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Retail Employees: 7 Things You Must Do To Develop and Train

retail sales consultantYour success depends on how well you develop and train your retail employees.

Yesterday I shared an important story on the teenage mind, how there are two different neural and psychological systems that interact to turn children into adults. Over the past generation, the developmental timing of these two systems has changed and researchers have discovered that experience is what shapes the brain, not schooling.

As long as they are given real responsibilities with a mentor, teenagers are able to mitigate the effects of the onset of puberty at a younger age and go on to become successful adults.

I interviewed Scott Reed, who has owned his successful Chick-Fil-A franchise for 23 years in Marietta, GA for this post. His restaurant is known across town for its immaculate interior and manicured exterior.  Scott’s outlook about who he hires and where he focuses his training time provides clues for any retailer working with teenagers – or anyone really.

Here are seven things you must do to develop and train teenage employees gleaned from that interview with Scott:


Scott: You’ve got to have a mission that is a filter for your decisions. I had a terrible one before, so I’m guilty of this. My vision used to be something like: ‘My business plan is to serve the community and please the customers and keep it clean and serve the food and blah, blah, blah.”

But who wouldn’t want that, right? It’s a restaurant. That’s not really a filter. Now I look at a potential teenage employee and ask, “Would I want them to work with my daughter?” That’s a filter.

More Than One Customer

Scott: I have two sets of customers. I have the customers who come in, who buy our chicken and help me pay my bills, and I love them.  My second customers are my employees; they’re my customers too! I need to make them love working here so that they will make the first customers really happy.

That’s why I spend 80% of my time with my leadership team of about ten people. The ripple effect of my time with them is that they have that same kind of impact on the people  they coach too.

Competition Is Good

Scott: We are competitive when it comes to the hours, and that means we’re just like a sports team. The person who comes to practice, and who is the best player will play the most. Coming to practice is just their availability.

And it’s not availability of quantity; it’s availability of quality. If you help me on a busy night when we have a football game across the street, and then you want other hours that are helpful to you, you’re going to get them.

Expectations From Day One

They hear it directly from me, “This is the way it works, we’re not trying to be fair.” One young lady looked at me like, I can’t believe you all aren’t trying to be fair. I said, “You are in the band, right? She said, “Yeah.”

I said, “What chair are you?” She said, “First chair.” I said, “Would it be fair that you would be rotating first chair each week or each month. That would be fair, right?” She said, “No, I worked hard to get first chair.”  I followed up with, “That’s exactly the way it goes here, too, I don’t hire people who I think are going to fail. If I hire you, I believe you will not be on the bench. I don’t need bench warmers; I need people who can play.”

I have to have very high expectations along with a high relationship or it’s not a win-win for both us – it’s just a Kumbaya place, right?

Good Attracts Good

Scott: If you can ever get a group of people, that’s a good group of people, you’ll attract good people. The problem is sometimes you have a spot available, and three people available to hire. So, you pick the best of the three, even you know they’re not great.

That way, you’ll continuously attract mediocre people.

You have to be able to stick through the tough times and make the right hires and then just piece by piece improve your team. The worst person’s got to go, and you’re going to replace them. That person won’t just be a little better, hopefully they will be at the top of the crop.

I look at an applicant and say, “Will they help me be the top 20% of restaurants?” Not, “Will they fill a spot because I need somebody?’ It’s hard to move out of it when you’re not doing that well because you’re really going to have to be intentional and when those good people come, you’re going to have to really spend a lot of time with them because they’re going to look around and go, ‘This is not great. This is not awesome.’”

It may not be an awesome place, but you’ve got to keep pouring it into them while you get more people and say, “Hey, you’re doing great. You’re the one I was looking for. I’m going to get more people like you. Don’t worry. Hang in there with me. I know things aren’t like they should be, but we’re going to make this right, and you’re part of my plan to help make it right.

You have to give them a great vision and say, “This is what we’re about. We’ll help you grow. We’ll help you develop yourself. Whether you stay here forever or not, this is going to be a big experience for you, and you’re going to be really glad you’re here.”

You can get people to work for you if you have that.

People love to be a part of something excellent because they’re frustrated when it’s not.

The Pause Button

Scott: It all falls on leadership, not only are you developing yourself, but are you developing the people who work with you.

A lot of times when you have a business, the meetings all tend to be tactical. It’s all: this issue came up and we need to do it this way. That’s important, don’t get me wrong, but if you don’t have any percentage of time where you’re going, “Hey, I believe in you all and I think you all are capable. We’re going to watch a tape together. We’re going to go do this together and help develop ourselves to be better leaders. If you don’t have that going on in your business, then how are you going to get better?

You have to push the pause button.

Money Is Third

I don’t really concentrate on the money. Certainly, I’m tracking performance where it has to do with costs and those kinds of things. I want to know how we perform, but really that’s not my main focus. I’m more focused on the experience for the customer and the experience for the employee because if those two things are working well, then you can tweak the money a little bit.

You can charge a little bit more if you need to because people are willing to pay for a better experience. They’re willing to pay and work a little harder for things that are important to them, and they are willing to work hard when they know you care

That’s when you have it, when it’s all clicking.

If you get to lead people who care about what they do, young people who can make a difference in others’ lives, that’s fun. It’s a lot more fun than selling chicken. I feel like if I’m going to do that well, the chicken sort of sells itself.


When you hear how good employees are so hard to find, how customers are more demanding and how fast-food jobs aren’t worth anything, I hope you’ll balance that with this picture of Scott.  Small business owners like him are the ones making a difference in the world because they are focused on people over product. Especially when they realize they have two customers and make it a place they’d want their daughter to work.



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Posted by Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor on February 22, 2012.

This entry was posted in Management, Small Business and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “Retail Employees: 7 Things You Must Do To Develop and Train”

  1. Lisa says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you for posting this today. You don’t know how timely this is.

    I own a fitness center and I employ teenagers to staff my front desk. I appreciate having been able to read this article today. This story reminds me that I’m not the only business owner out there who is busy mentoring and shaping young minds while managing the daily tasks at hand in our businesses.

    The kids I hire get into my heart which makes everything I do – all the hard work invested all worth while when I evaluate their work performance.

    To me, there is a fine line between mentoring and being a boss and helping another family to raise their young adult. I see my role as their leader as one who is responsible for helping them move on to much bigger things and I hope to know I’ve helped inspire them to find rich success in thier life because I took the time to care and help them out now when it matters the most.

    I love what I do and I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to serve in many ways. Raising kids is never off the table for anyone who is fortunate enough to be in a relationship with them.


  2. Jim says:


    What a great article! I’ve heard lot’s of great things about Chick-Fil-A and loved being able to peek begind the curtain a bit. While certainly appropriate for younger workers, I think their concepts and processes are applicable to your team members regardless of age. Thanks for the shot of inspiration!


  3. Damn, Scott rocks! In fact, you and Scott should be training retailers worldwide. Thank you for sharing this insight. It really is all about the people and Scott illustrates this. When you take care of the people, everything else flows from there.

    Hope to see you at GlobalShop next week!
    Heather :)

  4. It works the other direction, too: we’re known for quality, and the smartest, best organized teens in town compete for our few summer jobs. You’ve got it in one, Bob: quality wins.

  5. Bob,

    I liked this interview; we are constantly telling our young children that life isn’t meant to be fair, while at the same time trying to divide things equally between them.

    Passed the article around in our franchise groups on linkedin also.