Roadblock: 4,170 Newbies

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2004-07-01 Print this article Print

Dollar General must hire thousands of workers quickly and cheaply, if its expansion plans are to succeed.

The Obstacle

Dollar General needs about six people to work each of the 695 stores it plans to open this year, to run cash registers, stock products and manage. The retailer must hire more workers this year than the population of some of the towns in which it operates. Plus, Dollar General is a slave to its own store mantra: "Save Time. Save Money." That means the company prefers to pay store-level personnel at or slightly above the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour and blitz-hires during the three to four weeks before launching a new store. This also means the company sometimes must settle for whoever shows up and, between the pay and the small labor pool, will be constantly looking for and training new employees to run stores the Dollar General way.

The Response

Recruit all the time. A Web site constantly shows where new hires are needed. Prospects for Monroe, La., had three weeks in May and June to submit resumes and applications online. In Las Vegas, it was one week in mid-May. For Fort Smith, Ark., it was five days in May. But the company doesn't necessarily wait for open positions. Local newspaper and Web advertisements note that candidates should drop in even if they'd rather work in a different store or region. Meanwhile, district managers, store managers and their assistants are often brought on through one-day hiring events at a Ramada Inn or other local hotel. They fill out paper applications and answer questions from other managers. Regional managers make the yea or nay decision afterward. The company prefers managers with high school or equivalent diplomas. For clerks, no minimum education is required.

Audition. Standard procedure is for the store or district manager to hire a 20-person setup crew three or four weeks before a store opens. Of that group, four to six happy hard workers will win jobs at the store after it opens, some part-time and some full-time. "You see who shows up on time, who gives it their all," says Valerie Hallstrom, a store manager in Williamsport, Pa., with Dollar General for 15 years.

Do more for employees ... and they will do more for you. Employee turnover in the retail business is 65%, according to the National Retail Federation trade group, and half of that comes in the first 90 days of employment. What companies should study when they want to address the issue is not who leaves but who stays, says Blake Frank, assistant dean at the University of Dallas business school.

Three items most influence whether an entry-level worker quits: whether he has the tools to do his job, whether he gets clear direction and the quality of his immediate boss. For example, if a clerk must clean shelves and counters using a specific solution, the manager must make sure towels are available and write down the recipe for the cleaning liquid. The manager must also specifically state expectations for the clerk to clean, say, every three hours by posting a sign or asking him to do it.

"These are simple things," Frank says. "In these kinds of jobs, you don't pay people to think strategically. You pay them to execute. They have to know what to execute. That has to come from management."

Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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