Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

3 minutes reading time (645 words)

Running an impeccable front-end

Running an impeccable front-end

You can have great merchandising, selection and product knowledge. But customers’ experience checking out through your front-end can make or break your store. How people feel after that interaction determines how they feel about your company.

You can have great merchandising, selection and product knowledge. But customers’ experience checking out through your front-end can make or break your store. How people feel after that interaction determines how they feel about your company.

This puts a premium on well-designed hiring and training for your front-end staff. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for retailers, feeling time-pressured and understaffed, to hire in haste and leave unprepared staff on their own at the till.

For ideas on how to do it right, I turned to Mike McCary, front-end manager at BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley, California.  He is also a part-time consultant on front-end development for the natural foods industry.

Four years ago, when McCary started in his job, he brought together his assistant managers to brainstorm the five key components to be a successful cashier: customer service, cash-handling, safety, efficiency and attendance. Then the group developed the key qualities needed in a cashier: honesty, respect, integrity and inspiration.

How do you know if an applicant measures up? It starts with interviewing. McCary always interviews with one of his assistant managers. Research shows that multiple hirers make better decisions than one person alone. Moreover, McCary wants his assistant managers to be committed to the success of new hires.

Interviews begin with a math quiz. “It’s not so much their answers as how they respond,” McCary says. Some get flustered while others take it in stride. He also looks for how professionally applicants present themselves. For example, are they wearing shoes or flip-flops?

Interview questions are behaviour-based to discover whether applicants have motivational fit with the job, i.e. what the applicant seeks in a job is aligned with what the job has to offer. Typically, they start with, “What part of your work gives you the greatest feeling of achievement and satisfaction?” “I love follow-up questions,” McCary says. “You can dig deeper and get clarification.”

Once hired, front-end staff goes through a thorough training program, based on an extensive manual to ensure consistent training for everyone.

The first day is scheduled for no more than four hours so as not to overwhelm the beginner. New hires meet first for 90 minutes with human resources for paperwork and a store tour. Then, McCary orients them to the front-end, describes his vision for the department and lays out expectations for performance. This might be the only time he’ll meet individually with the new person since he delegates the rest of training to assistant managers and lead cashiers.

On the next day, new cashiers receive courtesy clerk training for a half day, covering scheduling, logbook, safety, where to find things in the store, how to bag and how to clean. Bagging training is delivered off the floor to reduce pressure on trainees. Subsequently, new trainees work several six-hour shifts as a courtesy clerk.

Only then do cashiers receive register-specific training. Recently, BriarPatch assembled a training register off the floor, made up of surplus parts after an equipment upgrade. This has cut training time in half, with learners feeling under less pressure when not out on the floor around customers. McCary builds in three days for cashier training, though many don’t need that long.

Once a new cashier is deemed ready for prime time, the trainee and trainer will work a four-to-six hour shift side by side. Then an assistant manager or lead cashier will be scheduled to be nearby to answer questions during the trainee’s first shifts on their own.

With thoughtful hiring and training, you can run an impeccable front-end department. McCary ended our interview with this thought: “People are your greatest asset. Take the time to set them up for success.” •


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July/August Issue


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