Staffing a store is a constant challenge, now so more than ever when operating guidelines are changing weekly. In many cases, stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place rules have led to rapid increases in delivery traffic — and a resulting need to quickly bring new employees onboard, especially delivery staff. 

“Many of our partners have a meaningful opportunity to staff up and hire new folks in a time of high unemployment,” says Kathryn Lehman, director of account management at Drizly. “Our advice is to maintain the same hiring standards they always practice. There is an excellent talent pool out there, wanting to jump in and provide an excellent service to your customers.”

Having a streamlined, consistent process makes finding, hiring, and training new employees faster and less stressful. These five steps will take you through that process and help your business meet whatever new challenges arise this year and beyond.

1. Get the Word Out

These days, most employers and job seekers go straight to online forums, but that’s not the only way. Your next star employee could be a favorite customer, or a local bartender or sommelier looking to transition to daytime hours. Your distributor sales reps may also have the early word on someone looking to move to a new location or take on a different role, so be sure to let them know what your needs are. 

While the word of mouth strategy may result in a smaller candidate pool, the results may be more reliable than an internet referral. This was the case for Bruce Gallagher, owner of Bonnie Brae Liquor in Denver. When his store’s daily deliveries more than doubled in response to Covid-19, he was able to rapidly identify a pool of potential new delivery staff by putting the word out to family and friends. “Good people come from good people within,” he says.

Yet online staffing remains one of the most convenient ways to reach a large audience — and online forums may open your search up to a more diverse set of potential employees. For positions that require specialized product knowledge, such as buyers, managers, and sales staff, look to specialized forums, such as Wine Jobs and BevForce, which attract applicants who are experienced in the industry. For roles that do not require specialized industry knowledge, such as stocking and delivery, consider posting to general job boards like Indeed and Craigslist.

2. Refine the Candidate Pool

Upon posting a role, you may be overwhelmed by the number of applicants. A few tactics can help organize the process and narrow down the applicant pool before you move on to the more time-intensive interview stage. First, start with a job description that clearly describes the position and lays out any mandatory requirements, such as legal age requirements, a driver’s license, or specific shifts to be filled. To encourage a diverse base of candidates to apply, consider the language you use. Avoid gender-coded words and reinforce your store’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.  

Next, send a formal application to all respondents asking for additional information, including a question about why they are interested in the position. Additionally, for roles that require specialized product knowledge, pose a few questions at the required level. The answers to these questions can help you ensure that only seriously interested candidates are moving on to the interview stage.

3. Ask Strategic Questions

Employers should approach interviews as opportunities, coming into each meeting prepared, curious, and focused. If you get the hire right, it could mean a long fruitful relationship, and less hiring stress for years to come.

Interviews should be conducted for all positions. “Just as it is in store, your license is on the line whenever someone walks out your door with a product,” Lehman says. “Stay invested in the caliber of the people that work for you, regardless of whether they are delivery personnel or in-store staff.”

As a matter of process, start a file for each candidate who interviews with you, including their application and resume. Print out a sheet with your list of interview questions so that you can ensure you’re asking everyone the same questions in the same order, and capturing their answers in an organized way that you can refer to later. A detailed record of every interview can also help reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process. 

As for the questions, they should reveal something about an applicant’s ability to perform the role. You should already have a sense of their work history and work ethic from their resume and application, so spend this time trying to understand how they think. Ask them how they handle challenging situations, including difficult customers. Ask them what inspires them in both their work and their time off. Don’t just listen to what they say, but how they say it. Remember that it’s easy to teach store policies, but tougher to teach customer service skills. So this is your chance to learn how comfortable the candidate is with questions about their character and their tolerance for stressful situations.

Questions about what they took away from their prior work experiences are important. Years spent in relevant positions are only as worthy as the skills and lessons that they’ve learned on the job. Ask them to teach you something that they have learned from a recent position. See if they can tell you something that you might not know. This challenges them to draw lessons from their work experience, and it also gives you a sense of the work ethic and culture at their old job.

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4. Onboard the New Employee

When your new employee comes aboard, use the first day wisely. It’s your only chance to set a strong first impression, and to make them feel welcome and excited about working on your team. If you have a methodical on-boarding process, it sends the message that the employee is now part of a professional, well-organized team with high standards that will be enforced. On the other hand, a chaotic process sets low expectations for employees, and is likely to result in them being poorly trained for their new position.

Even if your shop is small, you should have a training packet or employee manual ready to share. The employee should be given a written statement listing their duties and the policies of the shop, which they should review, sign, and date. Keeping a copy of this document on file is a simple way that you can prevent excuses or — in the worst case — defend against a wrongful termination lawsuit. If your shop requires uniforms, nametags, time cards, or an employee ID, have these ready on the first day as well. 

Make sure you have all legally required paperwork prepared for the new employee and ask that they bring the required documentation to complete it on their first day. This will include a W-2 form for tax purposes and an I-9 to establish their eligibility to work in the United States. Some employees may require additional licensing as well. If you serve drinks in any capacity on-site, employees may need to pass alcohol service classes (e.g. TIPS Certification), or even get a food safety certificate (e.g. ServSafe). These rules depend on state law, so be aware of any extras that each position requires.

Delivery drivers have their own set of paperwork to remember. You will need to maintain copies of their valid and un-expired driver’s license and proof of auto insurance. In some areas, bicycle and scooter delivery people also are required to have driver’s licenses, pass a course, and register with the city. Make sure your business insurance provides coverage for any accidents that happen to delivery personnel or employees who receive wine deliveries from loading docks.

5. Training Day(s)

After the paperwork is filled out, use these first few shifts to introduce your new employee to all the staff and some regular customers, to make sure they’re comfortable in the new work environment. It’s not always possible, but try not to throw them into the fire on their first day. At Bonnie Brae Liquor, for example, new drivers spend a full shift or two riding along with an existing team member to learn how the job works. 

Large stores with multiple departments should have new hires train with more than one manager or employee so they can gain different perspectives on how your store works. Even if a new hire has a fairly focused position within your store, they will be better adjusted if they understand the entire workings of the operation and have spent time with personnel from all departments. 

The end goal of training is to make sure the new staff member understands their position and how they fit into the larger team, and is able to work independently. Clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and processes facilitate this understanding. For delivery, in particular, Drizly’s Lehman recommends that its retail partners have a clear delineation between in-store and external delivery activity. “That means assigning an employee to packing and picking, and a separate employee for the delivery itself,” Lehman says. “You want to optimize the speed to the customer, while balancing your in-store operations.” 

Lehman also recommends training the delivery staff cross-functionally. “That way, when there is downtime in a particular area, those employees can jump in and help out,” she says. At Bonnie Brae Liquor, delivery staff is cross trained on the three P’s: Picking, packing, and processing.

Training should be an on-going process, with regular performance reviews conducted during the first several months to check an employee’s progress as they begin understanding their new role. One of the most important points to communicate early in this process is what success in a role looks like, and that the new employee is expected to meet those standards in 60 to 90 days. Performance reviews should be a conversation in which feedback is exchanged between the new hire and manager, making it easier to gauge if a new employee is meeting expectations or if there are problems arising that might require termination or adjustments to the training practices.