Profitable Times Newsletter

Best Practices for Staffing Structures

The focus of this article is on pure store/retail staffing without consideration for managers who also have other responsibilities, such as for admissions or visitor services.

For most positions, except where prohibited by law, it is my experience that a well-vetted, trained and supervised volunteer in an environment where rules, expectations and consequences have been established and are enforced, can be just as effective as a paid staff person. Even in larger stores where the activity level can be more intense, the right volunteer, perhaps in a floor ambassador role that doesn't require getting involved in any aspect of executing transactions, can be a warm and effective member of the team resulting in incremental sales. Volunteers are part of some of the scenarios in this article. It is my view that those who flatly reject the use of volunteers have not established a well designed retail volunteer program.

There will always be slow visitation days and there is very little a museum store that relies primarily on visitors can do about it. So that makes it doubly important the store maximize revenue on those days when it's busy. In my experience the best projection of how much store staff will be required is based on a historical record of transactions per salesperson hour worked, not revenue. Toward that goal, I encourage the following calculation be made to help determine how many people are required in a salespersons capacity to effectively service customers. A projection, using numbers appropriate for your store, might look like this:

  500   Visitation estimate
  25%   Capture Rate

  125   Transactions
  6   Historical rate of number of transactions per sales person, per hour

  21   Hours of coverage required
  8   Number of hours store is open

  2.6   Sales staff

This estimate has to be adjusted for typical ebbs and flows during the day and it does not include staff people doing other things such as receiving and processing products in the back-of-house, schedule adjustments for lunches and breaks and the additional staffing needed if the store enjoys considerable destination foot-traffic. My suggestion is to at least try tracking both sales and transactions to see which provides the best guidance for determining sales staff coverage.

At the top of the retail organization is the manager. In most museums the title given to the manager will be dictated by the guidelines established by the personnel department to identify all museum staff positions. In general, 'store' or 'shop' is included in the title when the responsibilities are focused on the brick and mortar aspects of retailing. Museum Store Manager and Museum Shop Manager are examples. If the responsibilities include e-commerce, multiple locations, mail order and other roles the title may include the broader 'retail' instead, such as Retail Manager.

Regardless of the position title, I have long advocated the following broad description of the position. The manager should have:

Full Responsibility

The idea is to put all the eggs in one basket, then watch the basket carefully. I strongly prefer the risk that an individual may get off track on occasion (but if there are regular meetings with supervisors that shouldn't last long) compared to the often slow-moving and muddled objectives that result from a committee management structure. You know, a camel is a horse designed by a committee!

Proportionate Authority to Fulfill the Responsibilities

This doesn't mean that some decisions should not be discussed with higher management before being executed, but the goal is to give the manager the empowerment to do the job.

Clear Lines of Supervision and Reporting

The manager should be required to report to only one person or perhaps a small committee.

Minimal, and Insulation From, Interference and Undisciplined Collaboration

I forcefully make this pitch to every museum administrative group I address. This primarily means that the product selection process is clearly defined and the retail manager's supervisors will help protect the process from inappropriate influence from others in management, board members, trustees, etc. To be clear, the product selection process should provide for input from a broad array of sources, but only through established channels.

The concern about over-collaboration is focused on the product development process. Too many times I have seen good ideas loose momentum and miss windows of opportunity because of undisciplined collaboration. There is no question that members of museum management, curators, the marketing department and others should be involved in the development of proprietary product, but the development process, just like the product selection process, should be clearly defined. Equally important, in return for the opportunity to provide input into the process, the participants should commit to a schedule that allows the process to advance in a timely manner. For example, if the marketing department needs two weeks to review product ideas they agree in advance that the clock starts ticking when the proposal is delivered to them and they need to be ready with at least initial comments within two weeks. If curators need a month, that's fine, but their clock also starts upon delivery of the idea.

The most common management structures, from my experience, are listed below in the order of the frequency they are found, which also closely corresponds with expense. In this list management includes managers, buyers and others whose primary responsibility is not selling.

  • Paid management and paid sales staff
  • Paid management and mixed paid and volunteer sales staff
  • Paid management and volunteer sales staff
  • Volunteer management and volunteer plus paid 'shoulder hours' sales staff (shoulder hours typically include evenings and weekends).
  • Volunteer management and volunteer sales staff

There is no right or wrong staffing plan. A lot depends on the availability of both a volunteer pool and a budget for salaries. In general, it's probably true that the more paid staff the more professional the operation. But, in every instance I would choose to add a volunteer sales person on the floor instead of not having sufficient paid staff.

In terms of deciding who does what, I recommend a process that includes determining what each staff person likes to do and does well and what they don't like to do and/or don't do well. The manager gets first choice. The responsibilities taken on by the manger should be a balance of what they must do because of their position, what they like to do and what they do well. Nothing dictates that management must be the buyers. Given an open to buy and some guidance and supervision any staff person, for example, who has an eye for jewelry or knows books well can be the 'buyer'. On the other hand, if the manager doesn't do well with technology but has a great eye for merchandising and displays and is a keen price negotiator, nothing dictates that she/he has to maintain the POS at the expense of time devoted to what they do well. Much of the above is only applicable to stores large enough to have staffs of some size and is admittedly of only slight help to smaller stores where 'management' is singular and staffing is very limited.

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