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Desperately seeking Superwoman

When a member of staff leaves, Clare Hourigan is left wondering how she can ever replace her

Here at Sunday Best, until recently we were bobbing along doing what we do best - selling beautiful clothes to happy customers old and new. But then a bombshell dropped: a long-standing member of our sales staff was leaving due to her husband's job relocation.

So what? No one is irreplaceable, I hear you shout. Well, I know that, but it does pose a problem. How do you find that special person for the job?

As an independent, we like to think we provide the customer with a different experience from that on the high street. We have a beautiful shop filled with treasures that we have carefully selected on numerous buying trips. We aim to create a luxurious environment with music, special gift wrap, refreshments and personal shopping advice - and our sales team is integral to this.

We have to find someone who realises the customer is king, who can deliver the right message about Sunday Best to the customer, can be knowledgeable about the stock and knows fashion (a sort of Trinny and Susannah rolled into one, but without the cringe-making directness).

In addition, we want someone who will immediately fit in with the rest of our staff, filling the empty shoes sensitively and efficiently. We don't want the team to feel unsettled - they are sorely feeling the departure of their colleague and friend. We are in the throes of our Sale, short-staffed because of holidays and, to cap it all, the weather is depressing even the most optimistic of us. So, what we are looking for is Superwoman.

In the past, we have always managed to recruit high-profile retail individuals and it has been rare for people to leave.

People management must be the hardest part of any business, but if the recruitment is right, it makes things much easier. How do we ensure we end up with that special individual who is vital to our success?

As a team, we thought about people we know. Would they be good at this? Would they be able to do that? Would they want the job? We don't want to use the Job Centre as they are not discerning enough and it would take forever, which would also be the case if we advertised in the local paper or put a notice in the window. We could get customers applying who might not be what we're looking for and run the risk of it being awkward when they don't get the job.

Another factor is that, while we are admired and aspired to as a business locally, retail work in this country is not taken seriously. In other European countries, it is seen as a career, whereas here - and I in no way agree with this - it is seen as 'shopwork' with little prestige.

So, a bit of a plea here to all you other independents: how do you recruit that special individual? And, to any special individuals out there, we want you for Sunday Best now.

- Clare Hourigan is head of operations at Sunday Best in Rawtenstall, Lancashire.

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