Retailers grow with right use of employees

April 03, 2012

Wegmans, Trader Joe's and Uniqlo show how store staff can be the best ambassadors for the marquee brand.

If the attitude fits, wear it.

That’s what Uniqlo, one of the world’s hottest casual-fashion retailers does. And shoppers seem to love it. So do investors—the stock price rose through the recession years and continues to climb.

Uniqlo is distinctly pro-shopper. It saturates stores with staff trained well to service shoppers better—and build transaction size and repeat visits by creating satisfying experiences. According to The New Yorker, when Uniqlo opened its Fifth Avenue store last autumn, it hired 650 people and pledged that 400 would be on duty at any one time.

This runs contrary to prevailing thought in the United States—to pare labor costs, often to a point that makes shopping a frustrating experience, especially in big-box stores. Recall the disastrous results at Home Depot and Circuit City not long ago, when those chains tossed out their experienced workers, The New Yorker reminds us. Also, look at how tough it is for supermarkets—indeed, most retailers—to build strong sales comps.

By contrast, Apple store staff knows their products and how to tend to customers across the gamut from tech-savvy to novice. That brings converts and contributes to Apple’s status as the king of retail sales per square foot.

In the food world, the Wegmans and Trader Joe’s chains are two concrete examples of succeeding through employee training and in-store presence.  It is common for Trader Joe’s store workers to stop what they’re doing in order to field shopper requests or run to the stockroom to replenish items that are selling fast. Cashiers pull customers from longer lines in order to check them out immediately.

At Wegmans, Kevin Stickles, vp-human resources, told Reuters recently, “employees are our number one asset…think about employees first, the bottom line is better.  We want our employees to extend the brand to our customers.” The large stores house 70,000 products, and with the energy of empowered employees who can talk up the products, attain possibly the highest average daily sales volume in the supermarket channel.

Rather than try to cut labor to save in the short-term, The Lempert Report sees a higher road of investing in workers and applying them smartly to turn shoppers into advocates for your stores.