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by Claire Sykes

From your clerical help to your counter clerks, your employees are your tea and coffee store's most valuable assets. Simply put, without them, who would help you mind the store? As much as they may depend on you for a job, you depend on them to do their jobs well.

But it takes more than money to motivate someone. Your employees feel enthused to work at your store when you recognize their efforts and reward their achievements. Plenty of positive feedback and a generous display of your appreciation communicate to employees that you value them. And when you create an environment that fosters a favorable attitude among staff, you provide them with more than just a job - you enhance your own bottom line.

MOTIVATION IS CRITICAL
"It used to be that employers hired 'helping hands.' Today it's not good enough to simply rent the behavior you want from people," says Bob Nelson, best-selling author, and owner of San Diego, California-based Nelson Motivation, Inc. "You've got to find a way to elicit their best effort. You have to make employees feel valued so that they want to do their best work on a daily basis, to consistently act in the best interests of your business."

Motivating your employees becomes even more critical since good ones are increasingly harder to find. Those who don't stay with your tea and coffee store cost you in turnover expenses, time and hassles, not to mention lost sales. Says Nelson, "A non-exempt, hourly worker employed only 3-6 months might run you $2,000-$3,000 in the recruiting and training costs it takes to replace that person. Meanwhile, he or she takes away an incredible amount of expertise and knowledge."

Certainly, it helps to hire people who already feel motivated to work at your tea and coffee store. The person need not have previous retail experience, because most anyone can learn those skills. "But you can't teach energy, charm, and attention to detail," says Ethel Beal, retail lecturer based in San Bruno, California. "You have to hire people lovers. They don't see people as an intrusion for the work they're trying to do, so they tend to give excellent customer service, which translates into sales."

Most people in retail want to help people. It makes them feel good to serve customers and make them happy. When employees feel good about what they do, they naturally want to do a good job. Motivated employees are also more productive, and when production and sales are up, you have happy employees.

WHAT IT TAKES TO MOTIVATE

Your staff's positive attitude rubs off on everyone they work with, especially customers. "You'll never get an employee to treat customers any better than the way they're treated by their employer," says Nelson. "With motivated employees you get return customers who buy more."

1. Pay them more than money. While people have the need to earn a living, "salary and benefits do not serve as motivators. They're an entitlement, not an incentive. Even a fair wage plays little role in determining whether someone is a motivated, satisfied employee," says Steve Falkenberg, professor of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, in Richmond, Kentucky.

2. Provide more than just a job. Create an environment where employees want to work. Make sure staff have fun. You can't be happy if your staff aren't. So, laugh, joke, and have a great time.

3. Place employees appropriately. Your employees are more satisfied working at your tea and coffee store if you also make sure to place them in jobs and give tasks that they enjoy and can excel at. For example, let the athletically inclined employee stock boxes of merchandise and the one who has a way with numbers handle the invoices.

4. Offer them variety. Employees are motivated by a mix of responsibilities. Cross-train your staff, so they can perform a variety of store duties and cover for others on their days off. At the same time, they'll enjoy the challenge of learning new tasks.

5. Expand the boundaries. Explain to employees how their jobs relate to other positions in your store, and to your business, as a whole. Let them know in what ways your tea and coffee store depends on even the most mundane tasks they may perform. Encourage staff to join you in community causes by enlisting their help with charity-related in-store events or by paying them two hours a week to volunteer with a local organization.

6. Recognize employees' long-term goals. And be a part of their plan to reach them. Says Beal, "Ask them where they want to be in five years, then do what you can to help them achieve that," whether it's helping them further their customer service skills, teaching them a new computer program or putting them in charge of store window displays. "Because you're giving them opportunities that contribute to meeting their goals, they'll feel motivated to do the work and committed to you as a loyal employee."

7. Be more than an employer. Serve as a coach and mentor, too. Take the time to talk - and listen - to your employees. Get to know them. Everyone is different, so forget the cookie-cutter approach. Go to lunch with your staff and spend time with them on their breaks. Make sure you and your store managers make yourselves visible, and accessible, by walking around in the store, interacting with staff, instead of sitting behind some desk in an office.

8. Ask questions. While a certain amount of motivation has to come from within, in the right environment, there's a way to coax it out. Sometimes it takes a little spark to get the fire going. So, find out what motivates employees.

"Motivators differ from person to person, and [differs] for the same person over time," says Nelson. "Spend a few moments each month asking about their career goals, personal hobbies, and families. Their answers will give you clues as to how you can help them continue to feel motivated at your store. Discover what excites your employees and what new skills they could learn to challenge themselves and contribute to your business."

9. Be open to suggestions. Ask what changes employees would like to make in their jobs, or how they could improve tableware displays to attract more customers. Show that you value their opinions. "Open up your mind to what they can offer, and then let them run with that. They might surprise you with the results," says Nelson. "The newest person on staff could have the best ideas."

10. Have a little faith. It's not enough just to feel appreciation toward your employees; you've got to prove it with your trust in them. Delegate. Give them the authority to act without your supervision, by letting them refund a customer's money or purchase an item out of petty cash, for instance. "When you have high expectations of people, they rise to meet them," says Nelson.

THE POWER OF PRAISE
If you have a pet, you know how well your dog or cat responds to praise. Of course, then, you can imagine how much more receptive people are to such praise. "When you focus on the things a person is doing right, he or she does more of it. People want to please," says Beal.

1. Make it a daily habit. Give plenty of positive feedback - every day - "...as soon after the achievement or desired activity has occurred," Nelson says. "If you wait too long to thank a person, over time the gesture will lose its significance. Implicitly, the employee will figure that other things were more important to you than taking a few minutes with him or her."

2. Be generous. Beal's rule of thumb is four positive remarks for every negative one, "so the person realizes that the good in them truly outweighs the bad," she says. Always thank employees for a hard day's work, and regularly praise them for even the smallest acts. Everyone loves to hear when they're doing a good job - and it motivates them.

3. Be sincere. People can tell when you're not. Nelson says, "Words alone can seem hollow if you don't mean them. Praise them because you are truly appreciative, otherwise it may come across as a manipulative tactic, something you're doing only when you want the person to do a favor for you, such as work late."

INCENTIVES AND REWARDS
Indeed, you get what you reward. "If you recognize and reward behavior, it will tend to be repeated," says Nelson, who offers dozens of ideas in his book, "1001 Ways to Reward Employees" (Workman Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 1994). He names three types of rewards:

1. Informal. Verbal recognition at weekly staff meetings and/or a spot reserved on the company bulletin board for personal thank- you's.

2. Specific. Employee-of-the-month awards for the highest sales and/or a special parking place for the best idea of the week.

3. Formal. Contests, promotions, special events, education, advancement, company stock.

However, all the incentives in the world won't make up for a lack of appreciation. "If you give an incentive to an employee who doesn't feel appreciated, he or she will label you a fool, and take your money and curse you behind your back," says Falkenberg. "And when you reduce or withhold merit for employees who don't feel valued, you simply confirm for them that they aren't valued. But if employees feel appreciated already, then a bonus or incentive is an ideal way to prove that. And then employees will work even harder to achieve the objectives of the organization."

DO YOUR PART
As owner or manager of your tea and coffee store, you play an integral part in how motivated your staff members feel. Most of us do better when we know someone is cheering us on with appreciation and support.

When you encourage employees' active participation in their jobs and your business, you motivate them to do their absolute best. And when you frequently give generous and sincere praise, you earn their respect, dedication, and hard work. Employees who are happy at your tea and coffee store will only give back in healthy customer relations and higher profits.

Claire Sykes is a freelance journalist based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. She can be reached at c.sykes@teaandcoffee.net.


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