It’s Time For Garden Retailers To Start Hiring Again

Carol Miller resized for online
Carol Miller, editor

They say you can tell what people care about by what they make time for. In the dating world, it’s the “he’s/she’s just not that into you” effect. If someone is interested in you, they will make sure you are part of their lives. If they don’t call, don’t text, then you know all you need to know.

Lately, I’ve heard myself and other people use the phrase “if I had the time…” when explaining why we’re not doing something. And I’ve noticed a funny thing. When others say they’re too busy to do something important, like improve customer service or merchandising, I roll my eyes. But when I’m too busy, well, I’m genuinely too busy.

It brought me up short. Taking on too much can blind you to fundamental tasks not getting done. And if others are blind to those undone tasks, what am I missing?

Here’s an example of what it might look like for you: A truck arrives when the store is full of people, so the staff rushes to unload, leaving customers to fend for themselves. Those newly arrived plants have bar codes? Then wheel them out and toss them on the first available benches.

There’s simply too much work to unload the truck and have the plant yard staffed the way it needs to be. And a merchandising staff is considered a luxury.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a grocery store that delivered the best customer serviced I’d ever experienced — on the day before Thanksgiving. Several people wrote to me to tell me how they would love to offer similar levels of service, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day.

As I read those notes, I realized that our industry is short on labor. The reason Central Market, the star grocery store in my column, was able to blow me away was that there was enough staff to take care of me in every department. And every cash register was open, something you almost never see in grocery stores any more. That means they were writing a lot of paychecks.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about how the industry is faring this year. Despite the weather, what I’m hearing is that customers are spending more money than they have in a long time (especially when the sun is out). They’re buying big ticket items that have languished since 2008 — furniture, shade trees, large specimen plants.

They’re also buying more products overall per visit, I’m told. If the weather cooperates this summer, then the industry may see its best year, although weather is as unpredictable as it ever has been.

All that extra spending means that there’s more work to be done. But over the past several years, a sizable percentage of garden retailers (48% in 2012, down to 36% in 2015, according to our State of the Industry surveys) have reported they have allowed positions to go unfilled when an employee quits or retires.

So perhaps our industry has finally reached a point where there’s simply too much work to be done for the number of employees on the payroll. When that happens, you can prioritize all you want, streamline processes so that your productivity is through the roof, but the sheer volume of work that needs to be done will overwhelm everyone. And customer service suffers, employee satisfaction plummets, and future profit dries up.

Give yourself a reality check. Can you and your staff do what needs to be done? Or is it time to begin hiring again?

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One comment on “It’s Time For Garden Retailers To Start Hiring Again

  1. Such a good point and one that I think a lot of people need to consider. We are all little scared when we see the number of employees on the payroll rising, but that should be a good thing, meaning we are hitting success, right? More employees means we have more to do, which means we have more customers buying more. My company is a wholesale supplier and we are feeling it, too.
    From the Wholesaler’s viewpoint, I have seen this a lot lately- many IGCs with too few people doing too much and then being frazzled, unhappy, overworked and feeling unappreciated because of that. I want to say to my customers, HIRE, because it is my drivers seeing the behind the scenes when we deliver.

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