Saturday, August 25, 2018

Teen Jobs and Game Retail

There's an interesting article that states only a third of teens look for summer jobs rather than half, as they did when I was a kid in the 80's. I've got some ideas about that, some of which are specific to my store in California but others are more general.

Labor costs. My labor costs in California have skyrocketed as minimum wage moves towards $15 an hour. Labor costs are rising over 10% a year, which means the first 3-4% of my growth each year goes just to cover labor. This year my growth is flat, so labor is crushing me right now. I'm looking at cutting labor costs, and there are no easy targets.

This means fewer workers, more efficient workers, and reduced hours for workers. I don't want this to happen, but I have little choice unless I want to roll up my sleeves and take more shifts. That's coming. So you can imagine my reluctance to having someone on staff whose not 100% up to speed and who is still learning how to human in the marketplace. It's an expensive public service I can't afford.

When you change the costs of labor, you change the nature of labor. You begin deciding what is worth doing and who can do it. If you thought the labor market at $7/hour would be the same at $15/hour, you were mistaken. It just won't work that way.

Complexity. Working in my business is wickedly complex. We have a need for computer systems mastery. However, what's really critical is the various policies and procedures that need to be acquired. It's what makes an alright store, which is completely untenable in the American marketplace, into a good store. It takes about six months for a new employee to be completely up to speed, a time period I've heard from other retailers as well.

Running a strong, service oriented business can be summarized by our policies and procedures, three inch, three ring binder. Acquiring that knowledge over summer break isn't possible. It's not going to happen. Likewise, we don't hire adults as temporary workers. We do hire permanent part-time people, so there is room for that. Most kids who apply make it clear they have no intention of staying after the break. By the way, I generally consider my employees new until they've hit the three year mark, and they do tend to stay five or more years if they work out. So if we don't think someone is in it for the long term, we're really not interested.

Liability. Employees recently sued a company in California for the right to sit in a chair, and they won. The legal landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade, and just saying the wrong thing can destroy my business. Having a child on staff unaware of workplace norms is dangerous. It's not only dangerous from a legal standpoint, but we live in an age where review culture can destroy a small business just as fast as a lawsuit.

Consumers made the landscape the way it is. They voted in the laws and they are responsible for an increasingly hostile business culture. It wasn't this way when I started 15 years ago, but it's the world we live in now.

By the way, my 13 year old son is an official store employee. He makes minimum wage. He gets worked hard when he's on staff, because I can't afford to pay him for less than adult work. He cleans bathrooms and sorts cards. That is, when he's around. We do everything legally, so he can only work when his school sanctioned work permit allows. That means a ridiculously few number of days a year, although that will increase with time. He needs to save for college. It's not like his dad is making it rich selling hobby games.

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