Byline: Georgia Lee

Around 20 of the Southeast’s strongest specialty store retailers got together at Mumbo Jumbo, a downtown Atlanta eatery, to wine, dine and talk shop during market.
Called Hot Summer Nights, the evening was actually dark and stormy, so much so that it managed to knock out power to much of the city.
That didn’t stop this group, however, which was joined in the brainstorming session by members of the Atlanta chapter of The Fashion Group International.
Dinner conversation revolved around early fall business and the way the market jumps on trends these days. Although everyone agreed that the abundance of animal prints was overkill, everybody bought them nonetheless.
“They seem to have a life of their own,” said JoAnn Burnett, owner of JoAnn’s, a Houston specialty store, of the prints. Burnett said she bought skin prints in an understated, rather than trendy, way. She added that she played up the animal prints trend with accessories.
After dinner, the group repaired to an artsy upstairs enclave, where, over pistachio ice cream, Atlanta consultant and fashion maven Priscilla Grumet led a discussion of nuts-and-bolts issues that affect all independent specialty stores.
Everyone agreed that one of today’s biggest challenges is finding, and keeping, good sales help.
Grumet emphasized the importance of commissions, and of having one good full-time employee rather than several part-time people. Conferring titles such as personal shopper or assistant manager upon associates tends to nurture self-esteem and performance, she added, more so than identifying all with the blanket term of salespeople, said Grumet.
“You want someone who wants a career, rather than a job of the moment,” said Grumet.
Retailers shared a few strategies concerning staffing.
Freda Greenbaum, owner of Miami-based A Nose For Clothes, said she recruits on the Internet, from employment sites such as Monster.com. To compete against the attractions of bigger organizations, she offers pension plans, insurance and profit sharing. And in addition to commissions, she often throws in clothing discounts of up to 50 percent for full-timers.
To gauge a prospective employee’s seriousness, a few retailers said they have them fill out a check list regarding their willingness to work nights or put in overtime, to relocate, etc.
“One of the most important functions of employees is to allow the owner to be on the floor more often,” said Grumet. “The advantage that specialty stores have over department stores is that the owner is right there in the trenches, selling and servicing customers and learning their needs.”

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