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Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Hire People Who Sparkle

Owner Joan Keller says, "...we love diversity... age diversity (and) ...ethnic diversity."  The key ingredient is that everyone loves to travel and they share that enthusiasm with customers.  More...

Key Question:


Have very specific requirements and qualifications that you look for when you are ready to fill a position.  Joan loves diversity and doesn't want people who work in her store to look like each other, but she does want all of them to have the same "spark."
How did Joan describe what she looks for in people she wants to hire?

She said that what she looks for is indefinable, but she knows it when she sees it. She looks people in the eye and asks them mainly about their travel experience and their dreams of travel. Interviewees are given a geography test and Joan hopes they also have other hobbies. She believes anything can inspire "the spark," and since some of her employees work part time, it's ok with her if they are excited about the classes they are taking in college or about a book they are reading. Bill Sugars at Mickey Finn's Brew Pub in Libertyville, Illinois hires people who like people.

Q:  Why is it so important for employees in retail to like people?

A:  The only job a person in retail has is to take care of the customer--properly. If you like people, you have a much easier time achieving this goal.

At Mickey Finn's and Le Travel Store this means you have to greet the customer with a smile and a welcome. Next, you have to listen carefully. You should read the body language of a customer. If they're in a hurry, you be in a hurry. If they are relaxed, you be relaxed--but not slow. In fact, moving quickly is part of the corporate culture at Mickey Finn's. Customers can chew as slowly as they want, but Bill hopes they will eat and drink a lot, then pay and leave. This is not fine dining which has a much slower pace than family dining.

Bill asks employees to leave their troubles at home when they come to Mickey Finn's. Today shopping at Le Travel and eating at Mickey Finn's is considered a form of entertainment, and customers want to have fun, laugh, relax and enjoy themselves.

Like Joan, Bill looks for looks for strong communication skills and excellent body language. Another way to explain body language is to say he looks for a person who expresses themselves with their facial expression and hands. He watches to see if the person mirrors him. This tells Bill if the candidate will be able to "read" the customer, which is the key to success in a service position.

Tom Gegax built a company from zero to $200 million in sales by hiring what he calls COPS. He was not very concerned with the knowledge that new employees bring to the company. Knowledge can be taught; the raw material is what Tom sought. COPS are people who are Caring, Optimistic, Passionate, Systems-disciplined and spirit filled. Finding the right kind of employee was so important to Tom and that he paid a $500 referral fee to a an employee who successfully attracts another employee to TiresPlus.

Q: How do you decide what kind of employees to hire for your company?

Tom's philosophy is appropriate for any business. Who you hire is more important than what they know. True, training employees is time consuming and costly. But an employee who has the necessary skill set to jump in and needs no training is of little value if (s)he is not motivated, sensitive to customers' needs or a team player whom other employees have confidence in. Better to invest the time training the right person than offer the wrong person a position in your business. Most companies, when advertising for a position, will include both job requirements and preferences. Requirements are the mandatory criteria that the person filling the position must meet. Skills or experience that are "preferred" indicate that all other things being equal, the applicant also meeting those criteria is more likely to be offered the position. Remember, though, that all other things are not equal. In the end, most companies have found that the intelligent and motivated applicant, who might require a more extensive training period than the applicant with more relevant experience, provides the business with a greater return on investment.

The next time you are hiring a new employee for your business, make two lists. On the first one, list the required and preferred qualifications for the position. These are the technical criteria and required skill sets and will be included in the advertisement for the position. The second list, which you will review just prior to each interview for the position, will include the personal characteristics you would like to see in the new employee. These characteristics will include those most likely to ensure success for the company and the individual if they are appealing to your customer base and current employees. You can make that second list right now!

Think about it

What is your hiring philosophy? Is your criteria for hiring in writing? Why not?

Clip from: Le Travel Store in the Gaslamp Quarter

San Diego:  Joan and Bill Keller, founders of Le Travel Store,  have traveled so much,  you ask, "Where haven't you been?"  One answer was "The Antarctica." But, they got close -- Ushuaia, capital of Tierra del Fuego - Patagonia down on the tip of Argentina, the most southern city on earth and on a clear day ... of course, Joan and Bill Keller have the Antarctica on their list, but compared to most people, their list is rather short.

Become an independent traveler, but do it with panache. Take some of your customers, your investors, CPA and banker, and of course, your family with you. Source the world. 

Also, this team is well-grounded in their community. They lead the "return to authenticity" movement that champions Main Street. The National Trust for Historic Preservation led us to them and this historic Gaslamp Quarter!

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Le Travel Store (JK)

Joan Keller, Founder

745 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Visit our web site:

Office: 6195440005

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1975

Hire People Who Sparkle

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Today they have 12 employees, thousands of customers, this wonderful building and they're still having fun.

JOAN: First of all, we love diversity. I look at my staff, and I like age diversity, I like ethnic diversity...

Unidentified Employee: Twenty-five cents is your change...

JOAN: (Voiceover) ...I really like to mix it up. I like to have, you know, pretty much equal men and women, because everyone brings a different kind of energy to the sales floor. The most important thing is something that's kind of indefinable.

We call it `the spark.' When I interview people to work here, I look in their eyes, and in the conversation, if they have that spark and that energy, along with the travel experience--I like retail experience when possible, and geographical knowledge--if I can see that spark, that's the person I hire.

HATTIE: Annette, how long have you been here at the Travel Store?

ANNETTE (Employee, Le Travel Store): I've worked for two years at Le Travel Store.

HATTIE: Le Travel Store.

ANNETTE: HATTIE: (In unison) Le Travel Store.

ANNETTE: And I love working at Le Travel Store.

HATTIE: Well, did you travel a lot before you came to work here?

ANNETTE: Yes, I did. I've been to Europe and over in China, took a cruise to China and Mexico, Canada. I've been around quite a bit.

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