Loyal Employees

We frequently write here about getting and keeping loyal customers.  No company can survive for long without them.  But, today we’re going to suggest that loyal employees are even more important than loyal customers.  This may sound like retail heresy, but it’s based on the concept that raving, fanatical staff will lead to raving, fanatical customers while grumpy, unsatisfied employees can potentially drive customers away.  If you agree with the necessity of a loyal staff, read on.

Tim is a twenty-nine year-old graduate school student.  He also works part-time for REI.  If you’re not familiar with them, REI is an outdoor outfitter, based in Kent, WA, with 90 stores from coast to coast.  According to their web site, "What drives our business is our employees’ passion for the outdoors."  Tim’s job is a typical part-time retail position, but he loves his job.  Not only does Tim love his job, but his fellow part-timers, many of them college graduates working toward advanced degrees or professionals moonlighting evenings and weekends love their jobs too.

How do you get and keep college-educated men and women to work in a retail store, at retail wages, and turn them into evangelists for your business?  We asked Tim, "Why do you love your job?"  Surprisingly most of the "perks" of working for REI cost the company little or nothing, yet they’re the key to the company’s success.

In case you’re going through Top 10 withdrawal because of the writers’ strike, here are Tim’s Top 10 Reasons Why He Loves Working at REI.

10.  The customers are great.  The stores sell merchandise that people enjoy using.  Buying the equipment or the clothing is part of the overall experience of the sport. 

9.   Free coffee for employees.

8.  REI only hires customers.  The staff are passionate about their sports so they’re passionate about what they sell.  In a world where it’s often difficult to get retail staff, REI has a waiting list.

7. Work schedules are flexible to accommodate staff’s school or full-time job.

6.  During the Christmas season when neighboring restaurants are packed, the store brings in meals for the employees.  They don’t have to spend their lunch breaks waiting in line.

5.  Generous discount program.  Some of the staff actually put their entire paycheck back into REI merchandise.  Employees get to save money on their favorite activities and become evangelists for REI products.

4.  Employee benefits.  Even part-time staff receive better-than-average benefits, including health insurance.

3.  Working at REI is fun.  The merchandise is fun.  The customers are fun.  It’s just a fun place to work.

2.  The managers are accessible.  You don’t have to make an appointment to talk to your boss.  And, there’s no pressure to sell additional merchandise.  REI wants the customer to leave the store with the items that they need.  As Tim says, "You don’t need a $500 backpack to take a walk in the park.

And the number 1 reason why Tim loves his job at REI, they let him do his job.  When a customer-satisfaction decision needs to be made, they let the front-line employee make it.  Remember, many of the REI staff are college graduates, some hold advanced degrees.  They shouldn’t have to ask permission to take back a pair of socks. 

There you have it, the top ten reasons why an employee loves his job, straight from the employee.  Notice that only 4, 6, and 9 actually cost the company money and only number 4 is a large expense.  Yet they’re able to retain a staff of mature, educated, knowledgeable employees who give their customers great service.   It’s all about the culture of the company and the respect they have for their customers and for their employees.

How many of these ideas can you adopt to your business?  Better yet, are there any others you’d like to add?

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