Independent Retailers Across the Country Are Struggling With Hiring

With U.S. unemployment at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent, retailers are facing increasing challenges when it comes to recruiting strong talent.

Recently, Kohl’s announced an exceptionally early start to its holiday hiring process, to ensure it could staff up properly before the start of the major shopping season.

To find out how other stores are faring in today’s landscape, FN checked in with independent footwear retailers across the country.

Chris Bentvelzen
Owner, Shoes ’n Feet, Bellevue, Wash.
“Minimum wage at $15 an hour. We’ve always been higher than minimum wage, but now that number has decreased due to our margins and the cost of doing business. Retaining people has also become an issue; we used to have career employees, and now some people only stay six to eight months. We’re changing job titles and descriptions, and trying to speed up the process so we’re not losing quality candidates to somewhere else.”

Buck's Shoes
Buck’s Shoes in Fremont, Neb.
CREDIT: Courtesy of retailer

Kirk Brown
President and owner, Buck’s Shoes, Fremont, Neb.
“We live in a state that has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, so it’s even harder here to find people who want to work. I can’t count how many times a person has applied, we schedule an interview, and then they don’t show up. We use social media, word of mouth and my own social network for referrals. [To entice people], we give a very generous employee discount, and I’ve had to increase salaries.”

Michael Wittenstein
GM, Karavel Shoes, Austin, Texas
“Finding people who are the right fit for our store with the right amount of shoe experience. There are new people moving here every day, but they’re coming more for the tech industry, so the challenge is finding workers who want to sell shoes. My best route has been through Indeed.com or referrals from our current salespeople. One of our best tools is using the staff we already have to try and find someone new.”

Shoe Parlor
The footwear wall at Shoe Parlour in New York.
CREDIT: Courtesy of retailer

Abe Rogowsky
Owner, Shoe Parlour, New York
“It’s getting harder and harder to find good people. With a better economy, companies are offering $15 an hour, so people are jumping all over the place in retail. Most of our employees stay; it’s a family-run business, so they like the environment. And we do whatever we can to retain people, but that doesn’t make it any easier. When we really need somebody, we ask around. We find that’s the best way.”

Justin Sigal
President, Little’s Shoes, Pittsburgh
“Getting [reliable] people who will show up for work. I’m trying to stay ahead of it, but if you can’t get anyone who wants to work, it poses a major challenge. The future will be more part time. I don’t think you’re going to have the same career retail employees, so we’re looking at putting together a collegiate staff at the retail level. We’re exploring that avenue a bit more than we have in the past.”


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