Is It Time For A Manager?

Running a shop on your own can be fun. Chatting with customers, designing displays, dreaming up promotions: What a great way to make a living! Sooner or later, though, business grows to the point where you're stretched too thin. Then it seems there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. You start asking yourself: "Should I get someone to run the store?" You've reached a turning point common to most retailers.

"It's time to hire your first store manager when your schedule gets out of hand and things begin to fall through the cracks," says Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, Mo.

The symptoms of overwork are many, from delaying the return of phone calls, to putting off vital projects. Fact is, it can often be smart business to give another person some management duties. Hiring a new person can give your store an extra shot of adrenaline and free up your own time to pursue new growth opportunities. If you're considering hiring a manager for your own store you may wonder how you go about it. Here's a four-step plan:

Step 1: Decide what your store manager will do. "Typically the store manager handles operational duties," says Ian Jacobsen, president of Jacobsen Consulting Group, Sunnyvale, Calif.

"These involve hiring, training, discipline (in the best sense of the word) scheduling, motivating and evaluation of the staff, the display of merchandise, inventory management, store maintenance and, of course, customer service." Such duties are common to many store managers, but not all. Indeed, it's a mistake to define a manager without considering the individual needs of a store. A manager at one store may do a set of tasks far different from that of another. Possible areas of responsibility include buying, displays, inventory control and computer operations. So how do you decide what tasks your own store manager should do. Mel Kleiman, managing partner of the Houston-based consultancy Higher Tough Group, which helps companies design and implement hiring systems, has an answer.

"Before hiring that other person, ask yourself this question: 'What do I do best?' Many times that is the job on which you should be spending most of your own time. Maybe you are best at designing displays, or selling to customers. The key is to build on your strengths and not on your weaknesses." In all of this evaluation, don't overlook a critical point: The most successful store managers go beyond the performance of duties into the realm of leadership. "Your store manager must be a motivator, in.uence your personnel positively, resolve conflicts and be a good coach," says Martels. "You want the manager to develop your employees so they are even more valuable in the future. That's what a great store manager should be doing." This evaluative process will help you define more precisely just what it is that you expect your new store manager to do. You may discover that you don't need a store manager at all. Instead, you might just need another employee.

Step 2: Decide how the store manager will be paid. Good work deserves good financial reward. What does that mean for a store manager, though? Should you pay a flat salary or spice the compensation recipe with an incentive? "I believe there should be an incentive plan," says Martels. "And it should have some objectivity to it — that is, some mechanism for measuring goals." Easier said that done? Martels suggests using this acronym: SMART goals. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and "time-anchored." Here's one simple example that satisfies the acronym: "Increase sales by five percent next month." But it's important to develop a more sophisticated incentive plan that measures and rewards the right things. "Many businesses will watch 'sales per person per hour,'" says Martels. "You need to expand beyond that to include reduction in staff turnover and measuring customer satisfaction." Jacobsen advises taking into account the key factors over which the store manager has some control, setting goals, and basing incentives on the accomplishment of those goals. The level of profit, of course, should be one of those factors.

Step 3: Find your store manager. Now that you have your job description, prepare interview questions designed to determine the suitability of candidates for fulfilling that shopping list. But where are the candidates? Start with the people you know!

"Always consider current people who work for you," says Jacobsen. "They should already have a good knowledge of your merchandise, customers and operations. They should be higher on the learning curve for your particular operation." Also, hiring from within is great for morale. But Jacobsen cautions: "Be careful not to pick someone just because he or she is your best salesperson. What makes a good salesperson is different from what makes a good team leader. You don't want to lose your best salesperson and gain a mediocre store manager."

On the downside, the individuals working for you may not have the needed skills. Says Kleiman: "The big question is this: Is the internal prospect trained to do managerial jobs? If not, are you going to train them? And do you have the time and expertise to do that training? If not, you better go outside to hire." If doing an outside search, Kleiman suggests stretching beyond the usual boundaries. "Go to organizations that you like and look for managers who are actually working. You may already have customers with great managerial skills. You may find someone in places that you don't normally think of as requiring a manager. Maybe someone has run the PTA for a couple of years — that's great managerial experience. Look for people with alternative experience who may make good managers at a price you can afford."

Step 4: plan for a smooth transition.

Hiring a new store manager means more than just shaking hands and handing over the keys. You must be sensitive to the feelings of everyone involved. Bear in mind that your staff may fear change that can threaten their future. "Communication skills are really important here," says Martels. "Engage your employees so they 'own' the hiring process and are excited about the change instead of being fearful of it." Also, consider the transitional needs of the new manager.

If the person came from within, a mind-set change is in order. "Newly promoted people sometimes have trouble moving out of their old role and into a new one," says Jacobsen.

"What makes someone a successful member of the team is usually different from what makes them an effective leader." So set up a master schedule for the new store manager to serve as a road map in the transition process.

Finally, adjust your own mind-set. "When you've given birth to a store and grown it to a point where you are bringing in a store manager, it can be difficult to step back and get out of the way," says Jacobsen. "Very often a store owner who has hired a store manager will try to micromanage. That drives everyone crazy and creates a weak manager."

If there is one common theme in this article, here it is in a nutshell: Take your time and hire smart. "Every person in your organization is important, but the store manager is even more so," says Kleiman. "Remember that the person you hire today is going to determine the store you will be tomorrow."

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