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Up the workers

Whether it is money or responsibility, staff must be motivated to get the best out of them

Keeping staff motivated during a recession may be a challenge, but there is more to motivation than a cash bonus.Creating and nurturing a tight-knit family environment can make a massive difference, according to the staff of womenswear indie Coco Ribbon in Notting Hill, west London. “We are more like a family than co-workers,” says sales assistant Grace Young. She adds that founders Alison Chow and Sophie Oliver take an interest in their staff’s personal lives, facilitate Coco girls’ nights out, offer discounts on clothes, allow shift swapping and let the staff assist in creating the atmosphere inside the shop.

John Dean, chief executive of the British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA), agrees that mutual respect and trust will ensure staff work hard but does not believe it is the key ingredient. “I am a great believer in incentivisation despite cash being tight,” he says. “Of course set the targets high, but make them achievable. They can be graduated, but if the big ones are hit it should make a noticeable difference to take-home pay.”

But for Rosa Lamche, manager of contemporary men’s and women’s wear indie Diverse in Islington, north London, individual targets are a threat to team spirit because shy staff members who may be just as good at selling miss out financially. She says: “We have weekly team targets that everyone shares if they are reached, regardless of their position or seniority.”
For the economically challenged independent, encouraging staff to design shop windows and layout, help with buying and research new brands are all ways to instil a valuable sense
of purpose.

Chris Scotney, owner of menswear and kidswear indie Christopher Scotney in Leicester, says: “We are involving staff more in product choice. It gets them excited about product and they become more enthusiastic about selling it.”

At womenswear indie Sunday Best in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, owner Jan Shutt has 14 staff, eight of whom she takes with her on buying trips. She also offers a twice-a-year profit share. “Staff work better when they have a stake in the company,” she says.

Finally, simple encouragement should not be underestimated as something that can pull staff out of their recession gloom. “Praise goes a long way,” believes Paul Skinner, co-owner of Dukes Fine Clothing in Exeter, Devon.

Figuring out targets

According to the Confederation of British Industry’s quarterly survey, job cuts in retail are the worst since the survey began in August 1983, with 49% of retailers saying they had reduced their staff numbers.

Thierry Bayle, director of consultancy Management One, which works with independent retailers on stock and staff management, says things can be done to get staff selling more, preventing the necessity for job cuts. He says: “When we start working with a client we do a break-even analysis; this tells the client when sales are basically just covering costs and expenses. Staff need to know that once this is reached they will get a percentage [regardless of how small]. Then targets should be set based on these figures.”

The BSSA’s John Dean agrees. “Talk to your staff. Make them feel like a shareholder.” He highlights the importance of training staff, developing their selling skills and educating them on the product. But be prepared; with training will come ability and with ability will come a desire to progress. However, this should be embraced. If someone believes in the possibility of upward mobility, their true potential may be surprising.

Unlike Dean, Bayle admits that for some indies, financial rewards may not be feasible, but there are alternatives. “Let a staff member who reaches a target have an extra hour for lunch, but within that time, ask them to go and see what your competition is doing,” he says. “And it is crucial that the owner of a business has a vision for it which is shared with staff.”
Even after-work drinks, a bottle of wine or an early finish can give staff a boost, and do not forget one resource you have at your disposal - clothes.

Experts agree that money and time spent on staff is a crucial investment. “Your staff are one of your most valuable assets,” says Bayle. “Keep them happy.”

Top tips

  • Have a business plan that your staff are acquainted with, and communicate your progress.
  • Offer cash incentives for reaching individual or team targets.
  • Graduate the rewards. If funds are unavailable, offer an alternative. Try a longer lunch, early home times or discounted clothes.
  • Create a flexible, fun and family-like environment in the shop.
  • Allow staff to assist in crafting the look and ambience of the shop.
  • Develop staff’s selling skills and product knowledge.

ILLUSTRATION BY TOM GAULD
WRITTEN BY CLARE WEBB

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