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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Unavailable Asset

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BY KATE PETERSON

Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Sally Newsome is a very good salesperson. She’s knowledgeable, detail focused and even entertaining. Her customers love her and, though they find her a bit eccentric and high maintenance, her co-workers and managers consider her a major asset to the company.

Sally started working with Stinson’s, a high-end, family-owned store in the Florida Keys back in 2007. She moved to the Keys, to a place she’d always loved, to escape the stress of the big city. She came with a widely varied business and retail background that included several important management positions, but no real jewelry experience. Sally was a determined professional and a quick study, however, and within a very short time, she fit right in as the perfect complement to the strong and experienced Stinson’s sales staff. In fact, over a period of just 3 years, Sally had helped Stinson’s double their sales volume to nearly $3.5 million.

In June of 2011, Sally married her second husband. Though the wedding was small, preparation seemed to consume all of Sally’s attention for months in advance. Joe and Kathy Stinson, the store’s owners, were a bit concerned by the sharp drop-off in Sally’s performance in the time before the wedding, and they were alarmed at her willingness to use the store as a “control center” for her planning — but Sally had become a good friend, and they were glad to see her happy. They thought they could handle the short-term issues, believing that once the event was over, Sally would be back to full strength. The rest of the staff rallied around Sally and agreed to help cover her so she could focus on her big day.

Several months after Sally returned from her honeymoon, Kathy began to notice that she was arriving to work late more often than not in the mornings, and that her lunch breaks were hovering around 1-1/2 hours as opposed to the policy-dictated 45 minutes. Punctuality had never been one of Sally’s strong suits — but the problem had grown to the point where other associates were complaining. When Kathy confronted her, Sally blamed it all on the adjustment to married life. She apologized and promised to do better. In the months following their conversation, Sally’s sales performance did improve, as did her punctuality — though late arrivals and long lunches (along with a strange pattern of calling in sick on a number of Mondays) were still an occasional problem. Sally’s sales, and the store’s, were exceptionally strong through the 2011 holiday season though, and overall, the team appeared to be working well together.

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In July of 2012, Sally was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, Joe, Kathy and the rest of the team were very upset by the news and vowed to be as supportive as possible. Sally had no short-term disability insurance and had already used all of the vacation and paid sick days she had accrued for the year, but Joe and Kathy agreed that continuing to pay Sally for the two months her doctor expected she would be out of work was just the right thing to do. They assumed she would be back in the store (at least part-time) by mid-September, in time to ramp up for Christmas. With the agreement of the rest of the team, they decided not to hire a new associate to fill Sally’s spot.

Sally finally returned to work with a doctor’s release on Oct. 1. Then, on the 10th, just a few days before the beginning of the store’s big anniversary sale, she told Kathy that she really didn’t think she was ready to handle the stress of the store just yet, and that she needed to take the rest of the year off. She was adamant in her decision, but was very clear about wanting to come back to her job after the first of the year.

Joe and Kathy very much wanted to be sensitive to Sally’s medical concerns, but Kathy, a breast cancer survivor herself, couldn’t help but feel that Sally was trying to use the situation to her own advantage. A number of friends had even mentioned seeing Sally out shopping and at social events in town in the previous month. While Sally did not ask for the Stinsons to continue funding her leave, she did express to Kathy her concern about not being able to afford the additional time off, but knowing that she needed it for her own health. The implication (and her expectation) seemed very clear. When Kathy explained that the company would support her leave and would hold a position for her in anticipation of a January return, but would not be able to offer any financial support during that time, Sally looked surprised and not at all happy.

Sally’s health issues, combined with Joe and Kathy’s effort to do the right thing, left their store dangerously short-handed. Kathy realized that it was far too late in the season to hire and train an inexperienced person, and anyone with experience who was willing to walk out on an employer late in October was clearly not someone she wanted to hire.

For his part, Joe was concerned about the legal issues involved with hiring a replacement for someone who had documented medical problems in the past, and neither he nor Kathy wanted to risk the trust of the staff by letting Sally go.

The BIG Questions
Did Joe and Kathy go too far in their efforts to take care of Sally? How far does “family business” really go when it comes to dealing with extraordinary employee issues? What should a business owner do at this point in the year? Is it safe to assume that defection from another retailer late in the year is a harbinger of bad character or future loyalty issues?
Comment below (please leave your name and store) or at [email protected]

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