HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, N.J. -- You can fight high turnover in the deli by hooking employees with immediate skill-based training, said a training consultant who will speak this week at a seminar sponsored by the Eastern Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, based here.
The consultant is Roger E. Herman, president of his own consulting and training firm, Herman Associates, in Akron, Ohio. In an interview with SN, Herman said even part-time employees can be motivated immediately by offering them both specific skills and overall knowledge about the important role deli plays in the store.
"I firmly believe that most people want to do a good job, but we need to show them what a good job is, give them ongoing training and coaching, help them grow, and reward them for good work," Herman said. Herman will speak Feb. 27 at a seminar entitled "Keeping Good People," to be held at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel, East Rutherford, N.J.
Herman said finding ways to cut down on turnover is crucial for delis, because of its effect on the bottom line. Not only does it cost money to continually train new people, but when there's a constant flow of new associates through the deli, there's nobody who is committed to serving customers well and maximizing sales, he said.
He suggested teaching associates particular skills quickly as one way to "get them hooked on the deli." More broadly, convincing them that the position they fill can be a career, not just a job, is the core of a successful fight against turnover.
"I would show a new associate immediately how to do a party tray. And then give it to him! It could be a mini tray, but you could show him how to layer the meat and what garnish you'd put on it," Herman said.
He carried that theme further. "How about having an associate make up a mini tray occasionally and present it to some unsung hero in the neighborhood, like the school crossing guard, the fellow who works in the basement of the water plant or the garbageman? Think of the publicity and good will you'd get, and the associate would be part of it.
"Getting them involved and rewarding them can be as simple as looking at your average sales ticket in the deli and asking your people to help raise that ticket by just 10%," Herman continued.
"When the goal is reached, it doesn't cost much to reward them with a pizza or a cake." The reward's function is simply to thank them, to set them apart, he explained.
Herman added that with access to computerized sales data in a growing number of stores, managers can easily give associates feedback on their progress in meeting such a challenge by pulling up figures several times during the day.
"People develop loyalty and commitment to the department when they work as a team," he said.
"Often, part-time associates are not that goal-oriented, but you can help them set goals and introduce them to the satisfaction of meeting goals."
He also suggested managers ask associates for their ideas on how to accomplish particular things. "When you're having a particular promotion, they will probably have ideas to contribute," he said. He advised asking them for their ideas on how to sell more of a particular product, or combination of products, and how they think suppliers might help with merchandising materials or sampling.
"Once they get excited about what they're doing, it'll create excitement throughout the store. Other departments will be sending customers over to the deli," he said.
"And when associates like working for you, they'll tell people that. Soon, you'll be attracting more good people who want to work for you," Herman said.
Holding onto good employees will be even more crucial in the future because the labor pool is shrinking fast, Herman pointed out. There will no longer be an endless supply of students looking for part-time work. Indeed, there are 20% fewer 18- to 24-year-olds than there were just two years ago, he said.
"At the same time, the economy is heating up. So there will be more jobs to fill. And there's a danger in just hiring warm bodies. If they're not committed, that will affect everybody's performance."
His prescription: Set high standards for applicants and then orient them properly and do everything you can to hold onto them. That includes giving them the big picture. For instance, tell them what the deli's role in the store is, what's the most profitable product you sell in your department, what's your biggest seller, and so on.