5 tips for personnel management in specialist retail: Activating employee potential

By getting customers enthused about the products and services offered by a brick-and-mortar specialist retail business, engaged and qualified employees work to strengthen it. They provide a positive experience in store, even to those customers who are price-fixated online shoppers. Creating a team like this in your business shouldn’t be left to chance. With a systematic human resources strategy, specialist retailers can manage to activate employee potential.

Prerequisite: the company boss as HR manager

Company bosses are faced with the real challenge – going beyond daily business – of putting in place suitable staff development and continually scrutinizing their own strategy. A comparison between target and actual employee competencies, as per the company’s own target coordinates, guides the way rather pragmatically. Employees are the key determining factor in getting the strengths of the business across to customers. It's not just about sales success, it is also about the larger framework made up of product range, service and price. Employees are best placed to review strategic positioning when talking to customers and give valuable experience-based feedback. Business owners need to train them for this systematically.

1. Personnel strategy with clear aims

It is important, particularly for small and medium-sized specialist retailers, to impart clear objectives for staff development. At the centre of it stands the satisfied customer and their shopping experience. To achieve this goal, teams must be capable of adequately conveying the advantages of products and services. Explaining to a customer why a particular product is the best one for them is one of the more complex training topics. Even with customers arriving in store better informed than ever, employees score particularly well when they make a good job of getting all aspects of the product features across to the customer. This ranges all the way to the material properties, production conditions and sustainability aspects.
However, behind the goal of the "satisfied customer experience" hide many other objectives that are harmonised by a human resources strategy. This includes the duration of a sales pitch, an order and service-oriented mindset, and other in-store extras that customers wish for. 

2. Enhancing employee competencies

Customers are, however, not one single homogeneous group. For this reason, advisors who are able to recognise a customer’s motivations are in demand. With some customers, the price and performance will be the aspects that matter to them the most, while for others it will be service or individuality. If employees are able to recognise these different preferences straight away then, ideally, they are able to steer the advice and argumentation in one direction or another. In the end, it will be a satisfied customer who walks out of the store, confident that they have bought the right product. Above all, it is those with a so-called talent for sales who possess this ability. However, systematic and ongoing sales training teaches the whole workforce the subtleties of identifying the customer type and routines for the corresponding chain of argument.

3. Further development of employees’ entrepreneurial thinking

HR management can, through the right further education and training, make systematic use of employees’ customer experiences. They are the knowledge bearers who filter external views about product range, price and service that are gained from discussions with customers. This employee knowledge forms a basis that can be used to review your own positioning and, if necessary, to make adjustments. 

4. Open dialogue and feedback culture activates employee knowledge 

What is helpful here is an internal and open dialogue which, though an established feedback culture with a low threshold, reflects on strengths and weaknesses. Such dialogue formats, taking place on set days each week or month in a respectful and open atmosphere for discussion, are particularly productive, so long as employees are qualified for their additional role. 

5. Valuing team performance 

A classic stumbling block in the objectives hierarchy is perhaps remuneration based on individual performance. Used to stimulate personal sales performance, it can, however, lead to internal competition between employees or departments. This may even prompt employees to suppress identified cross-selling opportunities between the departments, for fear of jeopardising their own sales performance. For this reason, clear group and business objectives can assist in implementing business-wide goals. Employees will pay more attention to team performance where there is a success-oriented remuneration.

Retailer tips: activating employee potential 


1. Share your strategies and goals with your employees 
2. Identify potential areas for further education and training using a comparison of target versus actual competencies in order to improve employee skills
3. Activate employee know-how through an open dialogue and feedback culture
4. Use contact with customers to readjust business strategy, if necessary
5. Financial bonuses should, in particular, take team performance and business success into account

About the author 

Thomas Tjiang is business and local journalist and communication consultant. Since the start of the 1990s, he has worked for all types of media. The freelance expert for literature and communication science has lived in Nuremberg for 30 years. 

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