It’s that time of year again. Another year has flown by (or is it just me?) and retailers are gearing up for the busiest period of the year, the festive holiday season.

It’s an important time for business owners. Many retailers rely on summer sales to get them through the rest of the year. Making the most of summer’s spike in demand is a massive focus for them by late September. 

Having the right team around you is critical. Whether you succeed or fail is practically dependent on your team. It is so important that customers get the right experience during this busy time. From procurement through to the front line, each has to be bolstered and know exactly how to react when the time comes. 

But this time is different. Typically, retailers will look to rapidly onboard as many ‘Christmas casuals’ and other staff as possible from the start of spring, preparing to meet the surge in demand. 

And when staff wasn’t so scarce, it worked. 

As we hear often on the news, this year brings with it stubbornly low immigration figures and a red-hot jobs market. Many retailers are struggling to run the same tried-and-true summer playbook. 

Businesses that managed to survive through pandemic lockdowns, where demand dropped and they faced the challenge of managing staff, will now be met with the opposite problem: too much demand, not enough labour. 

Retails are getting approximately a third of usual job applicants. In such a competitive market, margins begin to get squeezed as remuneration and other benefits get ramped up. After all, it’s better to shift boxes at some margin, than to have it sit taking up inventory space unsold. 

There is no denying the impact the war for talent has had on the retail industry. Its closest analogue is the building and construction industry. Hyper-competitive with a mix of large and smaller players, it doesn’t take much to see a domino-like effect of closures following a bad Christmas season. 

It’s not just staffing levels retailers need to contend with. The shift to online shopping continues, and with it comes a change in what skills you’re looking for when hiring during peak season. Your teams are evolving because you – as an organisation – are evolving. Finding the right balance is incredibly difficult.

Given the current market climate, retailers are likely to do what I call ‘hope hiring’. It’s where you create a list of the skills you think are needed to get the job done, and when someone ticks those boxes you give them an offer and hope it works out. 

I’ve done my fair share of ‘hope hiring’, having helped build Xero’s business for nine years in Australia and now joining Compono to start that thrilling journey once again. Despite the different industries, the pain it can be when a hire doesn’t work out is all the same. From simple incompetence to those who seemingly set out to create discord wherever they go, I’ve seen it all.

It’s not a viable strategy for something so important. So what are you to do? You need staff, but hiring is always a risk. 

The way for retail business owners to tackle this challenge and set their business up for success is by changing the they hire. 

Historically, we’ve always hired for skills, knowledge, and experience while deep down, most companies are really trying to find people that are actually going to be successful in their organisation, from a culture and attitude perspective. 

Someone who will contribute to the fostering of a positive culture. Someone who has a good attitude towards the things that are important in your organisation.These can’t be taught as easily.

That is what you should hire for. Courses can be taken, skills can be learned and when you invest in your team, experience will inevitably develop. The right people can be adapted from one area of a retail business to another to meet demand and make for a more flexible workforce.

Everything comes down to your team. It is the great investment you will make for success. 

My advice to all businesses gearing up for a successful holiday season this year is to start sooner, get clear on your business values, find out who you are so you can figure out who you need. Then cast your net as wide as possible, and find people that will make a genuinely great addition to your team. Even if it means you need to invest a bit more time and effort to get them there.

The rewards will be well worth it when the holiday rush comes.

Trent Innes is CEO of people insights company, Compono