A crowd of shoppers may be one sign of the approaching holidays in Southern California, but there's another sign as well: "Help Wanted."
Faced with low unemployment and early-bird holiday buyers, more and more retail operators say they are redoubling their efforts to find seasonal workers.
For example, Mervyn's began to recruit for holiday positions earlier this month because the seasonal needs of area retailers will soon be "intense," according to Judy Belk, a spokeswoman for the big soft goods department store based in Hayward, Calif.
"We anticipate it will be a challenging year to get staffing industrywide--particularly in California where unemployment is so low and the competition for job candidates so fierce," she said.
Retailers are competing for--and courting--homemakers and part-time workers as well as high school and college students and the unemployed. And they're not just looking for people to wait on holiday shoppers. Retailers says they need warehouse employees, dock workers for shipping operations, cashiers to ring up the sales, receptionists and janitors--all year round.
"The problem isn't just during the period before Christmas, it's year round," said John Gary, a spokesman for the National Retail Merchants Assn., a New York City-based membership group. "After the (post-World War II) baby boom, there was a birth decline that has led to a labor shortage in certain areas . . . like fast-food operations and retailing, industries that have hired people in the 16-to-24 age range."
As a result, he said, "Retailers are trying to come up with incentive programs. Ten or 15 years ago, they pick and chose who they wanted."
Mervyn's, which has 98 stores in California, is competing by involving its employees in the recruitment effort. The company encourages employees to invite interested friends to apply for seasonal positions and even offers gifts to employees who help recruit, according to Belk.
"It's become more competitive because each year the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier," Belk said.
Circuit City Stores prepared for the season by setting up hiring centers at hotels. Circuit City's goal was to fill 1,500 positions at 41 home electronics and appliance outlets in California and Nevada. Like many other retailers, the Walnut-based firm needs sales and customer service representatives, cashiers, warehouse workers and receptionists.
The hotel-based hiring centers were open for two weeks. "It's more and more difficult to find good people," said Thomas D'Amato, personnel director for Circuit City.
Other companies are also beginning to use outreach approaches to find holiday-season employees. Several major retailers recently arranged to post recruiters at a California Employment Development Department office in Santa Ana, according to Roger Nghiem, employment program supervisor at the office. Retailers have particular difficulty finding seasonal workers in the Santa Ana area because the Orange County unemployment rate--3.3% in August--is so low, said Daniel Johnson, a county labor market analyst.
Johnson said job postings from retailers generally rise 40% in Orange County during the last quarter. "They've been having hiring problems up to this point and I'm sure they will continue to have problems," Johnson said. "The ability to find seasonal workers depends on the supply of labor. . . . Most people prefer to have employment they can maintain throughout the year."
Johnson said some stores also find it difficult to attract part-timers because some retail wages are at the lower end of the pay scale. Some retailers pay the minimum wage for some positions, Johnson said. The minimum wage requirement in California rose to $4.25 in July from $3.65. However, Johnson said some of these retailers offer higher wages to attract job applicants.
Classified Ads Used
Some retailers--companies with large seasonal needs--go beyond the traditional employment office job posting order to publicize their needs. For example, R. H. Macy & Co. tells the public of its needs through newspaper and radio advertisements. Macy needs 2,500 to 3,000 employees at its 25 California stores this holiday season, according to Bonnie Mirrer, a Macy spokeswoman.
Others--like Toys R Us--say they are meeting their staffing needs simply by posting "Help Wanted" signs. However, many retailers use the classified ad sections of local newspapers to make appeals.
Some ads tout the earning power of their positions. "Sales: Earn $1,000-$2,000/wk," says one. Others cite social benefits of their sales positions. "Meet the Elite," says an ad for a Beverly Hills retailer. And, yes, some ads even note that they are recruiting job candidates because of competitive pressures and need employees who can help boost sales. "The competition made us do it . . . We now have openings for full- and part-time salespeople," proclaims one ad.