What keeps small retail business owners up at night? People.

Most news coverage of retail focuses on industry giants and the latest mega-mergers. And while those stories — and companies — are important, they tend to miss the real heart of our industry: small businesses.

In fact, 98 percent of all retailers have fewer than 100 employees. (Surprised?) That means hiring and training — not merging and acquiring — are the keys to success for most retail businesses. With a smaller workforce, every employee has an outsized impact on business results, and can therefore be a persistent challenge. In addition, small businesses rarely have the learning and development infrastructure or curriculum that exists at a larger company, which makes persistent turnover or retention challenges an even bigger headache.

According to a recent survey NRF commissioned of nearly 800 small retail business owners, staffing issues and the quality of labor is one of the most important challenges facing their business — second only to competition and the state of the national economy.

In particular, small retailers see three core challenges:

  • Finding 1st-day-ready hires. For a small business, every employee makes a big difference — but owners often struggle to find people who can start strong from day one: 72 percent of small retail owners say it’s challenging to hire people with the right skills to be immediately successful; 61 percent struggle to identify the best candidates for entry-level positions.
  • Training employees efficiently. Training is essential for empowering and retaining employees, but it also eats up small retailers’ valuable time and resources. On average, small retail business owners say their business spends 38 hours each month training new employees, and 47 percent have trouble finding time or resources to train existing employees for roles that would increase their responsibilities.
  • Lowering the costs of hiring and training. The difficulty of finding and training high-quality retail employees generates costs, and these add up. Small retail owners say they spend an average of $2,700 to hire and train each new employee, and they spend an average of 21 hours each month training current employees.

Many of these smaller retailers now have a workable solution … RISE Up.

Earlier this year when the NRF Foundation launched RISE Up (Retail Industry Skills & Education), a training and credentialing program designed to help retailers hire and train with confidence, we did so with large and small retailers in mind. The first RISE Up offering, Retail Industry Fundamentals, equips participants to excel in entry-level retail jobs, which enables businesses to more easily find and hire the right candidates. Retail Industry Fundamentals was developed in close partnership with more than 30 retailers (of all sizes) and nonprofits to ensure that the training aligned with the competencies people needed to be successful in their first retail job.

Small retail business owners say:
  • 7 out of 10 immediately recognized the potential benefits of RISE Up
  • 38% said RISE Up would help them to better identify quality employees
  • 32% said it would save their business money
  • 24% said it would allow them to spend resources on upskilling workers

When we asked these small retail business owners about RISE Up, seven out of 10 immediately recognized the potential benefits the program could have for their business. In particular, 38 percent of surveyed retailers said RISE Up would help them to better identify quality employees, 32 percent said it would save their business money and 24 percent said it would allow them to spend resources on upskilling workers to help them grow professionally.

For small retailers, the upside is big. Companies of any size can work with a local school or nonprofit already putting people through Retail Industry Fundamentals for a new talent pipeline ready to go from Day One, or use the training for their existing employees (our online training option would reduce the valuable time of staff members individually training new associates).

Over the last few months I’ve been traveling the country, meeting with both retailers and nonprofits that have said repeatedly and forcefully that they need solutions to their toughest challenges surrounding talent acquisition and retention. Early feedback from nonprofits who have put people through Retail Industry Fundamentals training has been hugely positive, and candidates who earn the credential are finding it easier to land a job.

Though we have a long way to go, it’s exciting for all of us at NRF to see RISE Up reaffirm what we set out to achieve: building a program that helps people get their foot in the door of retail companies, but also helps businesses large and small with talent challenges that keep them up at night.