Gift, Florist, Party and Toy Stores
Giving Employees the Hours They Want While Meeting Store Staffing Needs

In a perfect world, managers would dispatch employee work schedules as a matter of course and everyone would be happy. The reality is unexpected emergencies and illness can arise among staff members, as well as vacation periods and special requests for time off, all of which can make a scheduler’s task challenging. Read on to learn how a diverse set of retailers deal with the responsibility and still manage to mesh employee desires with the needs of the business at hand.

As the manager and buyer at The Old Mill Gift Shop in Westminster, Mass., Sue Nasiatka is the only full-time member of a staff of five. The 1,200-square-foot gift shop complements The Old Mill Restaurant which has been a dining establishment for close to 100 years. The historic property began life as an actual sawmill back in 1761, hence the name and characteristics that distinguish it today. Restaurant hours and seasonal upswings in business dictate staffing needs at The Old Mill Gift Shop. Weekends, the fall foliage period, Christmas and Mother’s Day are predictably busy times. “Staff hours increase depending on the season. But we don’t ever have to hire anyone else,” said Nasiatka, who feels fortunate to have had a stable team in place for four to five years now. She, herself, has been there for 32 years.

Staff members at Bella Luna Toys in Rockland, Maine. Second from the left in the rear is President and Owner Sarah Baldwin. Although employees cannot take off during November and December, staff members have flexibility to make up lost hours working from home or working on other days, depending on their jobs.

Nasiatka usually draws up the work schedule three weeks ahead of time coordinating with a wall calendar where employees are expected to indicate any special time-off requests. “It’s first come, first serve. If everybody were to ask for a certain day off, it’s whoever asks first or whatever I can do. But we’re all flexible. I’ll fill in [for] them and they’ll fill in for me. It’s a really good working relationship,” she said. Nasiatka looks at scheduling as a puzzle she manages to solve each period. Two of her employees hold full-time jobs elsewhere so she has to tailor their hours accordingly. “I wouldn’t hire anybody who needed a full-time job because we just don’t have enough hours to support that. Mostly they like the job because it’s a fun job and it gives them a little extra pin money. If I were to hire someone, it would depend on what hours they were available. They’d have to be available on weekends and holidays. That’s a requirement.” 

Flexibility is an integral part of proceedings at Bella Luna Toys in Rockland, Maine. As a purveyor of wooden, eco-friendly and organic toys, the business commonly serves families with young children and many of its employees still have youngsters at home themselves. “It’s important to me to offer them flexibility in order to meet their family’s needs. I was a working mother for many years and know the stress and demands of trying to juggle a family with one’s professional life,” said President and Owner Sarah Baldwin. Content as long as there is coverage, she allows the employees at her approximately 1,800-square-foot retail establishment to take time off as needed. “Employees can make up lost hours by working from home, or working on other days, depending on their job.” That being said, she does make it clear during the interview process that no vacation time or other PTO can be taken during November and December. That is just the nature of the toy business.

Employee availability influences hiring decisions at Bella Luna Toys. “Being available for the days and hours we need is certainly an important factor. However, we are not rigid if an applicant has a request for flexibility within their schedule. The flexibility we offer has paid off in a team of happy and dedicated employees,” Baldwin said. Full-time employees earn a week’s paid vacation during their first year of service and two weeks starting in the second year. Each employee is also allowed five paid sick days and one paid personal day.

Business can fluctuate at La Placita Party Time in Coachella, Calif., but Owner Adham Qaqi likes to keep his employees’ work schedules consistent. “I don’t like cutting hours. I only have three people working here and I don’t like to dramatically change hours from our busiest time which would be December or May. The hours are always relatively the same – about 35 hours a week for each individual associate.” Qaqi doesn’t spend much time laboring over employee work schedules at his 7200-square-foot retail outlet either. “Every week, every day, the schedule is the same,” he said. However, if an employee should want some time off – say, a four-day weekend – he’s quite amenable. “If they want to just get 20 hours for that week, then they just get 20 hours. I’m flexible. All I ask is that they give me at least ten days’ advance notice.”

President and Owner Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys. “It’s important to me to offer them flexibility in order to meet their family’s needs. I was a working mother for many years and know the stress and demands of trying to juggle a family with one’s professional life,” she said.

In the early years of staffing his business, Qaqi frequently hired the brothers and sisters of previous employees. “But people have changed and times have changed,” he said. Pivoting away from this overly “familiar” practice turned out to be a good idea because La Placita Party Time hasn’t had to hire anybody new in five years. Sometimes, during hectic periods when the demand for balloons, piñatas and other party paraphernalia overwhelms, Qaqi’s own brother will pitch in to help. Mostly though, the well-seasoned team at this festive headquarters are more than able to keep the party rolling! 

Employees’ work schedules seldom vary at Homewood Toy & Hobby in Birmingham, Ala., and Owner Julie Marix has a very relaxed attitude about requests for time off. “We’re very laid back. They could text us in the morning and say I can’t come in or whatever. We’re not formal around here. We’re such a small business and we have so few employees that if something comes up, if they want to take time off, all they’ve got to do is write it on the calendar,” she said. If illness causes an employee to miss his or her shift, Marix expressed no qualms about being short-staffed. “If we’re short one person, it’s not that big a deal one day.”

Family owned and operated since 1950, Homewood Toy & Hobby is the oldest toy store and hobby shop in the Birmingham area. Since the 5,000-square-foot store is only open eight hours a day and closed on Sundays, that tends to impact employee scheduling and hiring practices. “Students may only be able to come in a couple of hours during the week. So, they would have to be available on Saturday, but to be completely honest, we don’t really hire all that often. The employees that we have, we’ve had here for a long time. We don’t have a lot of turnover,” Marix concluded. 

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