“Closed due to lack of staff” is a sign that is following hot on the heals of “Closed due to COVID.”  Whether they are temporary or permanent, the closures due to a shortage of employees reflect yet another big challenge facing retailers and restaurants today.  Many small businesses lost their long-time staff during the months they were shut down because of the pandemic. Others were struggling to hire enough employees even before 2020. 

One of the main reasons we are having trouble finding people willing to fill these relatively low-wage jobs is the lack of affordable housing. Those working full-time at the national minimum wage – which shamefully still sits at $7.25 – would have to pay almost their entire income for a one bedroom apartment in most cities.  And while almost of us do pay well above the federal minimum, many retail employees are challenged to afford housing. Working with your city or town to increase affordable housing options is a positive step towards alleviating this problem.

In the meantime, here are a few tips that may help you attract the employees you need:

  1. Reach out to existing customers via social media and email blasts, as well as help wanted signs. Those who love your store and its merchandise are more likely to enjoy working there.
  2. Make the hours you are offering flexible and attractive.  Consider alternate weekends, for example, and assure candidates that they will be able to take time off for important family events.
  3. Have a set schedule so that employees can take classes or maintain other commitments.  This will also provide them with an income they can depend on.
  4. Look to high school students and retirees as a potential pool of candidates, adjusting the scheduled hours to meet the needs of these age groups.
  5. Offer a generous employee discount to all, and benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance to full-time employees.
  6. Set the hourly salary at the highest amount you feel your store can afford.

Even by following these suggestions, you may not be able to attract as many employees as you need. Perhaps there are small adjustments that could be made in your store hours to accommodate this fact. Maybe there are tasks that could be outsourced to employees working from home.  We need to think creatively to overcome the current labor shortage without sacrificing excellence in customer service.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder