Hiring Picks Up Among Retail Firms

NEW YORK — As the economy begins to show signs of life, many retailers are once again hanging “help wanted” signs.

Companies interviewed last week said that while last year was marked by staff cutbacks, 2010 has been stronger, so they have the confidence to begin adding new employees.

“Our business has improved since last year as we continually enhance our product assortment. And as a result, we are increasing staffing at more than 1,130 existing stores,” said Doug Koch, chief talent officer for Brown Shoe Co.’s Famous Footwear division.

Smaller retailers also said they were starting to hire more employees as business begins to look up.

“We are not looking at major expansion, but we are definitely hiring,” said Bob Schwartz, president and CEO of New York-based Eneslow, The Foot Comfort Center. “We’re really looking to constantly upgrade, and since there is more available talent in the pool, we’re able to find some skills that aren’t normally available to us. This is a time to invest in people to get ready for the future, even if [a better economy] hasn’t come yet.”

Los Angeles-based Sportie LA co-owner Isack Fadlon agreed that with an increase in business — and a new kids’ store opening this May — the company will likely see a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in hiring compared with 2009.

“Prospects are looking good, so if [store traffic] continues to look good with the summer rush, we’ll probably add some additional people in the main store and, of course, for the holidays,” said Fadlon.

Fraser Ross, owner of the Los Angeles-based Kitson boutiques, said his company will hire about 30 people within the next few months.

“We’re opening a store in Santa Monica in August, so we’re hiring for that,” Ross said. “[And] summer business in Los Angeles is peak, so we always hire for [the season].”

But not everyone is ready to significantly ramp up staff.

“You walk into nine out of 10 retail [stores] and you’ll see lots of salespeople standing around in empty stores,” said Bruce Kaminsky, manager at Chicago-based Big N Little. “Business is not good, business is really rough, so under that premise, who needs to hire? It’s all you can do to keep your current salespeople busy.”

Other storeowners said they did not make significant cutbacks during the downturn, so they were keeping staffing the same.

“We’re set as far as people go,” said Danny Wasserman, owner of New York-based Tip Top Shoes, which has about 30 employees across its three locations. “Before the panic, we had a full crew and we never let anybody go. Business did drop, but we reduced some hours and we kept everybody employed.”

Overall, most independents are in a better place than last year, said Chuck Schuyler, president of the National Shoe Retailers Association.

“My guess is, as a group, independent retailers will hire in 2010, if business conditions continue how they have been in the first quarter,” he said.

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