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Harness the Power of Your People
From State of the Industry 2009
May 2009
By Julie Cajigas

If high turnover signals a troubled business, hiring and keeping good employees is a sign of a business on the rise. "Our people are important," says Jane Cibulskas, owner of National Embroidery & Heat Transfers Ltd. "Without them we couldn’t be as successful as we are." If you’re a larger decorator business, you should offer more competitive wages and benefits, whereas if you’re a small retail or home-based business, it might come down to listening to your employees’ ideas and opinions. Stitches talked to decorators to learn how they successfully find and keep good employees and sales reps in the current economy.

1. Make a value proposition. Making sure that your employees feel valued can be more important at the end of the day than the number on their paycheck, especially if they know that business is suffering because of the economy. Meredith Kowalsky, owner of Prestige Monogram, has a smaller shop with one full-time employee, so employee retention is very important for her. "I involve her in all the important business and creative decisions," Kowalsky says. "I ask for and value her input, her presence and feedback." Cibulskas agrees with that approach: "What we do best is show our employees that we value them, that they’re important to us. They’re here because we make them feel valued."

2. Flex a little. Offering flexibility can be the key to keeping employees happy, especially in a down economy when you may have more part-time workers and sales professionals. "We have flexible hours so that not everyone has to come in eight hours every day," Cibulskas says. Jay Fishman, owner of Wicked Stitch of the East, has restructured his digitizing business around the idea of flexibility, which has also helped him save on overhead. "My employees have become telecommuting subcontractors," he says. The flexibility of working from home is attractive to many of the employees, and helps Fishman keep costs down. Another important part of flexibility is flex time off. "We put family first," Cibulskas says. "If an employee needs time off for their family, whether that’s a day or a week, we understand."

3. Think about the bottom line. Even the best employee retention programs don’t take the place of being paid a fair wage. Most of the decorators we spoke to are diligent about paying their employees well. "Good pay is important," says Don Tillquist, owner of Coastal Embroidery. "I start my employees way above minimum wage." He also reminds us that salary isn’t the only type of compensation. "We’re also really passionate about giving them paid holidays and doing little things that make them happy – we buy them lunch every once in a while," he says. "It’s the little things that count."

To ensure your wages are fair, consider both the minimum wage in your area and the amount of skill and experience your employees bring to the table. When it comes to commission structures, talk to your sales professionals often to ensure they’re happy with their level of compensation. – JC

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