“If you don’t genuinely like your customers, chances are they won’t buy.”
-Thomas J. Watson, former CEO of IBM
The people side of branding is often lost in the shuffle. Social media, public relations and communications are the shiny objects that marketers tend to focus on. But if you’re serious about creating a personal connection with your clients, HR is the starting point.
Capital Iron has a very purposeful HR strategy to support their brand. Close to 90% of their staff are full time employees compared to the retail industry standard of 15 to 20%. The staffing strategy is designed to support a unique retail experience.
Capital Iron is a retailer based in Victoria, British Columbia. They dub themselves “a true General Store for the modern consumer.” And as one of their customers commented, “If the zombie apocalypse ever comes, this is where I’m heading!”
Develop subject matter experts
When you visit a Capital Iron store you will find more things to buy than you will at an average Walmart. They carry over 65,000 products—from nuts and bolts to clothing, barbecues, camping gear, fabric by the meter, and a whole lot more.
Mike Black, President of Capital Iron explains, “With so much choice, our customers count on staff who are knowledgeable, subject matter experts.” If you’re buying a barbecue you will have the opportunity to work with an “outdoor kitchen expert.” And as you walk the store you will find experts for camping, home appliances, hardware, and so on.
The focus on developing subject matter experts accelerates Capital Iron’s sales. For example, in the first year the store carried barbecues they sold 4 grills. Now the department is selling thousands of grills a year generating over $2 million. The growth is supported by knowledgeable staff who are dedicated to supporting their customers.
Freedom to help
Expertise is only one dimension of the personal touch. The staff have been empowered to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Mike explains, “The first thing we assess when hiring a new employee is if they’re a good people person.” The hiring philosophy complements the company’s service philosophy, which asks, “How would I like to be treated?”
Capital Iron’s staff are known for their desire to help. In one instance a staff member offered to drive an elderly customer home. The act was surprisingly simple, but entirely unusual. Not many companies would give their staff the freedom to make such decisions on their own.
Driving a customer home might take an hour out of the employee’s day, but the customer experience lasts a lifetime. Giving your staff the freedom to make split second decisions can be the difference between average and exceptional customer service.
It’s an HR strategy
Talent is a foundational building block of a great brand.
Jim Collins wrote in Good To Great, “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”
Talent is at the heart of Capital Iron’s competitive advantage. A customer can find many of the products they carry at a big box retailer, but they won’t encounter the same service, expertise or experience. It’s the talent that brings their brand to life.
Hiring and developing the right talent starts with a commitment from the top. A full time workforce can be more expensive than part-time staff, but it can make all the difference in delivering on the brand promise.
Growing a sticky brand is multidimensional, and HR is a key piece of the puzzle.