Finding the right staff and keeping them might be a problem for some independents, but not for Nisa retailer Kishor Patel. Kishor, who owns five stores in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, claims that comprehensive staff training is the answer to keeping staff morale high and churn low.
"Many of my staff have been with me for a number of years," explains Kishor, "and it's because I give them the chance to learn different skills here. Training makes them feel empowered and valued, which in turn fosters a sense of loyalty towards me and the store."
Kishor, who is on the board of Skillsmart Retail, has put a large number of his staff through the new Retail Plus initiative, which offers a wide range of work-based training packages to encourage best practice.
"It's ideal because the assessors conduct the training in the store, which keeps disruption to a minimum," he says.
Staff attend courses ranging from customer service to practical food safety, National Lottery, fresh and chilled foods to beers, wines and spirits. They also receive training in effective merchandising techniques and are helped to hone their product knowledge - something which Kishor believes to be particularly important.
"Staff have to be able to speak confidently about the products that they are selling. They need to know where something has come from, and how it has been produced. It gives customers faith in the store."
The Retail Plus scheme has also enabled Kishor to promote members of his staff at a much faster rate than before. "It's fantastic because it means that my stores are 100% managed. Staff are so well trained that they do everything perfectly, enabling me to spend a greater amount of time out and about, looking for new stores to buy!"
Kishor believes that the high standards of store service fostered by good training also give him a major competitive advantage over his supermarket rivals.
"If the shelves are well stocked, the store looks clean and staff are friendly and knowledgable, then price often becomes secondary to shoppers," he says.
With technological advances such as contactless payment, the booming popularity of food to go, and the stringent laws on selling age-restricted goods, Kishor believes that it is more important than ever for retailers to invest in staff training.
"Working in a store is no longer just about stacking shelves," he says. "It's also vital that you teach staff about the workings of the retail industry, and the impact of their actions." Because of this, Kishor's staff also receive training on how to reduce waste and lessons in how the supply chain works.
"It's no good just teaching
a member of staff how to slap a 'Reduced to Clear' sticker on a product, they need to understand the whole process of reducing wastage that lies behind it," he says. "If they understand the workings of the business, they can help to make it more of a success."
He even takes selected members of staff to retail industry conferences. "Last year I took my managers to the ACS conference, and they will also be attending the Convenience Retailing Show this week."
Kishor believes that it takes a minimum of three full months before a new member of staff can become a competent sales assistant. "One of the hardest things for them to learn is how to multi-task. When it's particularly busy they might have to serve at the till, pack bags and change a till roll, all at the same time. It can get pretty hectic. The other is how to understand the customer's needs, but that tends to come with experience."
But Kishor doesn't hire just anybody. He's got a system of checks to ensure that potential employees are suited to the business. "The first thing that I look for is the way in which they communicate, as good customer service is vital. The second is reliability.
"They also need to have a good work ethic, and by that I mean that they are happy to cover shifts, be a team player, and are prepared to work late or early hours. On top of that I look for good personal conduct and a positive attitude."