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Ask INSTORE: November 2007

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Protecting yourself against petty lawsuits, finding employee evaluation forms, hiring better salespeople, and more.

[h3]Get creative to cut down on walk-ins with drinks, cell phones[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]Our downtown store is located between a coffee house and a Jamba Juice. I don’t mind the foot traffic but walk-ins bringing in drinks are a problem, as are those who wander in with cell phones glued to their ears. Is there any alternative to putting up signs that say “No Food or Cell-Phone Use?”[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]We wish there were too, but if you really don’t want to use signs (retail expert Rick Segel’s preferred option), then you’re going to have to get imaginative or break the law. (Israeli firm Netline Communications Technologies sells a neat jammer which some Mexican churches are using to stop cell-phone pests from disrupting Mass. Alas, jamming technology is illegal in the U.S.)

It’s hard to imagine anyone bringing an old-fashioned telephone into an opera, but somehow they do with cell phones. Our point being that people often aren’t deliberately rude, they just need to be reminded sometimes. Same goes with food. So, next time offer to take their drink from them and put it somewhere safe. If it’s a cell phone, train staff to gesture at the phone and say something like, “Oh, it must be an emergency,” or smile and say, “Please, go ahead and finish.” People usually take the hint and realize they were being rude.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]MANAGEMENT[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Giving Feedback[/contentheading]

[h4][b]Where can I get hold of employee evaluation forms?[/b][/h4]

Google is as good a place as any to start. There are scores you can download to use as a model. Some, like those from educational institutions, are really quite detailed and cover every possible aspect of a job, while others are very basic. Simply type “employee+evaluation+forms” or some variant into a search engine and you’ll have a wide number to choose from.

Our only advice when it comes to employee evaluations is that you not spend too much time on the whole process. While you may want the paper trail to protect yourself against lawsuits from former employees, there’s a growing view that reviews don’t really achieve much. Mary Jenkins, a co-author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead, advocates designing a system in which employees can seek feedback from people they work with, then draw up a skills-development plan with their manager — or you.

[componentheading]STAFF[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Hiring Troubles[/contentheading]

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[h4][b]My last three sales hires have been a flop. I placed classified ads and spent ages going through resumes. What am I doing wrong?[/b][/h4]

The sad truth is that sales is actually for very few people and it’s probably fair to say most of the resume-toting salespeople out there would be better off doing another job. So don’t give too much weight to references and job titles. It’s the one-on-one that matters. Salespeople are in the business of selling themselves, so the most important stage in the hiring process is the interview.

See how the prospect makes her case and imagine the same interaction taking place on the salesfloor. Is she engaging, a waffler, too pushy? Does she interrupt? Does she seem willing to sit back and nod at everything you say? Be sure to prepare tough questions and scenarios to see how the person would react to specific situations. Interviewing is time consuming, so to improve the odds of having good people in front of you, ask your customers and existing employees for leads. They don’t have to be in jewelry. You want likeable, honest and hungry people.

[componentheading]LEGAL[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Leasing Laws[/contentheading]

[h4][b]We’ve completed a remodel on our property and I’m going to sub-lease part of the store to an old friend. I was thinking of just using one of those off-the-store-shelf lease forms to save on legal costs.[/b][/h4]

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Friend or not, it’s a bad idea, says Janet Portman, an attorney and co-author of Every Landlord’s Legal Guide. So-called “standard” forms that are sold everywhere probably aren’t compliant with the laws in your state. If you use a stationery-store lease that violates a tenant’s rights, you could find yourself at the losing end of a lawsuit because of an unenforceable lease clause. For example, some standard forms will require landlords to return security deposits within 10 days, something that no state demands.

[componentheading]LAWSUITS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]A Good Defense[/contentheading]

[h4][b]Over the last two years I’ve seen a jewelry friend pay a high price as a result of what seemed like a petty lawsuit. How can I protect myself against the same thing?[/b][/h4]

There’s nothing you can do to ensure you never get sued, but there are steps you can take to limit the costs of defending a legal claim. If you’re worried about employee lawsuits, you can buy liability insurance that specifically covers such actions. Or you can institute a severance program that awards a standard payout to employees who sign a release vowing never to sue you. Small-claims and local courts are increasingly pushing parties to take their cases first to a mediation program, which in many instances — but not always — should be your first option. And you can support this by including a binding arbitration clause in all your contracts. That will keep disputes on the fast track and out of the courtroom. Keep up with labor laws in your state and start the search now for a lawyer who knows the business.

[span class=note]This story is from the November 2007 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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