Attracting top retail talent in remote locations

Rethinking the route to success: Is it time to take the road less travelled?

Recruiting for retail opportunities can be challenging at the best of times.

It can be doubly so for retailers looking to hire in remote areas where the talent pool is smaller or the aim is to attract people in larger cities to relocate. It is possible to compete against big cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the recruiting process just needs to be more locally driven.

As Canada’s leading recruiting agency specializing in working with and recruiting retail leaders, we recommend starting your search locally before expanding it regionally or nationally. Our clients have had success when we’ve been able to connect to candidates with existing ties to the local market. These placements tend to have better retention because they often have family, knowledge and experience in the area. They’re making a more informed decision about taking the position.

How does a retailer find top talent for positions in a small town?

Examples of approaches that we’ve seen work well (and employed ourselves) – include:

Tapping into the local network

Overall, retailers looking to fill roles in smaller cities are well-served by creating relationships with regional organizations. Associations like the local Chamber of Commerce or downtown business associations are usually very helpful in identifying potential candidates. Local business programs may also exist to draw new talent or entice people to return to the area.

Another great resource is the local post-secondary institute and their alumni network. Establishing long-term connections with these groups can serve as talent pipelines closer to home, not only because of their current circumstances but for the colleagues they might have from years ago.

Boomerangs - candidates who attended college or grew up in the area and may want to move back - are also useful sources. Candidates from mid-sized cities should also be considered, since they’re accustomed to smaller locations, and won’t experience culture shock after their relocation.

Getting creative with grassroots promotion

Recruiting top retail talent is an exercise in marketing. Focus on professionals who may be more inclined to stay in the smaller cities. And try to be creative in your attraction efforts. For instance, how about grassroots promotion – posting on a local job board, spreading the word through community groups or placing an ad on a website you know your ideal candidate reads?

A very effective tactic we’ve used is cold calling other retailers (or those in related industries) in the area to see if they can recommend any people who might be looking for a new opportunity. There’s a good chance they know someone (who knows someone) who knows about a possible candidate. That way, candidates aren’t so much strangers as distant acquaintances. Cold calling is still an incredibly effective way to connect with prospects, especially for roles in small towns. In recruiting, the fewer unknowns there are, especially for positions in remote areas, the more effective the process will be.

Using the power of social media

Most communities and towns have Facebook and Instagram accounts and electronic job boards. Posting high profile, local jobs where friends, family and neighbours can see them has been effective for some of our retail clients. Highlighting reasons why it’s an opportunity worth pursuing - the ability to stay in the community, a short commute, affordable housing and lower cost of living - will encourage both local and remote candidates to apply.

Use corporate social media accounts. Never miss an opportunity to highlight your hometown staff. What drives employees to provide excellent customer service? Telling stories that reflect company values is extremely important early in the process. This allows both the retailer and the candidate to check for alignment, avoiding wasted time and energy. This also allows the candidate to self-deselect if there is a misalignment.

Encourage current employees to talk about why they love the location, the work they do, and what drew them to the company (with great pictures). We’ve seen successful strategies include YouTube videos and blog series to recruit and network with candidates, so they can envision what it’s like to work at a specific company.

Promoting the right incentives

No matter what their other motivations may be, incentives attract talent. If monetary incentives aren’t available, it may help to focus on the non-monetary incentives a remote market may offer:

  • More access to outdoor recreation
  • More flexible hours
  • Less commuting
  • More affordable housing
  • Increased opportunity for community involvement
  • Smaller schools and class sizes
  • Willingness to be mobile can enhance future corporate growth opportunities

As Canada’s leading retail recruiting specialist, we recognize the need retailers have for qualified retail professionals like you. We also recognize the challenges job seekers have in locating and assessing remote market opportunities. Our team is very pleased to have filled hundreds of roles in Canada’s largest service sectors - retail and hospitality – across the country in these challenging circumstances. We’re happy to share our experience and insights regarding remote market searches, and the samples below provide practical examples of the types of roles that can be available, what clients are looking for, and how they attract top talent.

Store Manager – Men’s Fashion (Prince George, BC) – Successfully Filled

We know our clients post their roles on job boards. Our job is to work in conjunction with them to source just the right candidate in some of Canada’s tightest labour markets. Sometimes, you just have to be brave, pick up the phone and cold call every operator in the market to ask for qualified referrals. That’s what great recruiters do and that’s what we did when we helped this fashion retailer find a great store leader to oversee their underperforming store in this remote market. We often find the fastest and easiest way is the direct sourcing route. People in smaller centres know each other and want to help each other find great new opportunities. They tend to be open to conversation when we approach them with a compelling role and use tact and discretion. Because it was a confidential search, we had to balance discretion against the need to provide enough information to pique someone’s interest or get them to provide us with effective referrals. We spoke with every suitable Store Manager in the main mall and on the main shopping streets until we secured a slate of interested candidates. Our client hired the most experienced one, and according to both parties, the successful candidate is thriving.

Buyer – Apparel and Sporting Goods (Whistler, BC) – Successfully Filled

Historically, labour shortages in Whistler have been particularly acute in the service industry sectors. We knew that those who like to live, work and play in the mountains might find this role compelling, but access to affordable accommodation in locations like Whistler (and Banff and Jasper, etc.) is always a major challenge. Our client was a specialty retailer with many locations in this resort setting. It was a tough search as they needed a skilled merchant with proven success setting the merchandise strategy, budgets, assortment selection, pricing, promotions and developing the line plans. We found an experienced apparel and sporting goods buyer who was on top of market and competitor trends. We used our social media channels, and connections with online industry groups to broadcast the role nationally. In addition, we cold-called heavily throughout the region. We were able to source and secure three interested candidates for consideration and our client was successful in hiring an exceptional Buyer from that group by offering an aggressive base salary, relocation assistance, subsidized accommodation, and a significant growth offering.

General Manager – Grocery/Gift/Gourmet (Yellowknife, NWT) – Successfully Filled

Our client has a premiere retail food, kitchenware and giftware store based in one of the coldest places on earth. They have a great reputation, a strong community following, and a strong dedication to provide locals with organic and specialty foods, high quality products. To attract a suitable operator they knew they would have to search for someone in other markets who was willing to relocate. That meant their new General Manager would have to be up for an adventure, and enticed by remote living and a compelling compensation package. This is a high-volume store and gathering place so they would also have to be a strong operations manager with proven retail sales, finance and administrative skills. We used our extensive database to push this role out to experienced grocery managers across the country, and we networked with interested referrals. Our nationwide search found an experienced Grocery Manager who now supports a team of department and foodservice managers. The new GM is successfully overseeing the general well-being of the business and ensuring smooth, flawless shop operations, providing a premium experience for guests and staff. Feedback from both client and successful candidate was that they’re thriving in their new role and have successfully integrated into this dynamic, supportive – and remote - community.

To learn more on this and other retail trends and insights you can check out our blog.

Written by Patricia Viscount, Jackie Ross and Rob Fisher