In the current US retail landscape, led by behemoths like Walmart, Target, and Costco, attracting—and keeping—the best retail employees often seems like a dog-fight for small business owners. It needn’t be.

There are several things that small business owners can do to bring good talent onboard and keep them happy over time. Follow these principles below, and you can look forward to sustained business success supported by bright, motivated, and articulate staff.

Focus On The Right Fit

The first thing that business owners should focus on when hiring is finding people that fit within their business culture. Obviously that means that you must define your business culture if it’s not already apparent. This can seem like a difficult task, and it can be, but it’s also a vital one. Your culture should be grounded in your core mission statement and your mission statement should act as an anchor for every aspect of your business and every decision that you make. Take some time and find out what you stand for. Everything else—including onboarding new staff—will be easier when you do.

A great way to find people who are the ‘right fit’ is to incentivize your current rockstar employees to suggest friends and people within their network that may be great fits. Everyone wants to work with people that they like and the easiest way to ensure that for your business is to give your employees a hand in that process.

One important note here, however, is to remember that hiring for fit doesn’t mean that you should be considering only one type of employee. You should choose people that will work well with others based on personality, interests, and passions, but make sure to keep your mind open to a diversity of talent. This is an area small businesses can sometimes struggle with, as it’s all too easy to fall into hiring people ‘like you’. Just because someone comes across as different from the people you’ve hired before, doesn’t mean that they won’t add great value to your business. In fact, sometimes your team can benefit greatly from a different perspective.

If you get this process right, you’ll maximize the potential impact of each new individual on your team. When you have employees that enjoy working together and helping one another—but who also challenge each other—you’ll see the team perform better as a whole.

Growth Opportunities

Often times, small business owners almost devalue the jobs that they are offering. Granted, many of the folks working in your neighborhood Mom & Pop shop don’t intend to retire still working at the business, but giving your team something to work towards will help engage and keep them happier. Reward your best employees for their hard work with small promotions – be it monetarily or just with acknowledgment of some sort. Businesses that don’t challenge or encourage their employees to grow within the business will inevitably lose them to a more attractive opportunity at a competitor. Be sure to convey advancement opportunities within your hiring process. And be sure to put in place effective mechanisms for tracking your employees performance – something your point of sale system can definitely help with.

Employee Input

One huge advantage that you as a small business should have over your big-box competitors is your ability to create motivated, connected, and engaged employees. As you can imagine, it’s very easy as an employee at the likes of Walmart and Best Buy to feel completely disconnected from the vision and goals of the business. If you were to survey a random cashier or stock employee at Walmart, they would have no idea what their specific department goals and projections are, let alone the company’s goals. The only thing that they are kept abreast of is changes to their day-to-day responsibilities. They’re trained to carry out a set of tasks and that’s it.

By contrast, you can ensure that your employees feel the impact of their work on the business’s success or failure. Provide a platform for your employees to voice concerns and share ideas for improving the business. Make sure to follow through with this by visibly implementing the best ideas and publicly crediting people when their ideas go well (and privately informing them when they don’t). Offer regular updates on overall business performance and engage your employees in good times and bad. They’ll feel validated and work harder as a result.


Because small businesses have small staff numbers and don’t have many stacked levels of management, employees often report to the business owner him/herself. This creates another distinct advantage that small business owners can emphasize in the recruiting and hiring processes: flexibility. An employee at Target cannot really ask for major concessions to their schedule, as they’re likely reporting to a line manager who follows a set procedure, rather than the business owner him/herself. As a business owner, convey during the hiring process that you can be more flexible with scheduling, and try to impart employees’ feedback when determining their schedules.

Hire People With Relative Knowledge of Their Role

This one seems like a no-brainer, but that isn’t always the case. Many small business owners underestimate the importance of this and simply hire folks that need a job. Someone who is there to just collect a paycheck will have a much more negative disposition to their job and your business. Hiring individuals with relative knowledge of the role that they’ll be assuming will greatly increase the likelihood that they’ll perform well. The more someone understands the role and their expected contribution, the more equipped they are to carry the job well and do it with a smile. If they have prior working experience similar to what they’ll be doing at your store, then that’s an even bigger plus.

Foster a Happy and Collaborative Environment

The biggest asset that a small business can have for its recruitment efforts is a happy and collaborative environment. With all other factors aside, everyone wants to work at a happy place. An employee’s motivation to come to work can be impacted by a number of things, such as money, friends, advancement, etc., but one thing’s for certain – no one wants to work at a miserable place. So above all of the other tips listed above, this one is imperative to attracting and retaining the best employees. Stay happy, stay motivated, and stay productive and you’ll attract and keep employees who will do the same.

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate who uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.