The last time I wrote about the federal minimum wage was 2016. At that time, Walmart had just announced that it was going to raise its hourly salary to at least $9.00 an hour – causing its stock to plummet 10%. Today their website states that Walmart is “continuously investing in higher wages, and the average hourly wage for our U.S. frontline associates is more than $17.50.”  Walmart’s starting salary recently went to $14.00 an hour, and Target has had a $15 an hour starting salary since 2020.

Despite these changes, the federal minimum wage remains at the unrealistic $7.25 an hour – and it hasn’t changed in over a decade. Some states (and cities) have taken action by setting their own minimum to reflect both the employment market and the cost of living. In Washington, California and Massachusetts, for example, the minimum is $15 or more per hour, and a dozen more states will be joining them this year.

Both the high starting salaries of big box stores and the chaos of the minimum wage regulations have an impact on the hiring practices of independent retailers. It is hard to know what to offer, especially because keeping up with workplaces like Walmart and Target is challenging for many small businesses.  You may find it helpful to see if other stores like yours are listing a wage in their help wanted ads. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask your retail colleagues to share this information.

We recently lost a candidate to a national competitor because their starting salary was several dollars higher than ours. But she left after six weeks – it turns out that the additional money didn’t make up for the fact that the work environment was not stimulating, the schedule was irregular, and the assigned tasks were repetitive and boring. Be sure to stress the benefits you offer beyond the pay when seeking employees, and encourage applicants to ask current staff members why they like working at your store.

Although it’s a good thing that we can offer more meaningful work as a locally owned business, the fact remains that it is hard to live on anything close to the federal minimum wage.  Affordable housing is a key issue for those working low-wage jobs in fields such as ours.  In order to attract and keep employees, independent retailers need to consider increasing their wages even when it’s not mandated by law.  That may mean reducing the number of hours you are open, or limiting the number of employees working at one time, but it’s essential to the future of being able to offer an exceptional shopping experience.

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder