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How to hire your store’s first employee

June 16, 2023 | Published by Faire

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There are plenty of exciting things to daydream about when you are opening up your first brick-and-mortar shop. From choosing perfect products to creating opportunities for happy accidental discovery to planning all the ways you will empower local voices—you have a lot of opportunities ahead of you to get creative!

But some of the tasks on your list—like hiring employees and setting up payroll—may feel overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time starting a business and hiring a team. That’s why we’ve mapped out the hiring and payroll process for you from start to finish. 

And the sooner you get started the better. Don’t wait until you are already swamped or staring down a busy season to bring on your first staff member. 

Figure out what sort of support you need

As you no doubt quickly learned, there is a lot of work to be done in running a busy store. Below, you will find a quick breakdown of how these tasks and roles are usually organized for the first few employees a store will need. 

Retail associates are usually responsible for:

  • Helping customers while they shop
  • Providing customer service via phone, email, and social accounts
  • Keeping your shelves stocked and organized
  • Packaging and mailing online orders
  • Completing sales and returns at the register
  • Opening and closing the store

Assistant store managers are usually responsible for:

  • Overseeing day-to-day store operations
  • Keeping track of sales and inventory management
  • Training, scheduling, and supervising other staff
  • Managing customer and vendor relationships
  • Placing or receiving wholesale orders
  • Visual merchandising

Determine the hours required for your role

Depending on what you need help with, you might be looking at bringing on a contractor, part-time staff, or full-time staff. The list below will give you a sense of which one is right for the role you are hiring for.

  • Contractor: A contractor typically has a specialized skill set and is hired on an as-needed basis. This could look like anything from a graphic designer to do your branding, a web developer to set up your online store, or an electrician to install your lights. These types of workers are not considered staff, so when you pay them, you don’t need to worry about things like withholding taxes.
  • Seasonal help: You don’t want to be understaffed during a busy season! For some stores—like bakeries in small-town tourist locations—this might be the summer. For others—like gift shops in busy cities—this might be the holidays. Either way, you might need extra support during these times. This could look like packing orders in the evenings or running an additional cash register during the day. 
  • Part-time staff: Most new store owners will have part-time staff before they have full-time staff. These workers tend to put in fewer than 30 hours a week, and their schedule is variable—depending on your needs and theirs. Part-time workers are paid an hourly wage, are less likely to get benefits, and often have other sources of income—or are also in school. 
  • Full-time staff: Smaller stores, especially those just starting out, are less likely to have full-time staff. These workers tend to be on salary—which means they have the same hours every week (usually a variation of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and minimal variation in pay (barring things like holiday bonuses and annual cost-of-living increases). 

Choose a payroll system

Before you hire someone, you need a plan for how to get them their wages—while withholding the proper amount for taxes and keeping a record of salaries and schedules. As you wade into the world of payroll systems, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • What type of budget do you have? Most payroll systems operate on either a monthly subscription cost or a perpetual license fee. There are typically several tiers of service offered, depending on things like how many employees you have and what type of technical support you want to have available to you. 
  • What types of integration will you need? If you are already working with other software—like accounting, scheduling, or expense reporting—you will want to make sure that whatever payroll system you choose will work well with these programs. 
  • How do you plan to pay your staff? Most workers will likely expect to be paid by direct deposit. But if you are someone who prefers to issue checks, you will need a payroll system that can support that. 
  • Do you want to offer your staff a back-end system? While all payroll systems will generate pay stubs for you to pass along to employees, some will offer the additional option of allowing employees to log into a system that will let them view and print preview pay stubs, as well as do things like update their direct deposit or mailing information. 
  • Do you want a system that can also pay contractors? Your shop may occasionally (or regularly!) need the support of various contractors. Some payroll systems will allow you to process payment for these workers as well. 

Once you know the answers to these questions, there are several payroll services to choose from

Determine a pay range for your new employee

You are going to want to pay your staff enough to recruit—and retain—top-quality talent. Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding what wage to offer employees. 

  • How much can you spend? Looking at your current revenue and business costs, how much additional ongoing expense can your business absorb? This will help you determine the sort of employee—and how much of their time—you can afford. 
  • What hourly wage are you required to offer? While you are unlikely to get loyal employees by paying them as little as you legally can, you should still take a moment to learn the minimum wage in your state. 
  • What is your local living wage? Inflation tends to outpace minimum-wage laws, so the amounts above are unlikely to meet an employee’s basic necessities. A tool like MIT’s Living Wage Calculator will give you a better sense of what starting point you should be looking at. 
  • What do similar roles pay in your area? You can also browse job boards like Craigslist and Indeed to get a sense of the pay range that shops like yours are offering the types of employees you are looking to hire. 
  • What else can you offer employees? If you feel like you can’t yet offer your potential workers the salary you would like to, try to think of a few ways you could make up the difference. Consider things like employee discounts, opportunities to take courses to upgrade skills, paid vacation time, and transit passes. 

Write your job posting

These lists will get you halfway toward a job posting. Get the rest of the way there with the template below. To encourage diverse applicants, keep the language accessible—and make it clear you will accept international education and experience. Finally, to save both you and the applicants some time, consider skipping the request for a cover letter.

Title of job
Keep this simple, like “Assistant Shop Manager” or “Retail Associate.” 

Brief description of store
Include just a few sentences about what sort of items you intend to sell, the concept for your shop, and the values you are operating under. 

Job description
List the main responsibilities of the position, including working hours and required shifts. Give a breakdown of what a typical day and week will look like and if the work will largely be independent or part of a team. Lastly, be sure to say why this role is important to your business. 

Requirements and qualifications
It’s tempting to ask for the moon here, but take a moment to think about how much experience your employee will actually need. If you are hiring a store clerk, for example, a candidate who has done the job for a year could be a great fit. But if you are looking for someone to manage your shop, you might want closer to five years of experience.

Include a clear compensation range here. Also give a breakdown of health benefits, holidays, vacation time, career advancement, workplace flexibility, and hours. In this context, understanding shift premium calculations is useful, as it helps you not only provide accurate info on benefits to candidates, but clarify what it will cost to expand your team.

How to apply
Are you hoping people will drop off résumés in person? Send you an email? Make your instructions clear.

Get the word out that you are hiring

You could post your job on one of the online job sites mentioned previously, but keep in mind that you might get hundreds more applications than you need. So consider starting with putting up a sign in your shop window (even if you aren’t open yet), posting on community forums, or leveraging your local network. You can also spend a few hundred dollars to put an ad in your community paper. Local college students or semi-retirees can be a great market to tap into for part-time or seasonal help.

Make your short list of candidates

Focusing on their relevant skills and experience, sort your applicants into three categories: Yes, No, and Maybe. Start by scheduling interviews with your top three or four candidates—keeping the other résumés on hand in case those people end up not being available or feel like a bad fit. 

Schedule interviews

You can make this simple for yourself by setting up an account using an online service like Calendly, which syncs with your digital calendar. That will prevent double-booking, avoid too much back-and-forth on scheduling, and ensure the correct information is in everyone’s calendar. 

Interview your candidates

Now you can finally sit down with people and ask them for their thoughts on your favorite topic: your store. Try to remember that interviewing for a job and doing a job often require very different skill sets and forgive people for their nerves. At the same time, give points for things like being able to think on their feet and coming prepared with questions of their own. Here are some things you might want to ask your candidates:

  • What previous life and work experience (paid and unpaid) makes you well-prepared for this role?
  • If you walked into this store as a first-time customer, what would be your first impression? How do you think we could improve this impression?
  • What do you like most about interacting with customers or suppliers? What do you find the most challenging? Please give examples of previous experience.
  • What are some things you enjoy or find challenging about working independently? Please give examples of previous experience.
  • What are some things you enjoy or find challenging about working with a team? Please give examples of previous experience.
  • What would you most like to learn in this role? What do you think I would most be able to learn from you? 

Offer your chosen candidate the role

You should now have a sense of the candidates’ interpersonal and problem-solving skills—as well as their enthusiasm for the role. Think about what can be taught (specific software systems) and what is more innate (the ability to make small talk with customers). In the end, choosing a staff member is a big decision, and don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. 

Train your new employee

Both you and your new staff member have invested a lot in this process, so you want to make sure everyone is set up for success. Your best way to do that is with clear expectations and solid training. Make sure your new employee knows:

  • How to open and close the store
  • How to use your Point of Sale (POS) system
  • How to talk about the merits of and the story behind your products
  • How to encourage customers to purchase additional products
  • How to add or remove things from your store inventory
  • Your workplace health and safety protocols
  • Who to call during different types of emergencies

It’s worth noting that if you decide to change your POS system or your inventory protocols, you’ll need to retrain your employees—so be sure to think through operating decisions carefully and keep your staff in the loop.

Celebrate your new team and continue growing it as needed

Hiring and payroll may not be the most exciting parts of your retail journey—you may even find the hiring process frustrating or draining, and you’re not alone. But remember that cultivating your team also involves curation, connection, and economic opportunity, just like starting your own business—and finding the right employees will help bring your dream store to life.

Are you opening a new retail store? Read more about Open with Faire and learn how to apply for up to $20,000 to use toward buying products on Faire.

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