Retailers must have the best people on board to win. But success isn't all down to selecting the right people. The trick is in retaining them

I think it was Scott Ginsberg who summed it up best: 'People buy people first.'

In other words, before your company and before your products; shoppers will first judge your business on the people you employ. In short, first impressions count. That's why it is so important to recruit, develop and keep good people who connect with your customers.

The demands of retailers in terms of recruitment have changed hugely in the past decade. I regularly survey retailers on their recruitment practices, asking how they go about the process, what attracts them to particular candidates, what their staff turnover is and how they try to retain staff. Ten years ago experience and reliability would top retailers' wish lists. Today, it's all about attitude being a team player and having a desire to learn are now seen as key attributes.

- Be clear about what's important to you, your team and your shoppers
- Familiarise yourself with the legislation (from discrimination laws to rules on interview questions)
- Recruitment is an expensive business. Recruiting in haste makes it even more so
- Part of the battle is keeping hold of good people. Do this by helping them develop and achieve their personal goals
Of course staff should be warm and welcoming, proactive and enthusiastic. Customers don't want to be served by surly strangers who offer no flash of recognition and no means of welcome when they walk into a store. That's why I set such great store by the interview process. And for this we like to keep it simple. To me, CVs, qualifications, isometric testing and the like are far less important than getting to know the real person.

To this end, we have established a simple concept when it comes to selecting new people 'Recruit for Attitude Train for Skill'. We look for people who will fit in seamlessly with our company's culture and get on well with colleagues and customers alike. Invariably these sorts of people are also the most amenable when it comes to training and development.

But don't get me wrong. Like everyone, I have dropped a few goolies in the past. I have rushed in too quickly to appoint someone just because we have been left in the lurch, or taken on people whose masses of experience have been equal in size only to the huge chips they have had on their shoulders, or recruited people blind based purely on the recommendation of a friend who happens to work for us.

Through the mistakes we have made we have learnt the hard way that it's never worth taking chances with your staff. They never seem to pay off.

And when things go wrong in recruitment, they can really go wrong. You can easily find yourself spending more time interviewing candidates than actually training existing staff. The cost of continually having to recruit and train new people is horrendous not only is there the difficult-to-quantify disruption factor, but there's also a significant and unnecessary chunk of the folding stuff coming straight off your bottom line.

Thankfully, I like to think that we've learnt from our experiences; in fact, our staff turnover in the last three years across 100 employees has gone from the high 20s, to 9%, to 6% and now stands at 3%. We've learnt that once we have taken the right person on, it's important to hang on to them. That doesn't mean throwing wads of money at them it's about showing them that they've made the right choice. In other words, making sure they're happy in their work and they can see the opportunity to fulfil their ambition.

When you get it right, it works a treat. Your staff are delighted you've taken on someone who fits in well and your customers are equally happy that those good people are not here today gone tomorrow. Stability is very important to the shoppers in neighbourhood stores. After all, good people equals healthy profits.

Business Barometer
How much of a problem is staff retention?
A major problem: 1%
A slight problem: 22%
Not a problem at all: 77%

On average how long do staff remain in their roles?
More than two years: 62%
One to two years: 36%
Six to 12 months: 2%

How much of an impact did the Royal Wedding have on sales?
Significantly positive: 14%
Slightly positive: 32%
No impact whatsoever: 49%
Slightly negative: 5%

How well did supply keep up with demand during the holiday weekends?
Availability wasn't affected: 68%
Some lines ran low: 29%
Supply was severely affected: 3%

Was this Easter better or worse than last year's?
Better: 29%
Worse: 24%
The same: 47%

New in my store
Name: Ed Prosser
Name of store: Harry Tuffins, Ludlow, Shropshire
Main suppliers: Nisa

How often do you get new products? I receive new products on a weekly basis through Nisa's 'First for New' allocations.

What new products have you started stocking recently? Tuffins Herefordshire minced beef and Westons jugs of cider. Both are local products. Our customers like buying local but they are demanding value for money as well.

Is any one product selling particularly well? Tuffins Herefordshire minced beef (2x300g packs for £3) is performing really well. It appeals to homemakers, pubs and clubs. Cottage pie is the easiest way to feed a family by miles.

The jugs of cider from Westons are also selling well right across the spectrum of consumers. They're good quality and they're a bit different to the usual run-of-the-mill lines. Trading up is quite commonplace these days. As a result our beer, wine and spirit sales are up 20%.

Is any product selling particularly badly and why? Alcopops are dying.

Have you delisted any products recently? We've delisted many homecare and washing powder lines in favour of promotional and £1 lines. That's because customers are much more aware of price promotions at the moment and are not wedded to particular brands.

Are there any other products you've got your eye on? I am always keen to stock local lines but our buyers will only stock this type of product if the price is right.

Property of the week
What: Convenience store and Post Office
Where: Paisley, Glasgow

The Lochfield Store and Post Office is situated in a residential area of the town of Paisley five miles to the west of Glasgow. This single-storey detached property can be found on one of the main thoroughfares through the town in a prominent roadside position that's hard to miss.

The store and Post Office has been in the hands of its current proprietors for the past six years and the most recent accounts show a net turnover of £115,802 (of which the Post Office contributed a total of £23,358). The freehold for Lochfield Stores is available with an asking price of £135,000.

For further information, contact Paul Graham at Christie & Co. He can be reached on 0141 352 7300.