Type 'retail jobs' into any search engine and you'll witness the fervour with which T-Mobile, O2, Carphone Warehouse and others are recruiting. The rush by the networks and specialists to open new stores has created an unprecedented demand for store managers and sales consultants, and filling the roles is proving no easy task. How are those responsible for this mass recruitment drive attracting the right people, and perhaps most importantly, given the cost of training in technical selling, retaining them?

Gary Heather, a director at Retail Human Resources (RHR), a recruitment agency that has experience of the needs of mobile retailers, thinks that telecoms retailers start from a strong position because they are young, exciting, high-profile brands. They are perceived to be fast growing and dynamic, and therefore appeal to young people interested in the latest technology and working in retail.

'The right person could do incredibly well because with fast expansion, there are invariably more opportunities to move up in [mobile retail],' he says.

Paul Stalker, CEO of Paul Stalker Consulting, which provides motivational training and life coaching for retail employees, takes a pessimistic view of working life on the front line: 'If we're honest, retailers are having to compromise on quality because there is a shortage of good applicants.

'Often staff hired in this situation are lazy, disengaged and frequently take sickies. More often than not, store managers haven't been empowered to lead and lift their teams out of the bad morale and culture of underperformance.'

Lazy staff
Stalker's view is that in such a working environment, good people invariably leave 'because they can't work well in an unpleasant culture'.

Judging by current recruitment campaigns, mobile phone retailers are working hard to attract the right people and equip their store managers with the powers and skills to maintain high standards, knowing that customer service and friendly, approachable staff are essential for selling and cross-selling complicated service deals and add-ons.

At 3, where an incredible 31 new stores opened in August and a total of 121 new outlets have gone live this year, director of retail business development David Bickett has had his work cut out.

Rather than hire on the basis of sales experience and product knowledge, 3's strategy is to seek out people who are engaging and can connect with customers. 'The key objective is to recruit “people people” who will get along with our customers,' says Bickett. He believes female employees are particularly adept at this kind of communication in a sales environment, especially when dealing with female customers.

Bickett is looking beyond the existing mobile sales talent pool. 'There's an internal merry-go-round with people moving from retailer to retailer in quick succession, often having become quite culturally staid,' he says.

'Our view now is to say, “I don't care what previous background you come from”. We are looking at good people from the fashion industry or cosmetics, for instance, because their skills in selling and engaging with customers are already very well honed.'

Selling skills
3 is now recruiting using a personality profile that outlines the exact type of person required. The recruitment teams are looking for key characteristics of being personable, a good communicator and having a desire for continuous learning. 'There's no question on their asking, “Is this person a good salesperson?”,' points out Bickett.

He agrees that the culture of the company is also vital in keeping staff and says 3 is conscious of making stores enjoyable places to work. Although, he adds that the new female-friendly stores will not put less pressure on staff to hit targets.

'Sales targets are important, but you can make the whole thing more enjoyable by working as a team,' he says, adamant that from staff 'engaging' with customers, rather than forcibly 'selling', sales will be equally forthcoming.

O2 is also pushing the fact that teamwork is central to its stores' operation. Its recruitment website quotes sales adviser Robert Duncan as saying: 'Everyone is terrified on their first day, but there's always someone to ask and you learn quickly.'

And like many in the sector, O2 is vocal about the benefits package it offers employees, its reward schemes and product discounts. Clearly, the sector is learning that to be an 'employer of choice', candidates need some serious incentives.

This trend for friendly, non-pushy sales consultants and more supportive, flexible working environments has even reached Phones 4u.

Shaking off its image as a ruthlessly sales-driven organisation, Phones 4U now has a profile for sales consultants that values customer service and team working just as highly as sales ability.
The chain has opened 50 new stores this year, bringing the total to 419, and another 50 are expected during 2008. Hundreds of new staff can expect a slightly softer landing when turning up on day one.

'We are proud of our sales ability,' says David Downie, group HR director at Phones 4u. 'But balancing that with how you treat people in stores is important.'

He says the emphasis today is offering staff the work/life balance of their choosing. 'Some people are happy driving themselves towards their commission,' says Downie. 'Others might want a bit more flexibility. We don't want people joining purely because they know there's good commission. There are many other abilities we want people to offer, and we want them to think about how they can develop a career with us.'

Downie and his team believe a comprehensive 'on-boarding' programme will settle people into their new jobs and instil loyalty to their new employer. Joiners undergo a five-day academy to learn product and retailing basics and then are closely supported in store by colleagues during the three-month on-boarding period.

Development opportunities are now crucial too. 'Our GROW scheme is proving successful with 500 people coming through the development programme to become team leaders or sales force controllers,' says Downie.

Again, coming from the mobile phone industry is not a prerequisite to gainful employment at Phones 4u. 'We're interested in ability and attitude rather than existing skill set,' explains Alex Faulkner, head of HR Retail at the company. 'The new recruitment programme has helped us get to know candidates and assess them on this wider criteria.'

Applicant screening
Phones 4u screens applicants for sales positions via its website and further screening is carried out by short telephone interviews. Candidates are then invited to group interviews, so that around 10 people are seen together, followed by final one-to-one interviews. With this system in place, Phones 4u has reduced the time between initial contact with an applicant and successful candidates starting work to around 25 days.

'The challenge is to find exactly the right people and get them on board as quickly as possible. Once they're with us, we must help them deliver and develop in their role,' says Faulkner.

Heather at RHR congratulates the sector for widening its net. 'It's commendable that they're not hung up on the obvious blue chip names, and dipping out of their own sector into others has been successful,' he says. 'With expansion continuing apace, I think we will see that grow.' ?
Financial and lifestyle benefits in the job, good inductions and a clear career path will all lead to sustainable employment, but Stalker still thinks the key ingredient to a happy, high-performing shop is the store manager. In fact, he believes they should play a greater role in the recruitment process. 'No matter
Written by Mobile Today
Mobile Today


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