Imagine this scenario: After some early struggles, your small business is starting to make money. Your customers are loyal and steady and you are at a point where you can easily pay your overhead and vendors (while taking a healthy salary for yourself). More so than ever, you are ready to open a second location.
Such a proposition presents exciting opportunities for a growing business but it also offers considerable challenges. The biggest hurdle—aside from finding a convenient and affordable location in relatively good condition—is personnel. How are you going to find reliable employees that you’ll be able to trust when you’re not around?
Transfer responsible employees to the second location
If you know straight off that you will not be present much at your company’s second branch, consider transferring key employees who are already well-versed in how your business runs. Such a move will not only save you a lot of sleepless nights, but it will also give your second location a running start by staffing it with trained personnel who can prioritize and act responsibly on your behalf.
Keep in mind some potential pitfalls, however. Moving original staff to a second branch could cause disruption to the workflow at the flagship location. Further, original staffers might not be adept at training a new team to handle company protocol while also dealing with the work volume. That’s why it’s important to fully explain expectations to your flagship staff before you begin shifting workers around.
Hire only when necessary
This may sound counterintuitive when you’re looking to expand, but if your business is a small mom and pop-owned operation with limited funds, it’s an important point to consider.
“Don’t take on the added expense of extra employees until you really need to,” advises Lucille Skroce, co-owner of Matisse Chocolatier, an Englewood, New Jersey-based gourmet chocolate shop that recently opened a second branch in Orangeburg, New York. “You work with what you have until you can’t do it anymore.”
Skroce, who purchased the business in 1995 with her husband Vlado, cites a familiar scourge as the reason for the expansion. “My husband has been unemployed in the construction industry the last three years,” she admits. “[Matisse Chocolatier] is the one business [in our family] that’s doing OK so we thought maybe we can do it again and have another revenue stream coming in.”
Since the second location opened last December, Skroce and her husband have been its full-time staff. However, she recently hired a part-time employee who is not a transplant from the flagship store, which has two full-timers and several part-timers. This addition allows Skroce time to pursue other things and “have a life,” she says.
Don’t sacrifice customer service
Replicating the success of your flagship at a second or even third location means offering the same level of customer service. Don’t sabotage those efforts by skimping on your employee training.
“Our clients love the ability to talk to a real person every time they call in,” says Craig Rollins, CEO of LJCooper Wealth Advisors, a small wealth management firm that launched in Utah in 2000 and has since branched out to offices in Colorado, California, and Florida. “I will never have an automatic or phone tree installed because our customers go out of their way to tell us how much they appreciate being able to speak to a live person.”
“Servicing your clientele needs to be about providing a quality experience that is repeatable and reliable from the receptionist to the CEO,” says Rollins. “Management should staff according to how good they want their customers’ experience to be.”
Even though Lucille and Vlado Skroce are the full-time team at their new location, they are slowly integrating their part-time employee into the new store. The goal of this take-it-slow approach is to give them the time to sufficiently train the new hire so that eventually she will be able to run the second location with little to no supervision.
For small business owners, hiring a new worker through referrals, rather than placing an ad on an industry job board or a site like Craigslist, may be their best bet. Filling a position via word of mouth fosters a greater climate of reliability.
“When you have a small family-run business, your whole family and life revolves around it,” says Skroce. “That’s why it’s so important that the people you bring in are people you can trust.”
Find future employees among customers
“Learn from your prototype what you want out of your staff, then start building buzz to attract that type of individual long before your new store opens,” advises Edward Liesenfelt, general manager of Gelato Paradiso, an Italian dessert shop that opened in Newport Beach, California in 1999 and expanded to a second location in Laguna Beach in 2006. “The reason you are expanding is likely because your flagship location is popular enough to warrant a new venture. Use that to leverage interest in your new location not only from consumers but for potential employees as well.”
Using a strategy similar to that employed by the Skroces, Liesenfelt says Gelato Paradiso, which typically hires employees on a part-time hourly basis, does not advertise vacant positions—even on its website. Rather, Liesenfelt says he looks for applicants drawn from customers that have expressed an interest in working at the shop.
“This way, when we require new help, we start with an applicant base that has already come in, tasted our product, and taken the initiative to get a foot in the door,” he explains .“By the time new prospects fill out their applications, they have already envisioned themselves as a part of our company, which shows during the interview process and beyond.”
Never forget that employees are your best brand ambassadors. Hire smartly and you will foster a work dynamic that will not only make workers want to be part of that environment but attract enthusiastic customers to your next store as well.
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