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When is the last time you checked in with your staff? January – after the Christmas rush is done and dusted and the shop floor goes quiet – offers a great opportunity to catch up with members of staff. Whether you have one part-timer or a bustling staff room, ensuring they are happy and fulfilled in their roles is key to running a successful shop.
Recently, the news headlines have been filled with the challenges arising from labour shortages all the way through the food and drink supply chain – from the workers picking produce on farms to manufacturers keeping factories flowing to the HGV drivers delivering stock to shops. Retail establishments are not exempt from these shortages either, as shop owners no doubt have experienced. Cheesemakers and mongers have felt the impact of labour pools drying up, with numerous cheese retailers telling Speciality Food that they struggled to hire staff during the festive season, and that they had to work longer hours and more shifts to fill the gaps in the rota.
Cheese-loving foodies are certainly out there waiting to be found, but while the search continues, keeping your existing staff satisfied over the coming months, especially after a tiring Christmas period, will be key to maintaining your business’s high standards in 2022.
Searching for ways to boost sales and keep busy in the January lull is an admirable and necessary task, but before you dive in with a new to-do list, give your staff – and yourself – a breather. “We’re starting 2022 with the majority of our retail team having worked right through the pandemic, as well as our first Christmas that we’ve been fully open since 2020,” said Candice Fonseca, proprietor of Delifonseca. This will be the case for many deli and cheesemonger staff at the start of 2022, as their classification as an essential business thankfully kept doors open and fewer staff furloughed over 2020 and 2021. Instead, staff members worked hard through the darkest days of the pandemic. They toiled through lockdowns, the mask-clad Christmas of 2020 and the cautious reopening in 2021. They also manned the cheese counters during the supply chain breakdowns and labour shortages that marked 2021, and another busy Christmas period just last month.
January is the perfect time to regroup and reward your staff. “For us, it’s about giving our deli staff a much-needed break where possible, and that could mean giving them shorter shifts as part of their working week and longer weekends off,” Candice said. Offering time to recharge will not go unnoticed.
As well as relaxing working hours, the slower months offer an opportunity to boost your team’s skills. Upskilling can form a new part of a fresh training plan for 2022, which will allow staff to feel more invested in the business while also becoming a more valuable asset to you as they grow their confidence and knowledge. “We tend to do quite a bit of training at the beginning of a year as it can be a quieter period after the festive season,” Candice says, “so as a business, we look to get individuals involved in fun and innovative ways of learning about new stock. These can include teambuilding activities and challenges, maybe even based around healthy produce and stock.”
As well as challenging staff to learning about new stock, why not take them off for a big dose of inspiration at a local cheesemaker? Not only will visits to your suppliers remind them why their work in the artisan cheese sector is so important, but they’ll also build their skills by gaining valuable tips from some of the country’s premier sources of cheese knowledge. Win-win.
Keeping shop workers engaged throughout the year should be a top priority for independent cheesemongers, and the best way to do this is by running a business that they are proud to be a part of. “The best way I find to inspire others at the shop is quite simply through positivity and passion in what you do,” explains Izaak Edge of The CheeseWorks Cheltenham. “Personally, I always try to create a positive working environment, and convey my love for what I do across to others. I really do love my job, and I get excited about all aspects of it.”
This foodie passion is undeniably what makes the fine food sector tick – and it’s infectious. “The others can see this, and this in turn excites them. So, when it comes time to open up and serve our customers, they come into a place of overwhelming positivity from everyone inside, where people really taking pride int their work,” Izaak says. “Our job is such a personal one, and you build up relationships with so many people that you see you need to be full of passion about your work. I think that this is the most effective way to inspire people, just being genuine and happy.”