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The right stuff

Finding and training a good manager takes time, money and persistence;
here are some suggestions to make this all-important process a little easier

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By Eliana Osborn
Published: June 14, 2016
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Without a manager you can trust, your body may leave work but your mind never will. There’s a lot riding on hiring and training a manager. Figuring out the right candidate is hard enough; how can you choose a great manager and give them the training they need to properly succeed?

You don’t have to do it alone. Whether you run a single mom-and-pop store or multiple locations, there are resources available to help. You’ll need to recognize that management training is a necessary investment—of both time and money. Rush the process and you’ll end up starting from scratch a month down the road.
Retail experts, store owners and a chain president talked to Model Retailer about how they find and train new managers. While some resources may not match your particular needs, an entity’s long-term growth and success does invite us to pay attention and learn from their experience.

What you need

T.J. Schier, president of Incentivized Solutions in suburban Dallas, says you should determine what you need your manager to do. There’s a big difference between an employee who simply closes up at night and one who can act in your stead. “You have to know what kind of fish you want to catch; you can’t go out to the lake and catch a shark. You can try all you want, put out all kinds of bait and hooks, and you’ll never catch it.” If you don’t know what you want from a manager, you won’t be able to find the right person. Save yourself a lot of hassle by making a list of duties before you post an ad.

HobbyTown follows a specific set of core values. A big part of what the company looks for in management is someone who is on the same page in the big picture. “Similar to a sports team that recruits a player as an ‘athlete’ rather than a specific position, if the core values align they can become a great team player,” says president Bob Wilke. “A qualified candidate will demonstrate enthusiasm and passion with an outgoing personality and a personal conviction to always do what is best for others [both customers and the team]. A proven track record with previous success also demonstrates commitment, longevity and a goals-oriented behavior.”
Posting a longer job description may cost more but will save you from dozens of candidates who aren’t even close to a good fit. Read through other retail manager job postings to get a sense of keywords to include; you’ll be able to tell the difference between a well-thought-out ad and something just dashed off. Potential employees can see that distinction, too; the kind of manager you want is someone looking for a clear job description.

A known quantity
Promoting someone from within your organization presents distinct benefits: They are already a part of your company culture and have shown themselves to be responsible. Schier says that problems might arise when a good employee makes the transition to management. “I have supervisors who think they know how to be a GM because they can make the schedule or do inventory, but they really, truly don’t understand what it’s like to lead.” That’s where your time developing a solid job description can help both you and your candidates understand expectations. Going over the job description together—before someone formally applies—can ease expectations.

Todd Anderson of Hub Hobby, with two locations in the Minneapolis area, says that when he needs a new manager, he’d rather promote from within. “It would generally make for a smoother transition as well as give another employee a chance to ad-vance and grow. There are also just a lot of little idiosyncrasies to our business that would take an outsider a long time to get up to speed on.” Determining what you want from a manager is crucial since there are endless possibilities of what the position looks like.
Hiring an outside person as manager means bringing someone in with experience elsewhere. While they may not know precisely how things are done at your store, they’ll have an idea of the duties involved. If you want a manager to help you tweak how things are run, an outsider makes a lot of sense. Wilke says communication is the key quality of a good manager—and the hardest one to come by. When interviewing, look for someone who is organized and able to express themselves well.
The National Retail Federation (NRF), at, offers training and certification in retail management. Anyone who has been through courses with this respected organization should be well prepared for your needs. That doesn’t mean you should ignore other qualities, but it is a definite plus.

On-the-job training
HobbyTown is large enough that it has some standardized training procedures. Wilke explains, “We recognize this as a critical area of support for retailers—you cannot grow if you do not have the people in place to fulfill operational duties. HT University is our online training program that covers product knowledge, sales and customer service. Our Franchise Services team conducts management training at the HobbyTown Service and Support facility in Lincoln, Neb., and also in the field on location. This training is more heavily geared toward new franchise owners and/or new full-time managers assuming full operational responsibilities. Our Franchise Services team is also on call for daily operational support and provides guidance in several areas including leadership training, best practices, problem solving, incentive programs, etc.”

Training shouldn’t be rushed. Schier says that training a manager will take two or three months, more if you’re asking them to come in to a situation where there have been problems. Have your employees train the new manager on all aspects of their jobs, and make sure they understand the logistical details of ordering, scheduling and providing customer service.

HT University and other online programs can provide useful data about areas where participants are excelling and where they need extra support. As the owner or senior manager, you need to watch a new manager closely during this first phase. Many experts agree that it’s important to differentiate between someone who may need a little more time and someone who just isn’t able to be the manager you want. As Wilke says, “If not, we need to give that person the opportunity to succeed somewhere else.”

Get specific
Jeremy Teitelbaum, professor of communication and leadership at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, suggests a multi-pronged approach to getting your new manager up to par.
You can send someone to a one- or two-day training course through companies like Dale Carnegie or Fred Pryor Seminars. If there’s something specific you don’t feel fully conversant in, such as workman’s compensation, this might be a good route. You never want training to occur in a vacuum, however, so be sure to debrief your manager afterward.

The Internet offers many other training resources [see sidebar below]. You can choose ongoing development topics or a generalized course of study. The flexibility of online study is convenient, of course, but some people struggle without the benefit of personal interaction. You might try a study course yourself before asking a new manager to enroll.

“Look at your local chamber of commerce if you are a member and find trainers and consultants,” says Teitelbaum. “The local community college may offer courses as well.” Other area businesses have dealt with the same training struggles and can give excellent recommendations. He warns, however, that bringing someone in to train one-on-one can be expensive.
The resources available through the NRF have the benefit of stacking—classes can come together and prepare someone for certification. You don’t have to commit to a whole sequence, but the opportunity is there if you are thinking long term. For example, in retail operations you can have someone study just merchandising if you want to transition some of those responsibilities to your new manager. NRF training locations are available around the U.S., but you can also team with other small retailers in your area to bring a class closer to you. The Retail Council of Canada offers similar resources to Canadian retailers; for more information, visit

A good manager can make your business run more smoothly, lead to satisfied customers and improve your quality of life. By doing some work up-front, including hiring and training, you can maximize your investment of time and money in finding the right fit for your particular store needs. HobbyTown’s Wilke suggests you “always be on the lookout for talent—whether you are shopping, dining out or getting your oil changed. Don’t be shy in recognizing great service, and give out your business card to let that person know you would be interested in exploring employment op-portunities with your company.” After all, you saw someone in action and they caught your attention.

Other training options
  • Lynda, A resource your library may offer for free with your account. More than 1,000 business training courses, including a seven-video set entitled Becoming a Manager. Different experience levels and skills are available.

  • National Seminar Training, A wide selection of topics, including finance and human-resource issues. Unlimited on-demand classes available for a fee, as well as per-course options.

  • Skillpath, In business since 1989, Skillpath offers in-person and online training. Classes include Assertive Communication and Leadership Best Practices, $100 each.

Eliana Osborn is a freelance writer and part-time English professor living in Arizona. She covers educational topics for families and businesses. Follow her on Twitter: @ElianaOEliana.
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