June 6, 2012, 11:03 AM

IRCE 2012 Report: How small e-retailers can find and keep good workers

Retailers need to foster a positive company culture and recruit creatively.

Lead Photo

Hil Davis

In a tight market for e-commerce talent it can be tough for an organization that doesn’t have the glamour and pull of an Apple Inc. or Amazon.com Inc. to recruit and retain the right employees that will help the business grow. But that doesn’t mean e-retailers should settle for a frog rather than a prince, said Todd Morris, CEO of Brickhouse Security, an e-retailer of home security products, at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 in Chicago this week.

The seven-year-old e-retailer has 55 employees and found most of those employees by following a handful of rules that Morris jokingly equated to dating rules, such as “don’t be a nobody” and “play hard to get.”

The rules, he said, can help a growing company, or one just starting out, position itself so good talent is more likely to want to work there. Lesser-known companies can follow the “don’t be a nobody” rule, he said, by putting work into raising its profile.

For example, Brickhouse Security promotes that it’s been listed on the Inc. 500 list and the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and positions itself with the news media as an expert source on home security. Morris says the lobby of Brickhouse Security is lined with press clippings so when potential employees come for an interview they can see that the company is well-respected.

Another line of advice: Desperation leads to one-night stands. Morris says rushing things inevitably leads to mistakes and regret and in business that costs money. “A temporary person in a temporary seat will cost you more in turnover than if you waited, took your time and found the right person,” Morris said.

Once an e-retailer finds and hires the right person, the way to retain them is by fostering a company culture that makes employees like working there, said Hil Davis, CEO of men’s apparel e-retailer J. Hilburn. J. Hilburn has 60 employees and 200 independent style advisors who sell directly to consumers. Turnover is just 11% per year for style advisors, which Davis says is a fraction of the turnover at organizations with similar structures. He attributes the low churn to J. Hilburn’s commitment to an open and honest communication style and to creating an environment where hard work is recognized and celebrated.

“If you treat [employees] like a cog, they will act like a cog,” Davis said. “You have to value their voice and opinion and empower them.” He also said recognition is often more powerful than cash. “You have to listen to what your employees want and it isn’t just cash and equity. You have to find out what matters most to them.”

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