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Tools for Retention

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Customers visiting one of Sunshine Ace Hardware's eight locations on the west coast of Florida can find hammers, screws and other home-improvement supplies. But they also might find something a bit more unexpected— 65 employees with more than 10 years working at the company, including some with more than 20 and 30 years on the job.

Creating a culture that values and encourages employee longevity has paid off in a number of ways for Sunshine Ace Hardware, based in Bonita Springs with stores in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Pinellas counties. “The longer tenure we have with our team members,” says company president Michael Wynn, “the more knowledge they have and the more valuable service they provide to our customers.”

That often translates to increased profitability and productivity, as well. “The average sales per employee is higher when you have higher-tenured associates,” says Wynn. “They're just better at their jobs.”

Getting employees to stick around also means less money and time spent on hiring and training new employees, a bonus in a tight labor market. The unemployment rate in Collier County, for example, was 3.8% in October. “I think that a company's ability to be successful in this environment plays strongly into the amount they've invested in their culture and their ability to retain and develop the best associates,” says Wynn.

One way Sunshine Ace does this is through its Future Leaders program. More than 30 of its 300-plus employees have already gone through it, which includes online and hands-on training such as an 11-week Dale Carnegie “Effective Communication and Human Relations” course.

Wynn says the curriculum “touches on the things most important to our customers.” He adds that the company does a better job training leaders from within, rather than outside hires.

All training and courses are paid for by the company, an investment Wynn puts at “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The North American Retail Hardware Association's Retail Management Certification employees in the program can obtain, for example, costs $12,000 per employee, says Wynn.

The company also makes use of tools like DISC personality testing to help employees and managers better understand each other and different work styles. Managers meet one-on-one with associates every 30 to 60 days to check in and talk about career goals. Associates who express a desire for more responsibility do a self-assessment and go through the company's skills matrix for management positions.

Another secret to employee longevity, says Wynn, is to show staff respect and recognition.

So, in addition to annual awards and a team appreciation week, he writes personalized cards to each employee on their birthday, where he shares specific examples of why they're important to the company. When employees feel they're being listened to and valued, he says, they're willing to wait for a higher-level position to open or talk about the issues that might have caused them to look outside the company. “That's half the battle,” Wynn says, “having them give you a chance before they jump ship.”

With its October acquisition of Hammerhead's Ace Hardware in Largo, Sunshine Ace Hardware moved outside of Southwest Florida for the first time. And with baby boomer hardware store owners in retirement mode, Wynn says there are opportunities for more acquisitions.

“We all live by the same rules and values, and we very quickly try to inculcate that in any business we acquire,” says Wynn. “And when you do it right, the service levels go up, sales go up, and employee happiness increases as well.”


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