Hiring practices: How retailers find, create top salespeople

Home Inside FCNews Hiring practices: How retailers find, create top salespeople

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By Amanda Haskin

A business’ sales team is the face of the company. They are the people who greet customers at the door and are essentially responsible for whether customers make flooring purchases. Hiring the right people can be a challenge for many retailers because the right candidate must be both a natural seller and, ideally, knowledgeable about the flooring industry. Finding these two characteristics together is rare, but retailers have different strategies to find their ideal employees.

“Hiring has always been an issue,” said Allan Ziman, president of Sid’s Carpet Barn in National City, Calif. “I am always asking where all of the salespeople went who were employed in the industry before 2008 when the bottom fell out and a lot of stores closed. Then again, maybe that is why they closed—below average sales staffs.”

Chris Cosentino, general manager of flooring for Nebraska Furniture Mart, prefers to recruit from within the company. “About half our sales staff were existing employees. Honestly, I go in and pilfer people from the warehouse. I look for people who are young, hungry and moldable. Many are afraid to jump into the commission world, but when you explain to them how much they can make, their eyes open up.”

He also acquires a number of salespeople coming from the big box stores. “I was with Home Depot before, and a lot of people don’t realize that when you work there you’re also stocking shelves and driving forklifts. Our people are only professional salespeople. All they have to do is sell products and meet customers.”

For Ziman, Craigslist and word of mouth through industry reps and managers have been his go-to resources for recruitment. But occasionally the perfect candidate comes to him through atypical avenues.

“A year ago I was looking for a salesperson in one of our retail stores and there did not seem to be any good candidates,” he recalled. “Then one day a young man left his resume by chance at our office and proceeded to do this several more times over the course of two months. After no [quality] candidates had come forward, I decided to interview the young man.  After a few minutes of talking to him, I hired him on the spot without even consulting the other people in the room. Today he is still with us and I can see him becoming a manager someday.”

At Yates Flooring Center in Lubbock, Texas, the pool of prospects comes from nearby Texas Tech University. “For the past couple of years we’ve started approaching the interior design graduates of Texas Tech,” said owner Bobby Yates. “We’ve made a diligent effort to go after those folks, and that seems to be working pretty well. They come armed with knowledge and an overall ability to design.”

Yates said he also taps into the Texas Tech resource before students graduate. For the last couple of years he has been hiring them as interns, offering full-time positions once they graduate.

Keith Scott, vice president of sales at Pierce Flooring, which operates many locations throughout Montana, said he has moved almost exclusively to using an industry-specific recruiter. “The beauty of it is I tell them what we need with a general job description and they go from there. What’s great is they guarantee the hire for at least a year or they find a replacement for free. Our company has been trying to change the way we approach that process because what we used to do just doesn’t work anymore.”

Making an impression

Because a sales team represents a business in both personality and appearance, a certain level of professionalism is expected in the interview process.

“I look for the guy who comes in wearing a shirt and tie, who’s positive and professional and says all the right things,” Cosentino noted. “I’ve interviewed so many people. No one is teaching young kids today the art of interviewing. They come in wearing t-shirts and sneakers; they use slang and even curse.”

He continued, “I look for people in the early stages of their careers—entry-level people you can mold and teach what you want them to learn. We do pretty well. A lot of applicants come to us because our employees make good money here.”

Yates also believes that knowledge is a vital component of a successful salesperson. “Our industry is so detail-oriented—there are a lot of moving parts—so people need to have a certain level of intelligence to be successful. We do profile testing on our people so we can go into the game knowing they fit the mold we’re looking for. We test for both aptitude and attitude.”

Scott, on the other hand, looks for the characteristics of a natural salesperson. “We look for drive and self-motivation, someone who doesn’t mind being told ‘no,’ who can bounce back and go out and get the next one.”

Gary Cissell, president of Tulsa, Okla.-based Mill Creek Carpet with stores in three states, has had a hand in hiring sales staff in various markets over the years. What does he find most important in a candidate? Attitude. “I want someone who can be positive. To determine this, I like to structure a series of questions for the interview that relate to the job, then I ask for specific examples in their answers. What was the action and what was the result? I have a targeted, specific list of questions to get at characteristics I’m looking for in a person. It’s attitude first, then sales experience, and if a person has a flooring background that would be third on the list; it’s not necessary, but it’s a nice bonus.”

For those new employees who do not come in with preexisting flooring knowledge, education and training is the next concern. “The big issue in the employment arena is that most people are under qualified and we have to train them, whether it is for office help or sales help,” Ziman said.

Cosentino also believes the hardest part is teaching salespeople about flooring. “We don’t throw anyone on the floor for at least a month. They go through an extensive training program for three months in which they shadow other salespeople, work in the installation and customer service departments, and then start working with customers with a shadow trainer behind them.”

After three months, once he determines if an employee is working out, Cosentino said the company will invest money in the new salesperson’s education. New hires are sent to FloorTek in Dalton for a week, sent on mill trips, and vendors will come in and talk with them about their products.

Scott agreed that the educational phase is no short process. “We’ve implemented an eight-week training program, but it certainly doesn’t give them everything they need—that’s a three-year process that only comes through the school of hard knocks.”

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