This is Part III of the annual TWICE Retail Executive Roundtable, held during CES 2019. Part I, in which participants shared Q4 results, can be found here, while Part II, with discussions of selling the smart home, is here.
TWICE: Speaking of selling up, how is that going to challenge you in the job market?
Debbie Schaeffer, principal, Mrs. G TV & Appliances: For us, especially on the sales side, it’s very challenging. You have to be knowledgeable to sell the product, not be just an order taker. Otherwise, that refrigerator is coming back. Training, timing, and finding people who want to be in retail sales is hard.
Everybody is looking for employees [in New Jersey]. There are no [service] apprentices today. There are knowledgeable servicers who work for us, and I am shocked I have not seen anyone with apprentices. These are older businesses and retirement is not far away. Younger people coming out of tech schools is not the same as working day-to-day. It’s bad. They’re not diagnosing problems quick enough, well enough, and the customers are angry.
Stephanie Keough, chief merchant, World Wide Stereo: World Wide Stereo prides itself on customer service and the mantra of doing well by doing good. So much of our challenge is the technology. Salesmen have to be in the know in all the technology coming out. You service; we install. That combination of being the expert in surround system, video, home theater, lighting, shades, networking is where we struggle to find quality. Everything’s changing so fast.
Trevor May, executive director, vendor management, D&H Distributing: It speaks to the challenges created by macroeconomics of more job openings, people applying, and low unemployment. The upside is it challenges employers to look at benefit packages, training, retaining people and attracting talent. You can’t just turn-and-burn and have a high turnover rate. You have customer service and technology needs, and our industry doesn’t have someone coming out of a trade/training college where they step into this position. It’s up to us to develop and train and retain people to want to stay in your organization for 10, 20, 30 years.
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Michael D. McMahon, national retail, direct2consumer & distribution strategy, Sprint: We have over 12,000 employees in our company-owned retail stores, more than 13,000 in our dealer distribution. In the past year, we invested $52 million on retention of our 12,000 employees. It’s hypercompetitive, especially the Northwest with the low unemployment and high-wage tech jobs. I think those investments helped because voluntary turnover is flat, going down year over year. We’re looking at investments in the next 12 months to be competitive and to keep the workforce we have.
May: That’s a good thing for those that are employed, including us in this room. Those running organizations need to think about how to keep us. What do those attributes look like?
Stephen Baker, tech industry analyst, The NPD Group: We talked about smart home, 5G, and technological solutions to help people live better. We’re also at the cusp of IT solutions around services. Maybe you don’t have to be as trained because the devices diagnose themselves?
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Schaeffer: We’re not there yet.
Baker: But new technologies are coming that will make service and installs easier. Virtual reality will help people envision and understand what they’re doing, making the job easier and better. But we’re not quite there. In a couple of years there will be value propositions for retailers and installation around AI.
Keough: Part of the whole-home automation is whole-home monitoring and getting ahead of it. I know when something goes down in your system long before you do. I have already corrected it and you didn’t skip a beat. No one wants that phone call. No one wants to roll a truck.
Doug Wrede, VP of merchandising, CE, Nationwide Marketing Group: The comments by Debbie and Stephanie resonate in any group setting with retailers. Good work is hard to find whether you’re trying to fill a back office, service department, sales. Hiring the wrong person will cost more time and money in training and firing them than hiring the right person the first time.
There is no silver bullet that I can find to solve this problem. Devices that troubleshoot themselves still require manpower and resources. When you do find someone good, a rock star, they’re a flight risk. They’ll get poached.