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Retailers Experience Success Due to Employee Engagement

Expert advice on how retailers can craft customized services in order to strengthen financial performance through greater quality of management and employee engagement.


Published:

Memphis Daily News at Hollywood Pets

Management consultant Oliver “O. Lee” Mincey, who focuses on employee engagement and the attributes of great management, has nearly 25 years of training and leadership development experience. He has developed training and learning programs positively impacting well over 40,000 people for clients and previous employers including Six Flags, Disney, Universal Studios and House of Blues.

Founded in 2009, Oliver Mincey Co. designs strategies to help clients solve their most complex and interesting leadership and employee engagement challenges. Engagement helps reduce costs associated with poor employee retention, relations and morale. Its core values are: Do what is right, always; take ownership and get it done; inspire passion for people; focus on outcomes; fuel growth and innovation for both us and our clients; and embrace good cheer.

Mincey shared five tips for great management and his secrets of employee engagement.  A great manager, he said:

• holds people accountable;
• builds relationships with employees;
• communicates the mission/vision to the team; 
• is assertive and is not afraid of offering a different idea or of hearing a different point of view; and
• makes things happen.

“My approach to management always starts with getting to know the members of my team to quickly build trust, open dialogue and transparency,” Mincey said. “I want people to learn as quickly as possible who I am, my values and the vision of our success. Motivating my team to take action; being assertive when needed to push through adversity and resistance; establishing a culture of clear accountability; and making decisions based on getting the job done is how I have achieved success in leading people.”

PPN: How did you become interested in and involved in employee engagement?

OM: My interest in employee engagement started when I learned the art of brand stewardship during my nearly 10 years of working for Coca-Cola. To observe many of my fellow Coca-Cola associates loving their jobs and adding value nearly every day to both the brand and customer experience was incredible. That taught me the power of great managers who were able to build very high levels of trust from their teams.

PPN: What benefits can be achieved by increasing employee engagement?

OM: According to Gallup, only 33 percent of U.S. employees are engaged in their work. Meaning only a third of the workforce adds value to their employer’s organization. An engaged workforce is a primary driver in achieving great results in key performance outcomes including profitability, productivity, safety incidents, shrinkage and customer satisfaction.

PPN: How can you tell if an employee is engaged?

OM: Engaged employees consistently stand apart. They go the extra mile and exceed the requirements of their work. They work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company and its brand. You also can count on an engaged member of your team to drive innovation and move business forward.

PPN: What are the signs of a disengaged employee?

OM: They do just enough to fulfill the requirements of their job. They seldom have concern about customers, productivity, profitability, safety, quality, etc. Disengaged employees are often checked out. The good news is, this type of employee can be converted into an engaged member of the team.

The actively disengaged employee monopolizes managers’ time and drives away customers.

Disengaged employees are putting time but not energy or passion into their work. Actively disengaged employees are unhappy at work and can damage your company. The actively disengaged employee monopolizes managers’ time and drives away customers.

PPN: What can an employer do to get an employee engaged?

OM: It begins with the employer making a commitment to focus on employee engagement. Next, improve the quality of managers. Every team within the workforce must have a great manager. I’ve learned from the data and my own experience in leading high-performing teams that the closest thing to a silver bullet to increase employee engagement is to focus intently on providing employees with great managers. Studies conducted by both Gallup and Deloitte support the belief that managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores.

PPN: What are the attributes of a great manager?

OM: A great manager is a motivator of all of their employees, inspiring each to take action. They drive outcomes and overcome adversity and resistance by being assertive when necessary. A great manager creates a culture of clear accountability without fail. They are a builder of relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency. Finally, a great manager makes decisions that are based on getting the job done, not politics or personal agenda.

PPN: In what areas of training do you feel companies should do more?

OM: For existing managers, train them to hire “A” players. That is key. According to Gallup, organizations hire and promote the wrong people into management roles about 82 percent of the time. That’s frightening. Companies should also focus on and invest in learning activities that strengthen performance in motivating employees, accountability, communication skills and decision-making.


Retailers Talk Employee Engagement

Rob Gaudio, co-founder of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, with four locations in the Los Angeles area

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

RG: It starts with training and setting expectations. We train all our staff in sales and customer service, product knowledge and each service offering to deepen their understanding of our business. We also have systems in place to make it easier for our employees to stay engaged even when they don’t feel their best. Managers help to keep the energy high and quarterback the sales floor. We create competition but keep it fun.

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

RG: Engaged employees directly translate to more sales because they engage and interact more with customers. Staff often are asked “Are you the owner?” They really care and are really engaged, which converts browsers into buyers because the customers trust the recommendations of our staff. Also, engaged employees lead to increased employee retention. We beefed up training and work on developing our teams.  

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

RG: Delegate and get everyone involved. When people feel useful to the progress of the organization, they want to stay. Give them responsibility. It builds maturity, loyalty and leadership. Teach the staff with comprehensive training, which includes teaching the company’s core values, product knowledge, and sales and customer service. It’s also important to build teams. We have several locations fairly close to each other, so we give employees the opportunity to work in other locations and meet with other co-workers.

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

RG: Training is essential, especially management training. I do all-day training sessions with managers to help them become better decision makers and leaders. Payroll is our No. 1 controllable expense, so we’ve developed a custom training program on how to manage our people and keep them engaged. If you don’t actively make the effort to engage your team, then you are making it very easy for them to leave.


Kathy Hyland, owner of Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich.

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

KH: I create a fun work environment. We have contests and spiffs (an immediate bonus for a sale) where they can have friendly competition and earn a few extra bucks. Generally we will run a spiff on a certain food or supplement line, and the salesperson who sells the most during the time frame of the contest will win a $25 Visa gift card. We also pay our staff a reasonable wage—they start out at $10 per hour.

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

KH: Having engaged employees is so important in building client relationships. Every day we hear how well informed and helpful our staff is. We take pride in this.

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

KH: Being respectful of employees and valuing their opinions.

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

KH: We have bi-weekly meetings to “stay on the same page” and welcome input from all employees. We have social team-building meetings outside of the store, including a fall dinner.


Nadine Joli-Coeur, co-owner of Natural Pawz, with 16 stores in Houston and one in Austin, Texas

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

NJC: Natural Pawz hires staff that are pet enthusiasts. When employees love their pets and want the best for them, they embrace the healthful lifestyle that Natural Pawz pursues. So from the very beginning, we’re looking at bringing on team members who really understand what Natural Pawz is about. We’re not just hiring someone to fill a time slot at a store.

When employees are well equipped, they feel more confident and enthusiastic about being able to help customers and their pets.

We also provide serious amounts of training so our team members are knowledgeable about the products they’re selling. When employees are well equipped, they feel more confident and enthusiastic about being able to help customers and their pets.

We also hold quarterly meetings with our store leads so we can hear what they’re experiencing in each store, what new ideas they have and how we can better support them. When the store leads see that Natural Pawz is supporting them and really wants to hear their ideas and feedback, they are more engaged and willing to do their best every day. The store leads share this excitement with their store staff, and the enthusiasm is shared. It has a ripple effect and is very positive.

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

NJC: Having engaged employees means having people who are really knowledgeable about the products we carry and who want to help pet parents find the right solution for their beloved pets. From the moment customers walk in our door, they experience a warm welcome and a sincere commitment to help them find the solution they need for their pets. Our employees know our customers on a first-name basis, celebrate pet birthdays with the pet parents and help identify the best food for each stage of pets’ lives. That’s an amazing bond that our employees have with customers, and it only happens through truly engaged employees.

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

NJC: A combination of sharing the company strategy and culture with employees and empowering employees to know their communities and do what works well there.

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

NJC: Investing in employees is key, because retail employees are the first point of contact your company has with your customers.


Salisbury Super Pet

Ryan Mello, store manager of Salisbury Super Pet in Salisbury, Md.

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

RM: An employee’s mood is second only to their knowledge, in my opinion. An ill-tempered mood can immediately turn off a customer, and, with a small business, this is harmful to our public image.

One of the best ways to keep employees enthusiastic and engaged in the workplace is to have a comfortable workplace with distinct limits. You want employees to feel like they are working with their friends but also be aware that the store relies on them to keep customers happy and maintain the store.

One thing Super Pet managers have always done is to leave notes on positive employee experiences. For example, if an employee gets a compliment from a customer or they work really hard and make a big sale, the manager will leave a note for the owner. Even if an employee has been there for years, it is extremely rewarding to receive a note commending you from the managers and the owner.

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

RM: With any business, having engaged and knowledgeable employees is obviously important; however, it is a requirement for small businesses. Salisbury Super Pet is a locally owned store with only one location, so every interaction with a customer will reflect back on us. Small, local stores also currently have the benefit/burden of social media to deal with. It is critical to have your employees engaged and able to give customers a positive experience, because if it is negative in any way, there are multiple platforms for the customer to vent their frustrations with. Although many people choose to comment online with a positive experience, it is almost guaranteed that with a negative experience, the customer will want to post [about it] publicly. 

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

RM: Dennis, the store owner, believes that an engaged employee is an employee who cares about the store and cares about the customer’s needs. Finding an employee who has both of these qualities starts with the hiring process. The management and other staff are important in nurturing these qualities.

Adding to that, it’s important to limit distractions for employees by themselves and others. Phones and other employees are the biggest distractions and can be avoided easily in a business. Having a policy where employee phones are not visible to customers is a great way to limit distractions. In addition, keeping employees from talking about nonwork-related topics when customers are around is critical to maintaining an engaged employee. Customers want to feel that the employees are there to help them and that they are not bothered by their questions and needs. 

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

RM: Focus on positive reinforcement. At Super Pet we have frequent selling contests, which reward employees for selling specific products. These contests benefit the customer and the employee because they provide an obvious incentive for the employee, but it tends to make employees interact more than they usually might with customers.

Also, it’s beneficial to the employee to have a place to express their concerns and annoyances. Having conversations with your employees to alert them to issues they might not be aware of can help with these concerns. For example, if an employee always seems to be more engaged at the end of a morning shift, they might do better if they are working an afternoon shift instead.

There will be difficult customers or situations in the store, and the employee should feel comfortable talking about this with managers, but they also should know when it is an appropriate time to discuss this.


Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

SR: Four letters. T.E.A.M. We mean it when we say team, and we work on it every day. We, as owners, set the example for our team managers, and they, in turn, set the example for everyone else. If you start the day off happy, it’s contagious. On the other hand, if you start the day off in a bad mood, it can infect the rest of your staff.  

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

SR: It’s everything. If they’re not engaged, they’re not on the team.

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

SR: Challenging tasks that affect the bottom line [keep employees engaged, as does] connecting everyone’s performance so we succeed together or fail together.

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

SR: First: Weed out nonhackers who can ruin team spirit by negatively impacting morale. Second: Foster group effort to reinforce togetherness.


Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeffrey Allen Manley, owners of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, with several locations in Georgia

Pet Product News: How do you keep your employees enthusiastic and engaged every day?

JYB and JAM: Keeping our employees engaged and enthusiastic with their job is a daily undertaking. Teaching, explaining, exuding and understanding a company’s culture are traits that must be acquired by our managers. It’s important that our company’s mission be instilled in all of the employees.

At our weekly managers’ meetings, we discuss staff issues relating to customer service and look to see how we can help those employees who might need more attention to develop their skills. This gives us the opportunity to determine methods of constructive support, which is essential in building a team that cares about our mission to help customers. “Here’s why we do it this way” is more conducive than “Just do it this way.”

PPN: What effect do engaged employees have on your business?

JYB and JAM: An engaged employee can mean increased sales for our company. An engaged employee will start and maintain a relationship with a customer. Relationships with a customer will, most likely, turn into sales and, most likely, turn into multiple and frequent visits.

PPN: What are the secrets of employee engagement?

JYB and JAM: It must start at the hiring process. Applications are gone over with a fine-tooth comb. Once that is sorted, we interview applicants with at least two managers present, and more if possible. Each manager then shares his or her observations after the interviews are over. Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Pet Food and retail chain, gave us advice regarding the subject of getting good employees: “Hire slow and fire fast.”

Last year, we started requiring applicants to spend a minimum of four hours on the sales flood before being hired. This way, we have a better idea of how an applicant reacts with our staff and vice versa, and, most important, how an applicant reacts with a customer. During this time, we also observe how well he or she focuses when it’s busy and when there are no customers in the store. We have been pleasantly surprised at how telling this “test” has been in spotting those who really are eager about customer service versus others who are just looking for a job to pay the bills.

At TailsSpin, we believe that the quality of a person is a better trait to seek. We look if the applicant has spent time volunteering. We also look at experience in the service industry. After all, excellent customer service is what separates us from the big-box stores. We believe knowledge of the pet industry can be taught; it is the heart that counts.

PPN: How can retailers increase the number of engaged employees?

JYB and JAM: Being in retail means coping with frequent employee turnover. It takes a special person to understand the importance and the stamina in delivering consistent above-par customer service. It’s tough for us to employ those who only want to perform a specific task. It’s practically a requirement to be good at wearing several hats. A business is a living thing. We must always learn to adjust at all times with the changes that occur almost every day. Generations and people change as well. Dealing with Generation X is quite different than dealing with the millennium generation.

Everything takes and has its own time. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody makes successes. Encourage learning and having a sense of gratefulness. Truly, we all can accomplish much with that sense of gratefulness.

We encourage our managers to spend time with each of the staff members. Learning about what makes each tick helps managers develop compassion and camaraderie. As one of the local school principals that we partner with has told us, “Rules without relationships breeds rebellion.”  


This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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