In today’s omni-channel retail environment, you’re only ever a flash sale or holiday season away from finding out that your resourcing strategy has been put badly out of joint. A classic example of this comes up later this month with Black Friday, which for us, like many other retailers, requires a considerable reallocation of internal resources to meet the challenges the period poses.
As the world’s first online-only luxury watch retailer, Black Friday is an important time of year for Christopher Ward. And so it really is ‘all hands on deck’, with myself and the other co-founders of the company splitting our time between the boardroom and the dispatch room. This was a strategy I first adopted when I ran the Early Learning Centre, where during ‘spike’ periods the entire head office team, except for telephone cover, would go out and work in the stores.
There are three reasons for doing this.
Firstly we are a relatively small team with limited resources and the intensity of the period sees orders coming in over the wires in their hundreds. So the reality is that without senior management mucking in and playing their part, dispatches would otherwise end up 4-5 days behind schedule during a spike. Without everyone chipping in customer orders simply wouldn’t be dispatched on time.
Ensuring our customers receive their orders the next day is a principle we are unwilling to compromise on, as we believe our customer promise of next day delivery should hold true in both sale periods and full price periods. This is a simple question of expectation management - in recent years the likes of Amazon and Ocado have perfected the dispatch and delivery process, and customers expect this benchmark to be met irrespective of who they are ordering from. We know from that a delayed order is one of our customers’ biggest bugbears, and so ensuring orders are dispatched on time is our most important priority during busy periods.
Of course, hiring temporary staff is another solution. Over Christmas we do draft in a number of temps for a six-week period to help ease the pressure. However, from a moral standpoint, we are opposed to hiring staff on zero-hours contracts. Employment must be a balanced approach where it suits both employer and employee, and by and large zero hours contracts tend to suit the employer at the expense of the worker.
The second reason for senior management getting stuck in on the floor is to maintain motivation and morale. The spike periods present a unique set of challenges for the company, and we know the pressure levels for everyone can rise. To this end, we try to make the spike period fun - turning it into an internal mini-campaign with posters around the office and pizza piled high. We also keep shifts to a maximum of four hours, to prevent tiredness and ensure mistakes don’t creep in. Working with the rest of the team also demonstrates our appreciation for our staff’s efforts, and ensures heads don’t dip when orders are flying in and backs are up against the wall.
Thirdly, immersing ourselves into an environment that we don’t often hands-on operate in is a great means of improvement. Exposure to different areas of the business leads to both personal and professional development, and can teach us as the senior management lessons that will hold us in good stead for the rest of the year.
When senior management of CEOs get stuck in with their employees, it can often come across as a shallow PR stunt - a cheap attempt to ‘connect with the people’ and look like they’re in touch. But in my experience, utilising the entire team - including those in the boardroom - to solve a single major issue is one of the big advantages of being a smaller, more agile business.