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Ask INSTORE: April 2008

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Handling mediocre employees, expiration dates on gift cards, and finding a certified public accountant.

[h3]Outline expectations for lackluster employees[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]What’s the best approach to take with employees who show up and go through the motions? They don’t do anything wrong — they’re just not excellent.[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]Sounds like it’s time for a chat. Call the employee in, outline your concerns or hopes, and explain that you’re setting new and higher expectations, says Kerry Patterson, co-author of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. Tell the employee you want him or her to show more desire, initiative, skill, whatever and provide specific instances where he or she failed to do this. Make it clear you’ve raised the bar and then jointly brainstorm on how he or she can accomplish the goals you’ve set.

You’re also going to need to make yourself responsible for followup. This means being on the lookout for positive behaviors, even the most incremental changes, you can recognize and reward. If all goes well, the result should be increased productivity. If not, you’re going to have to make a decision whether to let go of that employee. Average performers make for an average store.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]GIFT CARDS[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Expiration Dates[/contentheading]

[h4][b]What’s the deal with setting expiration dates on gift cards? It’s nice to have the cash up front but it makes bookkeeping a drag.[/b][/h4]

As with so many legal issue faced by retailers, this one was passed on to the states to deal with, and they pretty well all came up with different answers.

Only 10 states — California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington — prohibit expiration dates. A further 30 (some of which are Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Vermont) require gift cards and certificates to be valid for anywhere from one to seven years. And they prohibit the imposition of fees to cover “administration costs” or “delayed use.” Indiana and Texas are among 21 states that do not regulate gift-card expiration although most of these states require clear disclosure of the store’s policy on the card. Our advice is to do best by your customer. “Maintenance fees” are hugely unpopular with the buying public. You’ve got the cash in hand, and have no tax liability until the card is used, so why upset your customers by acting like a big, bad, corporate fee-levying bank?

[componentheading]TAX HELP[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Numbers Sticklers[/contentheading]

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[h4][b]I know I’ve left it late, but where do I find the best CPA?[/b][/h4]

There are more than a few sloppy accountants around so it pays to be picky. A good CPA will be a stickler for details and accuracy and very time conscious. So a useful initial indicator is how long it takes them to reply to your first enquiry (although if it’s April 10, cut them slack).

Look for someone with a history of working with small businesses but be careful about relying too much on the recommendations of business friends. Draw up a list of three or four prospects and make a decision after you’ve sat down and discussed your particular needs with each of them. If they want to charge for the time, look elsewhere. Final word of wisdom: As good as the person may be, never ever abdicate your responsibility to know what’s going on with your finances. Get tax smart.

[componentheading]PRICES[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Wholesale Schmolesale[/contentheading]

[h4][b]Is it legal for retailers to say they are selling at wholesale prices?[/b][/h4]

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In short, no — unless they really are. Many states, including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, California, New York, and Michigan, have strict laws prohibiting the use of the word wholesale in retail advertisements. In some states this is a criminal offense, due to the word’s ability to mislead consumers. “If a jeweler advertises it is selling at wholesale prices, it must sell at the wholesale price,” says the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. Some states define this as the price the jeweler paid for the item from the supplier. Other states, and the federal government, say the price must be lower than the average price retailers would pay in the area. So if it’s you doing it, stop. If it’s a nasty rival, fink on him.

[componentheading]MORALE[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Power of Compliments[/contentheading]

[h4][b]My sales staff are competent but at times they look out of sorts and appear to be lacking enthusiasm. Is there anything I can do to energize them?[/b][/h4]

Sales trainer Ivan Levi suggests you try this exercise: Form a circle and have each person state what he or she appreciates about fellow team members. The positive comments may well surprise you (especially the ones about you). “I have seen the grumpiest team-member walk on air for days after this exercise,” says Levi, who recommends you run the exercise monthly in sales meetings. The result will be a smiling, more confident sales force. And the best part is that your clients will notice a positive change in your store, he says.

[span class=note]This story is from the April 2008 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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