The abilities required today of employees in specialist retail, and how employers can gain good staff

Individual advice, service and a high level of specialist skills: these are the key words that always recur when talking about the USPs of specialist retailers. Those who take these points seriously, say observers, have an opportunity to hold their own against the large retail chains and online shops. But it also means that those who want to offer skilled advice and a service-oriented manner need the right people.

“With us, a passion for what we sell and a visible pleasure in working for our company are worth more than any other qualification,” said Florian Henneka, CEO of Korbmayer in Stuttgart. It’s obvious that this has to be accompanied by loyalty and reliability. Retail training forms a good basis, but it’s not mandatory. This attitude corresponds to the staffing structure of this established business. Fifty-five employees work at Korbmayer, 45 of these in sales. “Our focus is on the team of advisers,” according to Henneka. And because they want every customer to have a skilled adviser, with whom he or she can identify, the range of staff is consciously wide. There are the “bright young things”, who personify a flair for trends, but there’s also the older generation, who are convincing with their years of experience.

Skilled advice is also given pride of place at Kinnings in Munich. Before an employee starts in sales, he/she must pass training sessions over a number of months. Even in employment, further training is continually on the agenda. “Only in this way can we retain our right to exist alongside online stores, and ensure that employees, who really know their job, can grow with us,” explained CEO Uwe Bollmann. It’s almost impossible to find staff already trained to meet Kinnings’ standards.

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Good staff is rare

Those who have found the team that they want are clearly at an advantage. But where to look for suitable people? “On the one hand, adverts in the local papers remain effective,” reported Winfried Malcher from the German Trade Association. But job vacancies on companies’ own websites could also help. On the other hand, it makes sense to allow potential employees to gain practical experience: through internships, school partnerships or training from skilled specialists when returning to work after a break, but also through temporary contracts, which can then lead to a permanent position. It doesn’t always have to be full-time employment. Henneka is aware that “in our segment, we are dependent on flexible workforces,” and he is happy to recruit for part-time positions. There are fewer classic mini jobs with Korbmayer. In general, for an entrepreneur, the € 8.50 per hour designated for the minimum wage is mostly too little for someone who is to offer skilled advice.

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The poor morale that apparently holds sway in sales assistants due to low pay can be seen repeatedly in comments on wage portals. The details here should be taken with a pinch of salt, warned Malcher.“The gross hourly wage of full-time employees in retail is almost € 16 on average. That’s pretty good, even compared to the economy as a whole,” in his opinion.

Fair wages, individual working-hour arrangements and a presence in local media can also help retailers to become attractive to employees. At Kinnings and Korbmayer, they also rely on in-house training. Henneka admits that this, too, is no longer a sure-fire success. “We’re pleased if we can find one or two apprentices each year, who can bring the flair for fashion and trends that is needed in our business and which, unfortunately, cannot be learned at school.” To present itself more forcibly to young people as an interesting employer, Korbmayer has got together with nine other traditional businesses in Stuttgart and this year, for the first time, is taking part in trainee fairs (stg-stuttgart.de). This association should make the apprenticeship of young retail business-people and specialist sales assistants more complex, for example through internships with partner companies.

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Last but not least, when competing for good staff, the personal relationships and climate amongst colleagues can play an important part, because competitors are also upgrading too. Some of the large chains are even scoring points with their own crèches, sporting events for employees and job tickets. Naturally, the chances of promotion in such companies are also higher than in medium-sized companies.

By Julia Bröder