lines began to get longer and longer. Gradually, tellers stopped using their new sales skills in order to meet the needs of the majority of their customers. The banks had failed to staff their branches properly to give employees the time to use these new skills.TRAFFIC COUNT
Staffing to the needs of your customer can benefit both owner and sales person if the sales person understands that there is a formula to determine the store's exact staffing needs. The sales person must agree in principle to this in order to develop a staffing strategy which will work. However, before we can discuss the formula for determining staffing requirements, we must measure your current traffic. Traffic count is the critical measurement in determining staffing requirements. Without it you cannot measure the difference between sales person performance or advertising success.
The second number you must determine is your Service Standard which is the amount of time that should be spent on average with each customer. Depending upon the situation, sometimes as little as ten minutes may be enough with one customer and as much as two hours may be right for another. But you must schedule your floor to allow sufficient time for your sales people to provide your Service Standard. You are the only person who can determine the right service standard for your business, but I can share some averages based on my own experience.
The time a sales person needs to spend with a customer usually depends on product mix. Typical service standards for low, middle and high-end stores are noted below (staffing formulas).
Once you know your traffic count and you have decided upon a service standard... then the formula is easy. Take the maximum number of hours a sales person can work (including non-selling time) and divide it by your service standard to determine the maximum UPs a sales person should take. This is then divided into the traffic count to tell you how many sales people to schedule for each hour or day.
If you invest in improving sales skills, you must provide sales people enough time to use those skills. The reverse is also true. As you increase the time spent with each customer you must improve the skills to make the best use of this time. Training and staffing are interdependent. To understand this we must look at a typical scenario which you have probably experienced. Due to successful merchandising and advertising, we often find the sales staff is "drinking out of a fire hose." There are enough customers that sales people don't need to spend a lot of time with each one in order to have a good day. When you observe this, you hire an additional sales person to improve service. You expect the more experienced sales people to show the new person the ropes and make them productive right away. Unfortunately, the sales people see every new staff member as a threat, so they do everything in their power to ensure the new person will be unsuccessful and quit. If the sales force does not agree with your hiring strategy before you begin looking for additional people, they are in a better position to sabotage that strategy than you are to ensure its success.
So in addition to correcting your staffing situation you must provide the skills to ensure that your sales people are capable of using additional time to improve their productivity. The goal is to get a higher return from fewer customers per sales person. This is accomplished by improving closing rate and increasing average ticket, which we'll talk more about in upcoming articles. It is the sales manager's responsibility to track traffic on a daily basis. As you see increases in the number of customers entering your store, you should be able to forecast your staffing requirements. This will allow you to avoid surprising your sales team and give you advanced warning on recruiting needs.WEEKEND / WEEKDAY STAFFING
Customers have more time and energy to invest in furniture shopping on weekends than at any other time of the week. But ironically, to maintain harmony within the company, we sacrifice service standard in exchange for order-taking. There is a better solution. House calls.
A well-trained sales person can turn a one item sale into an order for an entire room full of furniture. Best of all, it can be done successfully by spending less time with the customer on Saturday or Sunday. Instead of taking the quick sale and letting "house-call friendly" customers leave the store, sales people should be able to use that sales time during the weekend to schedule in-home visits during the week, when the store is less busy. While this postpones the quick purchase, it sets the stage for significantly more lucrative house calls to be conducted during times when your store is typically overstaffed. This is very risky for most retailers based upon their current selling strategies. Most feel they would give up a bird in the hand for two in the bush. But this strategy has been extremely successful, and not just in designer-oriented stores. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between a well executed house call and a typical design appointment.
The key is balance. Improved advertising and better merchandising is wasted if all of your customers do not receive a uniform level of service. Training and staffing are the only means of providing this. And they cannot be implemented as separate solutions. We are not just talking about growth, but survival as well. Today's market offers many alternate ways a customer can buy quality furniture that never require them to visit a furniture store. When they do we must make it a worthwhile experience. We must spend more quality time with each customer. If not in the store, then in the home. The only standard by which we will be able to measure success is that which is demanded by our customers.
STAFFING FORMULAS TYPICAL AVERAGE SERVICE STANDARDS
- Lower-end ($299-$499 sofas) =30 minutes per customer
- Middle end ($599-$899 sofas) = 45 minutes per customer
- High-end ($1,000+ sofas) = 1 hour per customer
Maximum hours per salesperson / Service Standard = MAXIMUM UPS
Maximum UPS / Traffic Count = STAFFING REQUIREMENT
Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact firstname.lastname@example.org.