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For merchants, holiday help is hard to come by

employment sign December 1996

From Correspondent Ed Garsten

STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan (CNN) -- "Help Wanted" signs are signs of the times these days as merchants hunt for elusive holiday help.

At Lakeside Mall in suburban Detroit, Sears manager Rick Regan has offered incentives. "I did have a little bounty thing where employees got a reward for bringing in a good fella that stays with us through Christmas."

The fact is, according to the federal government, there are at least one million seasonal jobs to be filled.

"The job market is tight, unemployment is very low," explained analyst Stephen Epstein of Coopers and Lybrand. "Temporary help, most of the seasonal labor, those who want to work -- have already found employment. There's a constant need for people."

Northern Reflections store manager Michelle Statler looks no further than her sales floor for employees. "Actually, we recruit our customers," she said.


Customers like Kristin Kulhavi. "I always shop here and she always helped me mix and match items and she said, 'you ever think about working here?'"

Most often, that's not enough. A help-hunting manager must offer adequate bait for would-be workers.

"We do have a great employee discount," offered Steve Tighe, manger of Natural Wonders.

"We offer benefits for our part-time-plus employees ... life insurance, dental plan, profit-sharing," said Casual Corner district manager Anna Valente.

And don't even think about minimum wage.

"We haven't seen minimum wage in five or six years," Regan said.

Tighe said Natural Wonders boosted its base pay about 25 percent.

The shortage of temporary help may cause problems for both buyer and seller. With less help, customers aren't getting the attention they may want and merchants aren't able to cajole that little extra purchase.

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