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Raising good employees Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

One thing that shouldn’t change when a business grows, says Don Caster, is the set of values on which the organization was founded.

“I run my business and try to do it on the value and the importance of that person to both what our mission is and our purpose,” says Caster, founder and owner of Raisin Rack Natural Food Market. “It still reflects on taking care of the customer. ... It becomes my priority to communicate as often as possible those important values.”

By focusing intently on hiring the right people and training them according to his own set of values, Caster led the natural foods store to 2006 revenue of $6 million, growing the company nearly 28 percent each year between 2004 and 2006, and it now has 57 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Caster about the value of teaching your employees not to take customer complaints personally.

Q. How do you train new employees?

When we hire somebody new, we will explain some of the real basics in terms of making sure everybody is greeted. Saying hello, thanking them, asking if they couldn’t find anything. I have to do it by example.

Any time I am on the floor with customers, I make sure I do that and make sure they are aware I’m doing it.

That’s who I am. People can become better at it. I don’t expect everybody to be outgoing and confident.

Trusting the individual becomes critical. If we’ve established a trust, we may not want to lose them. We may want to put them in another position we think they would work at more effectively.

We’ve done that with people. Two or three years later, they turn into some of our best floor people and some of our best register people. They learn how to be something that they weren’t.

Q. How do you lead to get the most out of your employees?

If it’s all about me and my company and what I get out of it, then I don’t see how anyone can survive. You’ve got to involve that other person, something they can receive out of it. Maybe it’s just telling them once a month or once a day they are doing a great job or acknowledging something they have done.

When they are at work, I want them to feel good about what they are doing. We’re not afraid to tell them when they are not and show them where they need to be.

It doesn’t have to be unique. It has to be personal. I try not to have just one person in charge of any particular staff or group of people. I always try to have two people that are observing. We can draw conclusions based upon observation.

Most of what I’m trying to describe is almost transparent to anybody else. They can’t see it. They don’t see what’s going on. They shouldn’t know what we might feel about somebody else or what we might know about somebody else.

Q. What is a critical lesson you teach to every employee?

When somebody in a store comes up and confronts you with something they are angry about, remember it’s not your problem. It’s the store’s problem. That’s ownership. When you take it on and you feel threatened that the person is yelling at you, you’re going to become defensive.

That’s the wrong stance to take. If the customer is wrong, then somebody else or two or three of us will decide that and deal with it.

But as an individual, never accept it. If somebody comes up and threatens you by saying, ‘I’m tired of the way you treat me or the way you did this,’ then call for assistance and let somebody else take it over so it comes back to the same problem. You don’t own the problem.

Q. How do you identify the right people to grow with your company?

Be a student of people. Figure out who you can trust. When you hire somebody, find out what it is about that person that you like and what you trusted and what motivated you to hire them. Make note and check it.

It might be their bubbly personality. It might be their degree. If it turns out you were taken aback or excited for the wrong reason, that person won’t accomplish what you want.

I try to take notes when I bring somebody in for a position. I sit and tell the person, ‘Here’s what I’m looking for from you. I’m really impressed that you have this degree. I like the way you talk. I like the way you dress.’

Within a week or two, if any one of those things aren’t met, they come in dressed differently, they can’t seem to understand a balance sheet or whatever you hired them for, you need to begin to confront those situations. Don’t give a person forever to change.

HOW TO REACH: Raisin Rack Natural Food Market, (330) 966-1515 or www.raisinrack.com