Magazine Article | September 1, 2001

Take The Labor Out Of Scheduling

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Bob's Stores improved its operational efficiency by automating its labor scheduling using software that integrates POS (point of sale) data into the process. Besides decreased costs, the solution paid for itself within months.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, September 2001

Employees: You can't make money without them. But what happens when retailers are faced with increased labor costs such as mandated minimum wage increases? It could adversely affect customer service. Bob's Stores (Meriden, CT), a casual clothing and footwear retailer, was faced with escalating labor costs in 1999, but the company was not willing to compromise its customer service in any way. With 34 stores in six states and 2,500 employees, Bob's knew its manual labor forecasting and scheduling methods needed to become more efficient.

"We used to develop business forecasts at the home office and determine how many hours each store would be allocated. Then the stores would divide the hours among their various departments. Each department manager would manually write the schedules and give them to the operations manager to review," said Kevin Campbell, director of payroll and expenses at Bob's Stores.

This manual scheduling system required six people to spend hours each week finalizing one schedule. With the help of consultants, Bob's decided to automate more of the process by installing the Workforce Central suite of software from Kronos Inc. (Chelmsford, MA). Now, with the Kronos Smart Scheduler application, labor scheduling is completed by the system and edited by one person in about an hour. The software also integrates into the company's POS (point of sale) system, providing Bob's with additional, storewide benefits.

Defining Each Job Is Half The Battle
Retailers find it challenging to write a schedule that meets the needs of their employees, as well as the business requirements of each store. Before Bob's could begin using Smart Scheduler to forecast store hours and automate the labor scheduling process, the retailer needed to identify each employee task performed throughout the store. For example, a cashier might be assigned such tasks as customer service, scan and bag, or sorting hangers. "Once we identified every task, we had to measure the time it takes to perform each task," Campbell said. "From these measurements Bob's was able to create labor standards that the Kronos system uses to allocate hours and build schedules consistently for each store across the entire chain." This enabled Bob's to make adjustments in scheduling based on how many tasks needed to be completed during a shift and how long it would take to efficiently complete them.

Schedule According To Sales
Each of Bob's 34 stores has different traffic patterns and scheduling needs. For example, one store's peak selling time occurs around noon, while another's does not occur until the evening. Basing schedules on sales data helps to ensure that Bob's stores are staffed appropriately. "POS data is fed into the Kronos system in 15-minute increments every day and it schedules workers based on off-peak and peak sales," Campbell said. "In the past, we typically started our morning shifts at 10 a.m. Now the system recognizes that some days we don't get busy until 10:15 a.m. and waits to bring in a second cashier until that increase in customer traffic." Over the course of a week, these 15-minute reductions add up to substantial savings for the retailer.

Another area the Kronos system improved was adjusting the length of shifts to make the most of each employee's time. "The system does an excellent job of scheduling our cross-trained employees throughout store departments to efficiently complete small tasks in each area," Campbell said. "This way a two-hour task does not require a full shift, but can be completed by someone already in the store from a different department." A cashier might be at the register for two hours and then work in the men's department for another two hours before completing a four-hour shift. Small efficiencies such as these resulted in more savings than Bob's anticipated and Campbell said the software paid for itself within a few months.

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