NRF DEVELOPS STANDARDS FOR RETAIL EMPLOYEES

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and the National Retail Federation Tuesday unveiled a blueprint of job skill standards for retailing, designed to reduce the industry’s high rate of employee turnover among sales clerks and improve their productivity.
The standards were developed by the NRF as part of a voluntary program initiated by the Labor Department to create standards for 21 industries. The agency gave NRF a $500,000 matching grant to develop the standards, which have been in the works for two years. The retailing road map is the first to be unveiled.
Reich helped to launch the employee blueprint at a news conference held in a downtown Washington Foot Locker store, during which he posed as a shopper to allow a clerk to demonstrate skills needed to make a sale.
“Retail service jobs many times get a bum rap,” Reich said, noting that 40 percent of all U.S. workers start their careers in retailing. “People think retail service is pretty much down there at the bottom of the heap. That is not the case. Retail service workers are potentially high wage workers. In fact, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney and a lot of other major retailers have sales people on the floor who are earning six figures.”
The standards eventually are expected to be used as a means for retailers to train their sales forces and for these employees to receive certification for achieving various levels of experience. The standards are designed to engender a professional culture starting at the sales floor that in turn are expected to curb the industry’s high turnover rate and reduce training costs, while increasing sales.
“We will have better qualified applicants, applicants who will understand our business and know what’s required of them once they are hired,” said Gail Duff-Bloom, executive vice president and director of administration, J.C. Penney Co., who helped to develop the standards and was present at their unveiling.
The standards involve every aspect of retailing, from the nuances of determining customer needs and what it takes to close a sale to how to properly take inventory and maintain product displays. The standards also set out benchmarks for writing, reading, math and interpersonal skills.
Reich, in his shopper guise, put Foot Locker employee Donna Melvin, who has won industry awards for her sales skill, to the test. Describing himself as “the world’s worst shopper,” Reich said he didn’t want to spend more than $50 on a present for a co-worker who is an “expert runner.”
Melvin, inquiring about the gift’s recipient, suggested the secretary buy a pair of new Balance 998 or Nike Air. Uncertain about the coworker’s taste in running shoes, Reich — who declined to name his coworker but hinted it could be the President, noting the gift recipient was “really big” — settled on a pair of $39 Nike fleece jogging pants in extra large, that were made in the USA, and declined Melvin’s entreaties to buy matching socks with a one-year guarantee, or a hat.
— Fairchild News Service

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