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Hiring Advice from the Shop Floor


Securing new employees hasn’t been an easy task for years, well before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Low unemployment rates and high demand for able, qualified bodies in a multitude of industries has given potential new hires leverage and has been particularly challenging to small and mid-sized businesses — particularly in the past two years. With the economy now shifting down a bit, perhaps heading toward recessionary times, the balance of power may soon be moving back to employers. Nonetheless, best hiring practices remain vital to small and independent retailers regardless of the economic climate. 

Sportstyle reached out for tips in hiring and polled several independent shoe and run specialty shops to get their respective takes on the issue. The retail insights ranged from focusing more on “aligned values” and “culture fit” to finding employees with the basic, but much-needed traits of being “willing to work” and having a “positive attitude.” It also included one shop that informs its local Run Club members when positions are available. And other stores who suggest focusing on what your store has to offer to a potential employee as much as what the employee has to offer to the store. A key takeaway: an employee’s personality is as important as their previous on-the-job experience in many cases. 

How Retailers Find the Right Employees

“For many years we focused our hiring practices exclusively on finding people with experience in footwear retail or high end retail sales. This generally provided us people that were quick to plug in because they required minimum training.

We have evolved that practice in response to the changes in the workplace and the challenges with hiring in general. We now focus more on finding applicants that align with our values as an organization. We put a lot of energy into having clearly defined values and have found it to be successful in hiring and retaining great employees. This method requires us to lean more into each individual and provide them with extra guidance and support but ultimately leads to a stronger overall team.”

— Dillon Dardano, Dardano’s Shoes 

“We typically invite potential new hires in for two short sessions as a shadow day. This allows them to see what it’s actually like working at RUNdetroit and also allows us to do more of a working interview and see how they get along with other staff. No training is involved. This is strictly understanding the culture that we are trying to foster. This method has allowed us to really weed out people who look good on paper but would not be a good fit over the long term.

Once we hire a new staff member, we put them through an initial 40 hours of training that is somewhat light on processes and procedures. It’s more focused on the customer experience, the culture, and critical thinking for problem solving. The second 40 hours is focused on the ins and outs of procedures. All in all, I would say that our method has been extremely successful. So successful that we’ve not actually hired anybody in a little over two and a half years.”

— Justin Craig, RUNdetroit

“The best way we find people is from employee referrals or people we might know in the industry. If the new employee stays six months we give our current employee $500. If the new staffer stays a full year, the current employee gets another $500.

And all of our sales associates are on commission vs. hourly, whichever is more. To get the right people you have to compensate them, especially in this hiring environment. The minimum employees make here is $20 per hour, but none of our associates are currently making that as they are all making significantly more. We also give them bonus opportunities based on selling multiple items, accessories etc., and offer a benefit plan that rivals most other employers.

Making a good impression on the candidate during the interview is crucial. It’s important to help land the hire you want, but word will get around if candidates aren’t pleased with the hiring process, affecting all future hiring prospects. These days, people aren’t afraid to warn others about bad experiences with companies on social media.

As far as the type of people we look for, it’s mostly about their personality and less about out what type of experience in this industry they might have had. We can train them how to sell shoes, but if you don’t have the right attitude or personality traits then you won’t be successful here. Shoe experience is certainly helpful and makes the onboarding process easier, but some of our best employees didn’t have any shoe experience before they started working here.”

— Michael Wittenstein, Karavel Shoes

“We have used a few different practices that have enabled us to staff our two locations in Bluffton and Hilton Head, SC. The first practice is to make sure that we let our members who participate in our weekly Run Club events know we are hiring. I had two great candidates apply that we are lucky to have employed with us today! They also tell their family members who may be looking for employment to apply. Secondly, we have referral cards for our employees to give to friends, customers they feel would fit into our culture at PRC. We do use that as an incentive, we will reward the employee if we hire the applicant they referred.  It has given us another amazing staff member. Finally, our student athletes who shop at our store are a perfect source of hiring. They know us and have a general understanding of the products. This landed us one of the best employees we have today.”

— Tammy Zito, Palmetto Running Co.

 “At Beck’s Shoes we don’t necessarily focus on work experience, we focus on applicants that have the willingness to learn and project positivity that will contribute to the overall work environment…With the hiring market being as challenging as it is currently, applicants are on the hunt for the right culture. It is up to us as employers to create a true family felt environment which ultimately retains applicants once they are hired.”

— Markus Lopez, VP of Sales for Beck Shoes

“Shoe Fly has always maintained a philosophy of being open minded when sifting through job applicants. Many people in our industry want to see ‘shoe experience’ or at least ‘retail experience.’ We don’t view any of that as being overly important or necessary when considering someone for a job at Shoe Fly. Some of Shoe Fly’s best hires have been people who had never sat on a fitting stool or sold a shoe their entire lives before they came and worked for the company. 

The culture at each of our stores is built on ‘The Shoe Fly Way.’ You don’t learn ‘The Shoe Fly Way’ by working at Dick’s, Nordstrom, or Macy’s. We want our new hires to come in as a blank canvas and embrace our unique/thorough customer service model… Ultimately, we believe that we can teach anybody how to talk about/sell shoes. We can’t teach people how to be good listeners, connect with others, or have an eagerness to help.

We are open minded when we look through resumes because the qualities that are most important to a Shoe Fly new hire don’t show up on paper — they show up once you engage in conversation.

— Mark Wagner, Shoe Fly