Beauty Store Business magazine - January, 2020

Hire Ground

Expert hiring managers provide their tips for finding–and retaining–superior sales associates.

In the realm of beauty retail, a typical sales applicant has long been perceived as a bright-eyed young person madly in love with a given shop or its merchandise. There’s also an assumption that he or she may be there for seasonal work, extra income for college or for store discounts and perks.

That said, “typical” no longer cuts it. Today's customers are more sophisticated than ever as they have myriad options and ways to shop. Product lines are more specialized and retailer management more stringently follows industry trends. With these demands, associates need to do far more than locate a product and operate a cash register.

Anthony Qaiyum, president of the 143-year-old, Chicago-based Merz Apothecary would agree. The iconic store’s enduring success lies within its reputation for a painstakingly curated range of health and wellness products and personalized service from pharmacists, herbalists, nutritionists and other specialized staff. As the company steps up its game in independent and niche beauty, men’s grooming and fragrance brands–particularly with the recent fall 2018 opening of The Shops at Merz–Qaiyum says that it has been necessary to implement a much more exacting process of hiring people who are skilled in customer service and have a keen understanding of the beauty market segment.

“We have had to cast our net wider to find the perfect-fitting candidates than we had in the past, spending more time on screenings and interviews,” says Qaiyum, noting his firm’s searches run the gamut from Craigslist and social media for entry-level openings to Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn and the Merz Apothecary website for senior positions. He adds that the company does not go the job fair route so its HR decision-makers can be laser focused on the particular positions they’re trying to fill.

“There’s no question that finding people with specialized knowledge looking for long-term work is especially challenging,” he explains. “The candidate must not only exhibit a perfect expertise fit but also a cultural fit–that he or she will embrace the Merz way of doing things and work well with other employees. We’re doing more phone interviews ahead of time to dig through various red flags and issues before a candidate comes in and interacts with others on staff. We want feedback from those employees about how they feel about a given candidate becoming a functioning part of the team.”

Qaiyum says that Merz’s employee retention rate is proof positive that their targeted scouting system is effective, even if it’s not perfect (84 percent of the team has been employed for more than a year; 75 percent for more than 2 years). Although he admits a huge percentage of applicants miss the mark (those with lots of three-to six-month stints at different places), if HR gets five to 10 resumes for a given job that are spot-on, the process is working. Once phone and in-person screenings lead to three or four of the strongest candidates, the company is more likely to hire a person who will stay and grow with the company.

“The most important question we ask is, ‘Do you love learning?’ If not, this is probably not the place for [that candidate],” he says. “We write our job descriptions in such a way that discourages anybody looking for short-term employment. Given our pharmacy roots, we don’t just view beauty as a sideline, so it’s important to hire people who don’t just sit on the sidelines. They interact with our customers one-on-one, and take a quality over quantity approach in terms of building relationships rather than going for a quick sale.”

“We pay a wage that’s higher than the industry standard, and know that we’re taking care of them and providing things that are necessities in today’s society.”

–Anthony Qaiyum, president, Merz Apothecary

Qaiyum adds that regular education initiatives and getting employees involved in the company’s inner workings are instrumental in deepening their commitment. While Merz’s employee education integrates interaction with national educators and ambassadors from the store’s brands, there are training sessions dedicated to Merz’s history, business practices and instruction on how sales associates can create more collaborative relationships with those working in the back of the house and the warehouses.

“Our approach to education is designed to unify the team specific to our business and long history,” he says. “For example, if a beauty salesperson has a customer with a canker sore, she will not only be able to help the customer select the right products but take her over to the right person on the health side to find the right medication to deal with the canker sore.”
He also stresses that what makes the team cohesive, and individuals more inclined to stay longer, is that Merz is not a commission-based business. Instead, it offers a stronger hourly wage and significant health insurance coverage and savings benefits for full-time employees not typically found in the retail sector.

“We pay a wage that’s higher than the industry standard, and know that we’re taking care of them and providing things that are necessities in today’s society,” he says. “While many people working in retail won’t have a retirement account, my feeling is that [working for Merz] should not be viewed as a transitional job. Whether somebody stays with us for five, 10 or more years and decides to leave us, I want them to come away with something that will help them down the line.”

K-beauty superstar brand Innisfree (a part of the Amorepacific family) has parlayed its international appeal into 13 countries. After successfully setting roots down in the New York City area, it’s poised to open numerous stores throughout the U.S. over the next year. The effort will of course necessitate the hiring of managerial and sales staff who can adeptly leverage the brand’s all-ages appeal, eco-friendly ingredients from South Korea’s Jeju Island and the approachable, “self-select” merchandising within Innisfree’s high-volume shopping environment.

“For store manager openings, we look for five to 10 years prior experience, depending on the location of the store,” explains Rosemary Gaudiuso, head of Innisfree USA’s Education and Training. “For assistant managers, it’s important that they have three to five years of experience in retail and/or in beauty. If we hire a strong store manager candidate whose experience is more on the retail [side], we will find balance with an assistant manager candidate whose experience in beauty is dominant.”

“Once we have candidates, we want to be sure the ones we single out share the same values as Nikita’s corporate culture and the existing staff.”

–Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, founder, Nikita Hair salon group

Because putting a cohesive staff together is a crucial part of Innisfree’s retail success, Gaudiuso emphasizes that hand-picking candidates–especially at the managerial levels–will more likely draw candidates who are serious about work- ing with Innisfree long-term. Rather than whittle down a large pool of applicants from online and in-person sources, she will often cut out the middle steps and seek out talent from LinkedIn, Indeed and her own network of beauty industry contacts to find those with potential for long-term success at the company–even if they have not applied for the opening.

“Since I am responsible for finding the best candidates for the job openings, I take a proactive approach by starting a conversation with [candidates I have found],” Gaudiuso says. “I will encourage the conversation to continue if they’re interested in exploring a manager or assistant manager position. With our beauty advisers (salespeople), I seek candidates who are enthusiastic about learning more about Innisfree. If excellent candidates are students, or come from food service or other backgrounds, we can train them, especially if they are already familiar with and passionate about the brand and willing to learn what’s necessary to excel in our store.”

Gaudiuso adds that because there are so many products to choose from, employees at all levels are trained to actively listen to the customers and not recommend anything until they’ve asked enough questions to get a real sense of what the customer is truly looking for.

“As Innisfree draws people of all age groups to the store, will all customers need or want our best-selling product? Chances are that the answer is no,” she says. “This is why we train our advisers to ask open-ended questions, repeating back what the customer tells them and opening a conversation with remarks like, ‘Tell me about your skin.’ This puts a customer in any age group at ease and shows that the adviser is genuinely interested in his or her shopping experience.”

Although cutters, colorists and stylists can make or break a hair salon, the retail portion of the shop can be a strong supporting player in its long-term success. “As I see it, we’re not selling clients products separate from our haircutting and styling services,” says Inger Ellen Nicolaisen, founder of the Nikita Hair salon group, which started in Norway and now boasts 150 salons and more than 1,000 employees. “We take a more holistic approach, providing information to the clients on how to protect the investment in our services and keep their hair looking great as long as possible using the products (like our Eleni & Chris hair and skincare line) that we offer in the retail space. If a client wants to buy products from a local drug store or buy our specialized products, it’s up to them. But, the fact is that we want the clients to make the most informed choice possible to maintain the hairstyle they are walking out with at our salons.”

Nicolaisen says team members in the retail space need to show clients how to use the products correctly at home and while traveling, so a customer’s positive feelings about themselves go far beyond the moment they walk out of the salon. With that, it is also important candidates can effectively communicate with the professionals on the salon floor.

“We do a variety of things to find team members, from placing ads and notices on social media and Craigslist to signage and posters in the shop,” says Nicolaisen. “Once we have candidates, we want to be sure the ones we single out share the same values as Nikita’s corporate culture and the existing staff. It’s a kind of a family, as they’re going to be with us for a big part of their day and week. So, the first thing we look for is attitude and people skills. We are in the identity business, so these are important skills when developing long-term relationships with clients.”

beauty store

On Nikita Hair’s website, there’s a list of nine reasons to join the team, from great earnings incentives to health insurance supplements to personal career coaching. While these maxims are designed to bring in potential job candidates, they also serve the purpose of separating seriously committed, long-term candidates from those simply looking for a gig.

“People don’t care about what you know; they want to know how much you care,” Nicolaisen affirms. “Employees don’t just want to make good money; they want a good environment to do that in. With our management and leadership training, we stress that being a good role model is an important value for other employees.”

Noted New York City hairdresser and salon owner Oscar Blandi values approachability, honesty and a good command of important industry knowledge, whether the person on the other end of a conversation is a fashion editor, celebrity, regular client, an employee or a prospective employee. It’s not enough to be good on paper.

“Although a great resume will catch one’s attention, it’s important to find candidates that are skilled in face-to-face and interpersonal situations,” Blandi states. “We look for people who are always presentable, respectful and able to read a situation and understand the client or potential client. Without being too pushy, key factors of success also include conversational skills, knowledge about current events and being approachable. Everybody can have a bad day, but in a professional environment, it’s important to compartmentalize and prioritize the client and their emotions first.”

While Blandi recognizes that the internet and social media platforms are common tools for beauty industry job searches, they may complicate the process of finding the perfect candidates. He believes it’s more important for the person doing the hiring to observe how a candidate may interact with a customer. In other words, it’s all about “real engagement.”

“The best place to find good candidates is through referrals or from someone who has worked retail and sales,” he says. “Our retail specialists have worked as ambassadors for brands, where they had extensive knowledge of each product and are able to provide product analysis. We value candidates that are capable and understand every SKU and specific product ingredients so they can provide proper product analysis to all our clients. Although not everyone brought in needs to have an intense background, we filter candidates that have a firm grasp on beauty and hair. They are given training at the salon in their area of engagement, and must have that spark and ability to form relationships with clients.” Yet, Blandi's expectations are realistic. There are limits to the application of prior work experience. “Because the beauty industry is constantly changing, I think it’s important to note that not everything someone utilized at their old job can be applicable to their new job,” he says.

Of course, part of successfully staffing your business is developing and investing in the talent you have hired. Blandi's salon excels at this. New employees are encouraged to regularly seek guidance as they transition into any new role, as well as study a guideline book, written by salon general manager Angie Goris on salon rules and conduct, which fosters a friendly and highly professional environment. One-on-one evaluations are given at three-month intervals to track the employee’s growth, provide suggestions for improvement and recognize performance and achievement. The salon also welcomes feedback from staff. "We remain open to all suggestions for improvement on the employer end," Blandi says.

Ultimately, these investments will make your store or salon an attractive place to work, which then attracts more top talent!

Aman Brar, the CEO and creator of Canvas, reveals a totally modern way to tap today's millennial and Gen Z talent.

“In a specialized industry like beauty where there’s a high volume of applicants, many companies are looking for a niche fit in terms of technical ability and interpersonal skill set to best interact with clients,” observes Aman Brar, creator and CEO of Canvas, a technical application which allows employers to engage with multiple candidates in an efficient, customizable manner.

“Millennials and Gen Zers now make up nearly half–48 percent– of the population, and by 2025 more than 50 million in these age brackets will be looking for jobs,” he explains. “Between their generational takeover of the workforce and their rising use of technology for everyday activities, it’s no surprise that traditional phone interviews are going the way of flip phones in today’s workplace.”

Brar says that reaching qualified candidates highly experienced with makeup, aesthetics or technical expertise can be difficult because of the number of hours they spend on the floor with customers in a current position. In lieu of leaving multiple phone messages or emails, Canvas enables recruiters and hiring decision-makers to connect with job candidates within minutes of receiving their application or resume by sending a quick text message via a text-based recruiting platform.

Before taking the time to interview candidates over the phone or in person, recruiters can send questions with the simple click of a button to determine if the candidate has the quantifiable experience they’re looking for. By screening candidates via text message rather than on a traditional phone call, recruiters can save time and connect with three to five times the number of candidates than they’re able to reach via traditional recruiting methods.

“When it comes to interviewing these candidates, using text recruiting is a fast way to get to know the personality of a potential employee,” says Brar. “After the initial conversation, you can then determine whether to bring in the candidate for a phone call or in-person interview. With Canvas’ integration of emojis and Bitmojis, it’s even easier for recruiters to get a sense of the candidate’s personality and wit, which can help determine if they’re a fit for the position.”

As hiring demands change along with cosmetic breakthroughs, Brar points out that it is important for hiring managers to understand how the changing times in today’s workforce are impacting interviewing techniques, especially as a serious labor shortage exists across the U.S. As a result of today’s job market, recruiters and hiring managers should be working to not only expedite the hiring process but to ensure they market their businesses accordingly and target the right candidate for the job.

[Photos by marchmeena29/ and andresr/]