Bricks-and-mortar retail is one of the most labour intensive sectors in the economy, so it’s little surprise that employees are essential to the success of these retailers. In specialist areas of retail, such as builders’ merchants and hardware stores, people are just as important – but these types of stores often face different recruitment and talent management problems to B2C high street retailers.

For independent merchants in particular, HR issues are often dealt with by store managers and non-specialists. There’s no central HR system to use, nor can these businesses take advantage of the company recruitment websites that larger chains use to process applications.

Here’s a look at the common talent management problems for specialist, independent retailers and how you might avoid them.

#1 Applicant perceptions

Retail jobs are perceived to be low pay, with unreliable hours, no scope for progression and with only temporary value. That means that many of the applicants for your vacancies may already have decided that they’re only going to stick around for a few months while they save up for driving lessons or search for a job that they perceive as more desirable.

It’s a challenge for any single retailer to adjust applicant perceptions. You can dedicate more space in your job adverts to describing training and progression opportunities, but ultimately applicants are unlikely to be swayed. When narrowing down your options for a role, you have another chance to try to challenge perceptions. Reiterate that you’re looking for an applicant who’s after a long term job and that there will be progression opportunities.

#2 High volumes of candidates for seasonal roles

Temporary retail roles remain in high demand from students and young people as they look to earn during their holidays. Half of retailers receive between 50 and 100 applicants for each post they advertise. This isn’t just bad news for jobseekers, but also employers who lack the resources to manage this volume of applications. While many larger companies will have dedicated HR software to deal with applications, independent retailers rarely have this luxury.

To tackle this issue, start with the job ad. Set clear expectations in the job description. Be picky. Talk at length about the kind of candidate you’re looking for. Depending on the number of applications you normally receive, consider spelling out the ‘bad’ elements of the job – for example, employees may have to work at short notice, or that they require their own transport to make it to work.

Additionally, decide in advance on the particular traits and experience that you’re looking for. This’ll make it easier for you to sort CVs and applications when they come through.

#3 Finding suitable staff

You may have dozens of applicants for your retail job opportunity, but few have the specialist skills and knowledge that you require of staff at a builders’ merchant. For many independent merchants, customer service and staff expertise are ways through which they compete with larger merchants who are able to offer lower prices.

Therefore, it’s wise to be fussier about the calibre of employees you take on. Of course, you will need to offer a higher wage or other perks to attract employees with good customer service skills and an in-depth knowledge of your market.

Alternatively, invest in your employees with thorough training regimes. It’s particularly important that seasonal staff learn from your permanent employees, so set time aside to show them the ropes.

On average, it costs £30,000 to replace a member of staff. It’s clear that finding (and keeping) the right employees for your business is necessary for it to survive and thrive.

For more retail and staff management tips, check out the Trader blog.