5 ways furniture retailers are retaining their best employees

From top left to bottom right: Tracy Jackson, chief HR strategist for the Home Furnishings Assn.; Sarah Luther, director of talent and employee experience at Hometrends; HFA CEO Mark Schumacher; and Irene Fostyk, senior VP of human resources at Levin Furniture and Ashley Homestores.

HIGH POINT – Recruiting and retaining employees represents one of the leading problems confronting the furniture industry today. Furniture retailers discussed the issue at a Home Furnishings Assn. webinar this week, giving tips and real-world examples of how they’re coping.

Here are some takeaways:

Consider increasing onboarding time until a full transition to commission

“We’ve re-evaluated our commission structure,” said Irene Fostyk, senior vice president of human resources for Levin Furniture & Mattress, John V. Schultz Furniture and Ashley Homestores. “We chose to stay with it, but we chose to extend guarantees of employees’ base from 60 days to 100 days. We have lots of new people and had to give them time to learn before we turned on 100% commission.”

“We have 90-day to 120-day period where people have a base,” said Sarah Luther, director of talent and employee experience at Hometrends, which owns and operates Ashley Furniture stores in Nebraska and Kansas. “We also have a bottom-line base in place always. There’s always potential for new employees to have bad months especially at beginning. Allow employees to make as much money as possible.

People work for people, not companies

Train your supervisors on how to be empathetic leaders. Encourage connecting, caring, and listening to people and provide management training.

“If someone says their dog is sick, don’t just say ‘oh, sorry to hear’ and never mention it again,” said Tracy Jackson, the HFA’s chief HR strategist. “Ask again later. Demonstrate that you care. If they have a loved one that dies, check in. If someone has a baby, check in. Show interest. Ask about the baby’s name.”

“If you have good enough relationship with your employees, and you treat them like they’re important, you will get things that you can’t put on paper,” she continued. “Relationship is key. You can’t put a price tag on it.”

Retention starts early

“Retention starts in recruiting phase,” said Luther. “Make people feel welcome on first day. Introduce them to your culture. Show them it will be great place to work. Make them feel good. Introduce them to other employees.

“Be realistic,” said Fostyk. “Tell them what your company is like. What it’s like to work here. Show them testimonials from other associates. Send a gift. Welcome them to company.”

“Bring new people in as a group,” said Jackson. “Give them a cohort. It helps them stay connected throughout.”

Measure retention through KPIs

Companies need to know precisely what their issue is and when it is occurring.

“Try to figure out where employees are falling off,” said Fostyk. “Is it after 30 days? Or later? Measure it by job, by location, by department – all vs. prior year.”

“Look at demographics,” said Jackson. “Is it an age that’s leaving? A gender? A racial group?

“Measure regularly if employees would refer someone else to work for your company,” said Luther. That’s always a good thing to measure and know.”

Each employee is looking for something different

“Some people think they’re going to be there for just a short time,” said Fostyk. “Others a long time. You have to know that everyone is not going to want to be 40-year employee. And that isn’t so bad.”

“Some are dipping their toe in the water,” said Jackson. “Some people will know this isn’t where they want to end up. To retain them, that’s up to you. “It’s on you to match their goals and align them in your company.”

“Many people are looking for development and growth,” said Luther. “Sell them on that, not necessarily the paycheck.”

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