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Now hiring " stores compete for employees as retail hiring surges

Judith Harlan

New retailers coming into the market such as DSW Stores, David’s Bridal, Linens ‘n Things, RC Willey and those with expanding locations Wal-Mart, PetSmart,Home Depot,Ace Hardware are making a dent in the supply of retail employees.

And more new retail looms on the horizon, with the Sierra Summit Lifestyle Center scheduled for March 2006 opening, and a large cluster of retail under construction on the Pyramid Highway.

It’s a sellers’ market for retail clerks seeking a job.

For employers, says Tina Grefrath, Nevada JobConnect, Reno center manager, it’s a very, very tight market.”Seems like all of the employers in Reno have decided to hire in the last month or so.” Partly, she adds, it’s seasonal,with a springtime boost in construction, tourism, and gaming hires all hitting at once.”One set of hiring impacts another,” she says.But then there’s the low overall unemployment rate for the area, too 3.6 percent in April.

And retailers, who typically pay as low as $7 or $7.50 per hour, are at the low end of the pay scale.

“Now hiring” signs greet customers in numerous stores around the Truckee Meadows.

Retailers say they’re feeling the pinch.

What are they doing to attract new employees? That “now hiring” sign is the best draw of all, says Elizabeth O’Brien, Sierra Trading Post store manager.

“We have the most success with our own shoppers.” They like the product, the first step to becoming a good salesperson for the store.

Sierra Trading pays about $8.85 per hour to start,with liberal discounts, says O’Brien, and with schedule flexibility for part-timers and benefits for full-timers.

Still, she’s feeling the pinch of the tight labor market.

“It used to be we had so many applicants to choose from,” she says, just from the sign on the door.

But recently the store did what it had not done in two years placed a want ad in a newspaper to try to attract more applicants.

With the low unemployment rate in the area, you’d think that retail wages would be creeping up, but Jim Dunnavant, center manager for Nevada JobConnect in Sparks, says he’s not seeing it.

He is seeing employers holding more job fairs at the JobConnect offices.

During the events, employers are onsite, taking applications, interviewing, even hiring on the spot.

“We’ve had about 30 this year between the two offices Reno and Sparks,” says Dunnavant.

For retailers, he says, he tells them all the same thing: “You can be a training ground and offer low wages, or be an employer of choice.” But that doesn’t mean wages are going up yet.

Most retailers are trying to start at the going rate of $7 to $7.50, adding on a quarter or two for more experienced workers.

Adds Marlese Thomas, of the Nevada Association of Employers membership services and marketing department,”We see companies investing more in training.

They’re seeing the value of training and the influence it has on employee buy-in.” Her opinion: Training gives employees a level of confidence that there is room to move up in the company.

It’s a retention tool.

It used to be, she adds, that staffing a business was a no-brainer.

Now, she tells new employers in the area to be pro-active, to get involved in the community, in such organizations such as Northern Nevada Human Resources Association, the American Society for Training and Development, to get in touch with Nevada JobConnect, ProNet, and the colleges.

Kohl’s, which opened two new stores in the area last year, took a pro-active approach, says Ron Davenport, general manager of the Spark’s Kohl’s.

The store pays $7.50 to $8 per hour, based on experience, and that $7.50 is 50 cents higher than the typical entry-level pay for the store.

Kohl’s also held recruitment events at the JobConnect offices, as well as a job fair at a downtown location.He estimates that his store had from 900 to 1,000 applicants for 180 positions,with 30 to 35 percent of those being sales clerks jobs.

Getting the store staffed initially was not a problem, he says.

The challenge has been hiring replacements.He’s running about 10 to 12 short in part-time positions, though the store is fully staffed for full-time.

He puts energy into retention.”We create an environment that makes people feel valued,” he says.”Money is not always why people leave, so we touch base, do one-on-ones, seek feedback.” Thomas adds that she is seeing a similar approach a different attitude among employers.

“They’re realizing what they’re up against and that turnover is costly,” Thomas says.

Even with all the new retail coming into town, though, says Barnes & Noble Department Manager Laura Wulff, the bookstore retail business is doing just fine in attracting and retaining a staff.

The store is pumping up its staff in anticipation of the next Harry Potter book release.

“We have a sign in the vestibule, that’s it,” says Wulff.

And that seems to be enough.

Though the store pays just $7 to $7.50 per hour, people are attracted to it.Her challenge? “Just making sure that people are knowledgeable about books,” she says.

The Moana Nursery has more difficulty than in the past in finding good people, says co-owner Christie Gescheider.

The nursery’s been able to hire much of its retail needs this season off a marquee sign on the road, but has also advertised in print media and on the Internet.

One frustrating part of the tight labor market people saying they’re interested in a job, then never responding when her staff follows up with a phone call.”We’re very frustrated by that,” she says.

But the nursery also has a passion to offer gardening.

And a discount.

Says Grefrath, from what she’s noticed at JobConnect: “For retailers, it’s wonderful to find a person with a passion for a product.

And everything’s attractive to somebody.

Women who love shoes think they’ve died and gone to heaven with an entry-level job in a shoe store.

It’s the discounts.”