Staffing Matters

A common question from the many different garden centres we work with is "How do I get good staff?"


I heard a story of a larger independently owned chain of hardware stores in America who had continued to win the awards for the best hardware apprentice for many years in succession. The question was asked of the owner how this was happening?

The response was that it was a strategy to only employ apprentices who had the ambition to oneCapture.JPG day own and manage their own business. The promise to these potential employees was to train and equip them to help them to achieve their goals.

The logical question that followed was “aren’t you training your future opposition?” The owner’s response was all were still working for the company. Most had moved into or were working towards moving into management roles.

One day he will sell the individual stores and the buyers will most likely come from these well-trained and capable team members who will have the opportunity to fulfil their dreams.

For a garden centre to be profitable there are number of KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS that must be right. One of these is Labour Costs. Including owners drawings, superannuation, and all other payroll costs, these need to be 19% to 23% of sales. To achieve this there must be the right people and the right processes.

The pressure is on and the question is a very valid one. How do we get Good Staff?

Sometimes you may already have them

Sometimes the good staff are already there and just need to be trained, equipped and encouraged. There have been many occasions after we have hosted a staff training session at a garden centre, an owner has commented that a certain staff member has ‘come to life’ and has moved from ‘just doing a role’ into being a 'key staff member'.

It is fantastic to hear this feedback and to know that a talent and passion has been discovered that was not previously obvious. This not only makes a huge difference to the business but a huge difference to this person’s life as they grow in confidence and ability.

Sometimes you have to find them.

A GRS founder and our mentor Bill Brett, has a great one liner – ‘If you can’t change the people – you must change the people.’

Often there is a staff member or members who will not want to do things any differently from Happy1.jpghow they have always done them. These are often the ones who will argue at staff meetings or training sessions and will actively campaign for supporters from within the work team.

There are good people out there. They may not be horticulturists, but a ‘people’s person’ can be trained in product knowledge.

A person with good product knowledge who is not a ‘people’s person’, is most unlikely to learn this skill. Sometimes it's worthwhile looking outside of the industry.

There is often some pain in building the right work team to achieve success in achieving the business goals but the gain is worth the pain.

A strong, focused and affordable workteam is essential.

Each time we have visited Vadoulis Garden Centre in South Australia, the standout consistency has been the motivated and friendly team.

I was most impressed to hear that one of the questions that Milton asks when conducting an interview for a new staff member is ”What can you do for my business that will make my life easier?”

As we joked about this Milton said ‘Well why would I employ someone who will make my life harder?” Milton rewards those who work for him with above award remunerations but has one of the lowest wage percentages to sales ratios for garden centres in Australia. Employing and rewarding the right people is one of a garden centre’s keys to success.

Equipping and training staff

Having staff who do not know what they are doing is not the fault of the staff.

Team members who understand the goals of the business and who are trained, equipped, Plants.jpginvolved and encouraged to help to achieve those goals, are the most valuable asset in 

achieving success.

In-house training can be great. The skills that are already present can be used to build the team
and to share the workload.

Investment in training from outside the workplace will continue to pay dividends year after year with new ideas, renewed enthusiasm and an understanding of the principles and methods of great retailing.

Keys to Manage and Motivate Staff
  • Hire the right people
  • Share your plan with them
  • Give them the resources to do the job
  • Train them
  • Give them responsibility – delegate with parameters
  • Share the results with them – Weekly meetings, Staff reviews
  • Ask for their input
  • Treat them with respect
  • Keep them informed – Weekly staff meetings
  • Reward them – best done with small things at random attached to a job well done.

There is no doubt that managing Human Resources can be challenging and at times frustrating. We are dealing with people and people have feelings, moods and emotions.

As with all parts of managing your business, it comes back to having a clear and achievable Business Plan.

WHERE ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING? are very important questions to address but it is the HOW DO WE GET THERE? which is very hard to achieve without the right people working with you rather than working for you.


- Hilton Blake, Garden Retail Success, Australia