The company had been started by the father, who at the time was in his 80s I believe, and still came to work most days. His son ran the company. His grandson, who had just graduated from one of the best state schools, was just starting full time with the company. They had a large retail sales floor, and they also sold industrial, commercial and contract hardware. They sold Most Anything, you might say.
The day-to-day operation of the company was run by my boss, well call him John, the company vice president. He had been with the company for years I dont remember how many, but he knew the operation inside and out. The store manager ran the sales floor, well call him Frank. He had been with the company since he was 17 or so. I think he was around 30 when I was there.
It is these two guys I would like to focus on. There were a lot of things that made this place special. The company had been in business for years. The founder had a reputation for having or being able to get almost anything that his customers needed in the way of hardware. The sales floor was always well stocked with high quality consumer and commercial-grade tools and other merchandise. It was also well staffed with knowledgeable hardware guys (yes, for the most part, hardware was at that time, male-dominated).
John played a large role in the continued success of this business. The company employed over 200 people and was growing so there was a constant demand for new hires. John understood the importance of hiring quality over quantity and would allow me to take my time in filling positions so I could find the right person for the job. This wasnt always easy. Department managers often look at a resume and see the technical knowledge and experience first without thinking about the work history, gaps in employment, etc. John always thought about those things and then the technical stuff. He knew that if you hired the right people, youd keep the right people and keep turnover low.
Our edge over the large chains was product knowledge and quality. We looked for people with hardware knowledge who wanted to deal with customers for a living. In other words, they had to have technical knowledge and they also had to enjoy customer contact. It was difficult to compete on price so we competed on service and quality. We expected employees to give customers the best service possible. Anyone who went on the sales floor and assisted a customer gave that same level of service.
Frank, the store manager did this better than anyone else. He was straight as an arrow, smart as a tack , pick your clich. He was just a great guy. He worked hard and had a strong sense of urgency. He had a good sense of humor, was smart and he knew hardware. People enjoyed working with him and for him. This all meant that he hustled on the sales floor and people hustled right along with him. Frank understood that while a manager can often lead by example, he cant manage by example. He knew that excellent customer service meant managing performance by constantly providing feedback both positive and negative.
Our HR solutions did make a difference. We looked for people with a customer service-orientation with a good technical background and work history. We also made sure that they got regular feedback. We were able to restrict turnover, which was unusual for the type of business we were in. Of course we did a lot of other things, but these were some of the basics.
Tom Stables has over 20 years of experience in HR and general management, specializing in Texas Human Resources. He is an HRCI-certified generalist offering consulting services and HR Solutions, including policy and procedure development, staffing and employment, performance management, employment separation and unemployment compensation, and HR auditing. For more information please visit Grayhill HR Solutions.com.