We’ve probably all had the experience of stepping into a retail store and receiving too little, or worse, too much attention from the staff. As entrepreneurs with a retail presence, it can be difficult to hire and retain people that are good at selling your merchandise, managing stores and projecting your brand in a positive light.

The consequences for getting this wrong, however, can be severe–high levels of shrinkage, turned-off customers and, ultimately, lost sales. If your company has multiple locations in various geographies, the challenge is even more difficult.

One retailer we worked with has found an innovative way to staff, motivate, and retain employees while keeping costs down and positioning the company for future growth. This retailer started with three company-owned stores, but over its first four years quickly grew to 45 stores in five countries, primarily in tourist destinations. This rapid growth amplified the need for good hiring and retention practices, so the management team rallied around three initiatives that were integral in translating impressive store growth into earnings and a strong organization.

1. Recruiting Strategy

The retailer launched an internship program to tap into young, ambitious talent at universities near their corporate center. In exchange for course credit, housing, and a $250 monthly stipend, student interns were sent out to live and work in the area of the retail store for three to five months at a time. Following a week of training, the interns moved to their new location to work alongside local workers in the retail stores. The program quickly attracted students interested in retail and marketing because it gave them valuable experience. For the retailer, the program proved invaluable for training and managing local employees.

2. Communicate the Culture

A strong culture built around optimism and big thinking began at the corporate center and was distilled to each of the retail locations by the interns, through regular communications, and visits from the management team.

3. Effective Training

Internships included a training program to ensure that each employee was aware of the benefits of the core products. The training established the desired tone for each store, which enabled most employees to strike the right balance between upselling and letting the customer breath.

The internship program proved to be an integral part of the retailer’s growth strategy. It provided a low-cost way for the leadership team to maintain control and consistency in remote locations. The interns didn’t replace local management but provided a direct link to the corporate center and breathed new life into each store. There were longer-term benefits too: Many of the best interns stayed on and now fill critical corporate roles. Today, some of the most influential people in the management team came from the intern program.

Bottom line: An intern program may be the key to improving your customer experience efforts, giving you a cost-effective solution to a potentially costly problem.

How have you effectively used interns to grow your business?  Send us an email at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

Avondale associate Steve Curtis contributed to this article.