I hope that all owners and managers of showrooms would agree with me that their most important asset is people. Not inventory, not accounts receivable, not the showroom with all the displays and products - people!

With that thought in mind and a common goal of wanting to be the very best showroom operation in your marketplace, I submit that there are five things you have to do to achieve the very best people:

Hire the best
Train the best
Motivate the best
Communicate the best
Compensate the best

If you do these five things the best, you will have taken a giant stride towards being the best.

Hiring the best!

One of the keys to success for every manager is the ability to hire well. Let's look at how this is done. First, where do you find good people? There is no one answer. I almost always had the best luck in my business hiring someone who had little or no experience selling and little or no experience with our type of products (higher end decorative plumbing and hardware products.) We grew our own salespeople! We tried to hire people we felt would be good members of the team - who spoke, communicated and dressed well, would work hard and smart and could be motivated.

The first place we looked was inside the company. We evaluated those who had demonstrated the above abilities in another job, who had a proven track record and would benefit by moving into showroom sales.

Everyone asks the manufacturers reps that call on them if they know of anyone looking for a job. This is okay, but why would someone leave a good job if they're being paid competitively? There's always the risk that you might inherit someone else's problems and bad habits.

You can run "help wanted" ads in trade journals, newspapers, etc. Check out employment agencies, job fairs and local colleges that may offer opportunities.

I don't believe that sales, design and/or plumbing experience is a necessity. It's nice if you can find it - but as we all know, that can be tough. Hiring the "right" people and teaching them products and sales skills may take longer, but if done properly should earn you loyal, hard-working, well trained and productive employees.

Once you determine you have a position to fill, develop a plan to fill it. These items should be included in that plan:

1. A detailed, written job description. List the major functional responsibilities.
2. Who will the supervisor be.
3. A time frame for the position/person to start work.
4. What education and experience background is necessary.
5. What the minimum/maximum compensation will be.

How To Avoid Bad Hires

Bad hires and people turnover are very costly. There are several reasons for bad hires:

1. Poor analysis of job functions.
2. Poor analysis of the necessary personality/skill profile.
3. Inadequate initial screening (deciding who to interview).
4. Inadequate interviewing techniques.
5. Inadequate questioning techniques.
6. Poor utilization of second opinions.
7. Company and career/money expectations were oversold or inappropriately sold.
8. References were not thoroughly checked.

Conversely, there are three important elements to ensure you are achieving a good hire.

  • The candidate will be able to do a good job.
  • The candidate is willing to do the job.
  • The candidate will be manageable.

Keeping Score On Personality

Here are several key personality traits that I always looked for when making a new hire for almost any position:

Personal Profile

  • Drive - Has the desire to get things done.
  • Motivation - Looks for new challenges.
  • Communication - Can talk and write to people at all levels.
  • Chemistry - Will be a good team member.
  • Energy - Will always give the extra effort.
  • Determination - Won't back off when the going gets tough.
  • Confidence - Is poised, friendly and honest.

Professional Profile

  • Reliability - Can be depended upon.
  • Integrity - Take responsibility for their own actions.
  • Dedication - Has the commitment to tasks and projects.
  • Pride - Has pride in self and in their profession.
  • Analytical Skills - Ability to weigh pros and cons.
  • Listening Skills - Listens, asks and understands.

Business Profile

  • Efficiency - Conscious of time, effort, resources and money.
  • Economy - Spends your money as if it was their own.
  • Procedures - Knows and follows the rules.
  • Profit - Knows this is why the business exists.

I suggest you develop a "score card" with these traits listed and try to rate each potential employee you interview. It's hard to do in an hour interview, but it's a darned good guide!

Applications And Resumes

You should utilize a comprehensive job application form. All candidates need to complete one regardless of whether they have a resume or not. Be sure a good human resource attorney checks the application from a legal point of view.

The most important thing you should know about resumes is that they offer a distorted image of reality - their main function is to deceive the eye! Folks use a great deal of literary license when they compose their resumes. Learning how to decipher the information is the trick. You should be looking for employment history and experience continuity. Once you decide a candidate is worth seeing, read through the resume and application form again and jot down questions for any areas that you feel need clarification or probing.

Telephone Interviews

Use the telephone to narrow down your list. Your goal during a telephone interview should be to determine the essentials. Write down a list of questions that you want to ask, such as:

1. "What kind of experience do you have?"
2. "Of all the work you've done, where have you been the most successful?"
3. "How would you describe the responsibilities of a showroom salesperson?"
4. "What would you change about your current job?"
5. "What aspects of your current job do you like the least/most?"
6. "What are you looking for in your next job?"
7. "How much money do you want to make?"
8. "What else should I know about your qualifications?"

By the end of the interview you should have reached one of the following conclusions:

  • The applicant could not do this job.
  • You are still not sure.
  • The applicant is willing and probably able to do this job.

Try to narrow down the phone interviews to the top three candidates.

How To Be A Good Interviewer

A good interviewer is someone who understands and has learned the art and science of good interviewing. Gathering information is key to competent interviewing. You have to be flexible in your questioning techniques. What works for one, may not work for another.

Someone once said that people never really listen - they merely wait for their turn to speak. Good interviewers are great listeners. They live by the 80/20 rule: They ask questions 20% of the time and listen to answers 80% of the time. Learn to use "open-ended" questions that demand expanded answers.

Keep the interview on track. He who asks the questions is in charge.

All through the interview you will be assessing the candidate's ability, willingness, and manageability. Be aware of the personality traits recited above and try to build a "profile."

If you practice the team concept at your place of business, have one or two other members of the team interview the top choices. Compare notes and make a decision.

Do a complete and thorough job of checking the candidate's references. Good questioning and probing will give you the information you need.

Once an offer has been made to a candidate, document it in writing. Detail all the pertinent facts.

Learning the legalities of hiring and firing and everything in between is an important part of every manager's job. Be sure you are up-to-date in this important area.

I believe Henry Ford said it best when he said, "You can repossess all my factories and burn all my warehouses to the ground, but give me my people and I will rebuild everything I have lost."

If you agree, and I hope you do, that people are your most important asset, then learning how to hire the best is the first giant step in the right direction.

Side Bar: Hank Darlington At ISH NA

Hank Darlington will be presenting a seminar on "Showroom Management and Profitability," on Friday, Nov. 1, at two different times during the ISH North America conference program in Toronto. Hank also will be participating in a panel presentation on "Kitchen & Bath Best Practices," on Thursday, Oct. 31, moderated by Supply House Times editor Jim Olsztynski. Register for these programs and others at www.ish-na.com, or by calling Wendy Preston at 770-984-8016.