All industries can interact and communicate to help out each other -- ours are no different. The Retail Solutions column in our new Expert Network section is designed to be your personal retail advisory sounding-board with retail owners, managers, buyers and merchandisers from our retail advisory partner, Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, available to answer your questions. The format for this, as with other Expert Network sections, will not be unlike a "Dear Abby" for business. Together with our panel of experts, SNEWS® will offer a forum for readers to discuss a topic, chime in with their own ideas, and suggest different recommendations to a variety of business concerns or issues. Fire off a question about any topic specific to the retail business by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our experts are standing by.
Q. It seems in our store that the female staff ends up working in the clothing department because the guys just don't seem to have an interest. I expect all my staffers to learn to fold and merchandise clothing. How do I create a work environment where the guys do these tasks?
A. Three specialty outdoor retailers chimed in with what works in their stores:
>> Contests, contests, contests! We run contests that involve selling certain brands or items (Gore-Tex shells, for example). This gets both male and female staffers excited about being in the clothing area selling, so they can win something no matter what the prize.
We also note on the schedule the areas in which associates are to work on any given day. If they are found in different areas not helping a customer, then they get a verbal warning, next a written warning, and, on the third strike, they are fired. This has not been an issue with guys in the clothing area. They know what our expectations are of how the room should look when they leave: All shirts folded, jackets zipped up, and items in their proper place.
>> I hear you, but this isn't really a huge problem for us. One trick: Get a folding board. We have a folding board that we show all the employees how to use right after they are hired. Most of our guys don't really seem to mind folding. (One of our male employees was so impressed by how the board worked that he bought one to have at home.)
Merchandising is a different thing; some people seem to have the gift and others don't. We try to use props like a cypress knee, shells, rocks, flowers, chunks of wood…whatever. Sometimes just by asking someone to go to the display area and find something that fits the color/texture/style/season helps.
Use the local party store for cheap decorations. One of my men couldn't find what he wanted for a Halloween theme, so I sent him to a local party store with $30 in cash and he bought some amazing props that we still use each season. Another time, he went to the same party store to find props to build a sandal display. He brought back a grass hula skirt that he draped across the front of a small table: instant palapa for a beach look.
>> Every full-time employee is given a department that is his or her primary responsibility. Assignments are given based on the employees' interests as well as our needs. In our experience, when employees are interested in their category, they usually do a good job of folding, straightening and merchandising, regardless of gender. We also share the job of creating window displays and it has become a sort of internal competition to make them fun and interesting. We have had just as many female employees whose merchandising standards did not measure up as male employees with below-acceptable standards. We have had an all-female managerial staff for nearly a decade and we find that they do a very good job making sure employees of both genders keep their departments neat, clean and well merchandised.
About Grassroots Outdoor Alliance
Grassroots Outdoor Alliance unites independent outdoor retailers as a strong voice to protect and promote the experience of outdoor enthusiasts across the United States. We enable access to best business practices for our retail members, to the best equipment and apparel brands for the public, and to the backcountry for all. For more information, visit www.grassrootsoutdoors.com.