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Ask INSTORE: October 2008

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Do I need to pay employees who go to vote, breaking the news of a firing to your staff, holding an invitation-only party, and more.

[h3]State laws vary on paying employees to cast their ballots[/h3]

[dropcap cap=Q.][h4][b]An employee has asked if she can take time off to vote on Election Day. Do I have to pay her for the hours she takes off?[/b][/h4][/dropcap]

[dropcap cap=A.]State law rules here, which means there’s a broad range of obligations placed on employers across the country. A small majority of states requires employers to give workers paid time off to vote if the employee’s work hours do not allow the person to cast a ballot when polls are open. But even among these states there’s a wide variance in how much notice an employee must give, how many hours they have to vote, if they most provide evidence of having voted and so on. Contact your state labor department or go to the National Federation of Independent Business’s website (NBIF.com, search for “time off to vote”) for a full list of the state laws.

Even if you live in one of the 20 states that has no provisions requiring voting leave, we think it’s good policy to do everything in your power to enable your staff to vote. This includes ensuring they are registered to vote, and encouraging them to do so. It’s all about being a good citizen. And besides, Election Day is rarely a busy one in the store. It’s goodwill for nothing.[/dropcap]

[componentheading]SALES[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Postmortem[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I just lost my third big, big diamond sale in a matter of months. Is it the economy? Should I be worried about my sales techniques? Have things changed?[/b][/h4]

Without knowing the details of the sale that’s hard to judge, and not just for us but probably you too. When you lose a big sale, especially one you’ve possibly worked weeks on, it can be tempting to try to immediately banish it from your mind. But a better strategy, says sales trainer Dave Richardson, is to heave its offending carcass on to the cold slab of the morgue and call a sales inquest. “You want to examine what mistakes were made, what possibly could have been avoided, what you could have done differently, and how you could have reacted to certain comments and objections brought forth by the buyer,” says Richardson. Perhaps there was absolutely nothing you could have done to save the sale. But if you review it with advisors or other staff you may well learn one of those lessons that only failure seems to teach.

[componentheading]EMPLOYEE RELATIONS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]News of the Departed[/contentheading]

[h4][b]I’ve decided to fire a staff member for basically failing to perform. How should I break the news to the other employees?[/b][/h4]

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For legal and morale reasons, our advice is to avoid going into detail. Shortly after the employee is fired, make a brief statement to your other workers, saying that the employee is no longer with the store. Tell them who will handle the tasks that person was responsible for, and ask them to direct any other questions to you.

[componentheading]EVENTS[/componentheading]

[contentheading]Invitation Only[/contentheading]

[h4][b]We’re planning on holding a thank-you dinner and dance for our customers to celebrate our store’s 50th anniversary. How do we avoid offending people, especially those small ones who have been loyal if infrequent customers for many years?[/b][/h4]

This is a tough one, agrees Teri Ramirez, who as director of sales at Leo Hamel Jeweler organizers marketing events for the San Diego, CA, business. Teri suggests you start with the number of people you’re able to host and then divide that figure up among your sales staff. They should know who their most deserving and valuable customers are. Teri advises against advertising the event to all your customers so as not to offend those who aren’t invited. She also suggests you make a back-up list so you can add names in place of those who can’t make it. Finally, be ready to hit the phones. “A phone-call campaign should ensure a successful turn out,” she says.

[componentheading]HOLIDAY SALES[/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Bleak Season[/contentheading]

[h4][b]People are saying it’s going to be the worst Christmas in 40 years. How should I be preparing now?[/b][/h4]

First up, don’t fret so much. True, it’s shaping up as a lean holiday season but you need to adopt a mindset of grandeur interrupted. Make big plans to be well positioned when the rebound comes but get very modest about everything you do in the meantime. That means tight inventories, micro-marketing (work those referrals and word of mouth), and scaling back on your purchases of the more ostentatious designs. Use last year’s best sellers and best performing price zones as your strict guide. Don’t resort to price-cutting too quickly but remember that customers are looking for value, so start thinking of ways to ensure your presentations reflect the idea of a “value proposition.”

Brainstorm on ways to sell more gift cards, since consumers who receive them tend to be less price sensitive. And be ready to react soon. Back-to-school sales were the earliest they’ve ever been this year. Brace for the same come the holiday season. Our final piece of advice: Stay positive yourself and with your sales staff. Insist they be positive with each other and their customers. Things are going to get better.

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

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