The current shortage of potential employees is changing the way some independent retailers do business – owners are working more, and some shops are cutting back their hours. With unemployment hovering at around 2% here in Madison, Wisconsin, we  get very few applicants when we have an opening.

One of our neighboring businesses, Bloom Bake Shop, reports that they have had great success hiring high school students. Owner Annemarie Maitri points out that these young employees are often working their first job, so this is an opportunity to introduce them to the work world and the benefits of being involved with a locally owned business. 

Scheduling is of course a challenge for students, and their availability is limited because of school.  It is helpful to look at the calendar to mark off key academic events such as orientation and exams. Talk about whether there are social events, for example homecoming or prom, that are important to them.  School vacations, including family travel and holiday plans, should also be taken into account.

Because these employees don’t have much work experience, they may need extra coaching about what is expected of them. Setting specific but realistic expectations for punctuality, attendance, appearance and performance are important.  And as with any new staff member, training is essential. If you don’t have an employee handbook that spells out your dress code, rules about cell phone use and other standards you want all staff members to uphold, this would be a good time to develop one.

Staff members of any age generally like to be kept busy, but you may find that a younger employee is not as adept at finding tasks that need doing. Keep a list handy for times when there are no customers on hand, and praise the accomplishment of these goals.

You should be aware that there are Department of Labor regulations that cover minors working in a retail establishment — even if they are family members. Young employees are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act establishing minimum wage, overtime pay and employment standards. Youth under 14 cannot work in a store, and those who are 14 to 15 may not work more than 3 hours a day and 18 hours a week during the school year (40 hours a week is allowed when school is not in session). Young teens may not work later than 7 p.m. during the school year, or after 9 p.m. between June 1 and Labor Day. There is a special government website just for teens showing these regulations and explaining the federal and state minimum wage laws, which can be confusing.  You want to make sure that you and your young employees understand the rules.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

Please note that there won’t be a Specialty Shop Retailing blog next Monday.