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Focus on: Holiday Preparations

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The retail industry once again is bracing for the fast-approaching holiday season, and this year promises to be as challenging as ever. By focusing on workforce management, retailers can ensure they have knowledgeable associates ready to close sales.

Recent studies, including the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, show that quality customer service ranks as one of a retailer’s most important advantages in a challenging economy. So it’s not surprising that workforce management solutions are now regarded as critical to maximizing holiday performance.

According to “Enterprise Workforce Management: Redefining the Boundaries of Customer-Centric Retailing,” a study conducted by Miami-based Retail Systems Research, 76% of retail winners are turning to workforce management solutions to improve customer service. Meanwhile, 32% of retail winners are relying on the solutions to better address unpredictable consumer demand—something that will make or break the upcoming holiday season for many chains.

Like many retailers, The Bon-Ton Stores is currently ramping up its holiday staffing campaign, especially across its customer-facing associates—a vast segment that represents categories across general selling areas, including apparel, soft and hardlines within home decor categories, and others that do not require vendor-specific knowledge.

“To accommodate an increase in holiday shoppers, we grow this workforce between 20% and 25%, which increases our overall headcount by 40%,” explained Louise Kennard, director of staffing and scheduling, store operations, The Bon-Ton Stores, York, Pa., which operates 278 department stores under several nameplates.

The chain has learned that ramping up headcount is only half the battle. The past two holiday seasons have created cost-conscious, value-driven shoppers, many who are being lured into stores through promotions. Historically, this created a need for Bon-Ton to “hire up” at the last minute to accommodate this increased shopper volume. Now that the retailer has identified this issue, it can approach holiday hires from a more insightful perspective.

As early as May and June, the chain begins analyzing historical sales patterns that occur during specific weeks in November, and across specific stores in the chain. This data is then applied to Bon-Ton’s overall budgeting process.

“We calculate budgeted hours for this time frame, and that is how we create a fall season budgeting package for our seasonal hires,” Kennard said.

Seasonal help is recruited in early November, before the holiday season kicks in, she added.

“This provides more of a hiring-on-demand operation,” she said. “We are hiring closer to the holiday season, which keeps us from over-hiring and cuts down on the rapid turnover that tends to happen.”

Bon-Ton uses the extra couple of weeks to get new hires trained, and their knowledge levels up to snuff so they can start creating holiday shift schedules. The chain creates these schedules through the workforce management (WFM) solution, from SAP America, Newtown Square, Pa. The solution works very closely with the retailer’s sales planning operation.

Using metrics that measure historical customer traffic and transactions, the chain is able to build business plans.

“It gives us an advantage to learn which store, and which specific areas within each store, can expect sales lifts on 15-minute intervals,” Kennard said. “We are leveraging technology to understand demand and aligning available workforce among our seasonal hires to be available when we need them.”

While the solution has been in place for approximately a decade, Bon-Ton transitioned to SAP’s Web-based version in 2008. The previous generation of the solution was distributed to stores via in-store servers, and then data was consolidated at the corporate office.

The Web-based solution however, is centralized on a corporate server and accessed by store managers via a Web portal. The nimble, Web-based solution allows the chain to monitor schedules in real time and revise plans at a moment’s notice. Its consolidated configuration is more cost-effective since it is not rolled out and housed at each individual store. (Bon-Ton recently completed the rollout of the newest version of the solution to all stores.)

The chain also gains efficiencies by creating schedules during lower network traffic levels. Schedules are created and saved to a batch mode and transmitted for view on Sunday evenings, once stores are closed. “The practice keeps managers from being stuck in the office creating a schedule when they should be on the floor helping people,” she explained. “It also eliminates the need for data to compete for space on the network during the busiest time frames.”

The chain also relies on the solution’s analytics tool to conduct compliance reporting. WFM is integrated within the chain’s time clock and time management system, keeping Bon-Ton in tune with mandated labor issues, including whether associates are keeping their scheduled hours and overtime, and utilizing the time clock correctly.

“It allows us to monitor compliance all the way through payroll,” Kennard said. “It improves efficiency and keeps us on track with scheduling only associates that match demand.”

According to SAP, the solution can reduce management’s administrative activities by 10%. By placing more qualified, effective recruits in the proper positions, Bon-Ton can also reduce store-level turnover rates between 1% and 2%.

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Five ways to reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider

BY CSA STAFF

By Monte Boyer, [email protected]

For more than two years now, retail facility managers have been hunkering down; deferring maintenance and postponing facility upgrades until the economy shows signs of improvement. Although "waiting for the dust to settle" is an understandable strategy for survival, it is not without risk. Dollars deferred today may pale in comparison to the ultimate cost of postponed maintenance. Equipment that hasn’t been properly serviced can become increasingly inefficient, unreliable or — even worse — prematurely fail.

Retail facility managers can reduce that risk, and at the same time increase efficiencies, by partnering with the right service provider. A good HVAC partner can help facility managers overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment through consolidation of efforts across both facilities and services, and by creating operational and energy efficiencies.

As a facility manager, here’s how you can reduce risk and increase efficiencies with the right service provider:

1. Select a vendor with the largest reach possible
Do yourself a favor; reduce your dependence on multiple, local vendors to perform maintenance. Instead, select a vendor that partners with you across your portfolio — preferably someone with national capabilities. Whether you’re responsible for eight facilities or 8,000, you can drive down costs through consolidation to one vendor that can meet all your needs. They’re out there. Some national service providers have thousands of technicians in place across the country. Service providers that are backed by a national or global infrastructure offer:

  • Quality control: By working with a national vendor, you can eliminate the huge variations in quality that are inevitable when contracting for service with a variety of local vendors.
  • Efficiency: Consolidation streamlines the maintenance process. Instead of dispatching calls, statusing issues and reviewing invoices of multiple vendors, one call to a single point of contact is all that is required. With the time saved, you and your staff can turn your attention to revenue-generating activities.
  • Reliability: Service calls can’t always wait. Larger service providers are available 24/7/365.

2. Select a vendor with single-source accountability
Not only should you select a vendor that can execute nationally, choose one that delivers expertise across multiple services. Here’s where the efficiencies grow exponentially. Top-tier service providers offer expertise in everything from HVAC, janitorial, lighting, refrigeration, fire and safety to energy efficiency and sustainability; a suite of expert services managed by a single point of contact. One call ensures consistent performance, value and responsive service across all sites.

3. Select a self-performing vendor
Avoid working with a vendor who will manage contractors but outsource the work. Instead, partner with a provider whose employees actually perform the facility services. Self-performing providers make you their only priority. They take ownership of the work. And with a self-performing vendor, you can avoid subcontractor markups. With a national HVAC consolidator, you may have passed along the headache of managing multiple HVAC providers but you have not eliminated it.

4. Select a single-source provider to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness
Choose one provider that can see the big picture. If you currently work with 15 different HVAC vendors, and ask them to prioritize equipment replacement, you’ll get 15 different perspectives. Conversely, a single-source provider will consider all equipment from all facilities when identifying critical needs and setting priorities. By working with one point of contact who has a greater view of your portfolio, you can be confident that priority is given to issues most critical to your business. Strategic investments made today when costs are lower can provide your organization with a competitive cost advantage for many years.

5. Select a single-source provider to increase energy efficiency
Partner with a provider that can show you how to increase energy efficiency. The key will be getting access to facility data that’s relevant, meaningful and actionable — which the right service provider can deliver. Today’s most advanced technologies allow you monitor building performance in real time; identifying trends within buildings and across portfolios, spotting areas of concern and flagging underperformers. Some commercial control systems actually monitor themselves and send notifications when there’s a noteworthy event or when it’s time for a service call.

When priorities do call for the replacement of equipment, the right providers make sure you’re choosing the most energy-efficient solutions. Ideally, they even help to identify ways to leverage federally- or utility-sponsored rebate programs.

The right service provider
Choosing the right service provider requires careful consideration. Take the time to identify vendors who have national reach and are single-source, self-performing providers with demonstrated expertise in energy and operational efficiency. By partnering with a top-tier vendor, retail facility managers can reduce risk, increase efficiency and overcome some of the challenges posed by today’s economic environment.

Monte Boyer is VP and general manager, Johnson Controls National Service. Johnson Controls is an OEM supplier with over 125 years of experience in the HVAC industry. With more than 150 local branches throughout the United States and Canada, Johnson Controls National Service provides retail customers with innovative solutions and an expertise in HVAC, refrigeration, security and fire safety, as well as lighting applications. For additional information on Johnson Controls National Service visit www.johnsoncontrols.com or contact Monte at [email protected].

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Staples puts Kindle on Christmas list

BY CSA STAFF

Beginning this fall, Staples will offer several variants of Amazon.com’s popular Kindle wireless ereader device in its nearly 1,600 U.S. stores, the company announced Tuesday. Staples will offer a base model Kindle for $139, the Kindle 3G for $189 and the large-screen Kindle DX for $379.

“As part of our efforts to offer customers a wide range of top technology products and services at amazing values, the new Kindle is a natural fit,” said Jevin Eagle, Staples EVP merchandising and marketing.

Staples is the first office superstore to offer the Kindle, however, Target became the first conventional retailer to stock the product when Kindle endcap displays hit its stores several months ago.

The Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling, most-wished-for and most-gifted product for two years running. Although, it is unclear how much demand remains for the device after such strong sales, Staples has secured distribution of the compelling item just in time for what promises to be a challenging holiday season. Kindle promises to bring some needed energy to the office products retailer with interactive displays that allow customers to experience the product before they buy and to learn more about the product. Plans also call for Staples to offer a full assortment of Kindle accessories.

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