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Now, we're not trying to harp on the youth of today (after all, I am one), but have you ever gone into a specialty store and asked a question, only to get a quizzical look and a response of "Uh . . . let me ask my manager" from a bewildered teen (or someone older with the knowledge of a 16-year-old)? Though at one time or another many of us have been behind the counter in the hell that is one's first retail job and have not known the answer to an anxious customer's question, it's pretty annoying when you're the one not getting the information you need right then and there.
Littleton, Colorado, herbal pharmacy owner Scott Fiore, this column's featured start-up entrepreneur for the year, feels the pain of the consumer looking for an answer but getting a bunch of--well, let's just call it hogwash. That's why he's made darn sure his employees know what they're talking about and can relay their knowledge to the customer in an efficient, heartfelt manner.
"Education is the key to our whole business," says Fiore, 31. Because his store is a natural pharmacy rather than a health-food store, he insists that degree-toting professionals run the show. "We could hire high school kids who would love to make some extra money, but that's what most of our customers [dislike] about the [bigger] chains," he says.
To ward off any possible complaints from the get-go, Fiore brought in people he already knew and trusted. His manager, whom he hired last July before leaving his former research and development job at Rosemont Pharmaceutical Corp. in Denver, also worked at Rosemont. A weekend-working part-timer currently works full time at Rosemont. And the third staff member, who also works part time, manages a Denver-area supermarket, Gourmet Foods, full time. "It's a great environment. We laugh as much as we work, and that gets passed on to the [customers]," says Fiore.
As for the price tag for this great environment, Fiore admits, "Right now, I'm spending too much on payroll. But I don't mind because, especially in the beginning, first impressions are going to [create] our word-of-mouth." So he hands out more-than-competitive salaries to his three employees.
One thing Fiore doesn't have to worry about at the moment, but plans to offer in the future, is a benefits package. Fortunately, Fiore and his manager both signed on with their wives' insurance plans after leaving Rosemont. And since his part-time workers have full-time jobs with benefits, they're already covered. But The Herbal Remedy (Fiore's store) does supply some employee perks. "We got everybody [membership in] the health club [a 24 Hour Fitness is right next door] and got them Costco cards," says Fiore.
Another perk (well, sort of) Fiore gets for himself is every other weekend off. His manager covers the weekends he doesn't work, but he still works an average of 55 hours a week. (He even works one day a week at a large pharmacy chain so his customers can feel confident he knows the business.)
Skimping on hiring to save money was never an option for Fiore. "If I were here by myself, I'd probably be servicing people less, so I don't think my sales would have been the same up to this point without my staff," he says.
So when considering your staffing situation during start-up, follow in Fiore's footsteps: Steal your friends away from your old employer to ensure quality. Just kidding. But kidding aside, quality is key, and even if you're not in the same position as Fiore, who could easily select from the cream of the crop, you shouldn't settle for less.
"You can never be too careful with employees," cautions Fiore. "A lot of times, the first meeting's not enough; give them two or three [interviews]. If you don't have the chemistry right up front, then rethink your options, because there is [such a thing as] a perfect fit."
The Herbal Remedy, (303) 795-8600, http://www.theherbalremedy.com