Fairytale Brownies on seasonal staffing

Feb 01, 2008 10:30 PM  By

Multichannel merchants typically have to have their holiday season staff in place before the fall. How do they do it? We asked Phoenix-based Fairytale Brownies when and how it attracts and retains distribution center workers for the holidays.

The company’s baking preparations for the holiday season begin as early as July, says operations team leader Kim Silva. “We bring on additional seasonal staff, most of whom return each season,” she says. “We offer returning bonuses and increased pay each year they return to work. We begin running 24-hour shifts at this time.”

Fairytale Brownies’ packing/shipping operations start in August, she says, along with its customer service preparations. “We also have quite a few team members who return in these departments each year,” she says. “In mid-November, we will bring on the last group of seasonal staff for the shipping team.”

Normally, Silva says, Fairytale employs about 40 team members, but this number jumps to around 140 during the holiday period. Training seasonal employees depends on what specific task they are hired to do.

“Some positions require only a few days training, but others, such as customer service positions, may take longer because they need to learn various computer programs,” she says. Seasonal workers are employed anywhere from four weeks to six months, “depending on what they are hired to do.”

Though the numbers can fluctuate annually, Silva says approximately 25% of seasonal employees return the next year. What are the keys to quickly fulfilling holiday orders when the majority of workers are seasonal? “Keeping the work task specific is helpful — especially for those who are here only a short time,” Silva says.

“For example, if someone is hired as a packer, they don’t need to know order processing. This helps cut down on errors and improves the flow,” Silva says. You also want to make sure processes and procedures can be easily understood, “so that seasonal team members can grasp them with very little training,” she notes.

During the month of December, the peak month for holiday shipping, Silva says all staff members are asked to be available for 10-hour shifts, six days a week. “If it isn’t necessary, we don’t schedule the overtime, but we set the expectation up front so there are no surprises.”

Tweaking holiday operations becomes an annual event, Silva says. “Each year we plan to come away with ideas to improve processes and overall efficiencies,’ she says. After each season, the company asks all team members to provide feedback on what they think it can do better. “We then compile a list of these ideas and decide as a group which ones we can move toward implementing.”

For example, in the past two years Silva says the merchant learned that “we need to overhire to account for attrition and decrease the amount of overtime worked to avoid burnout.” It also needs to simplify processes in order to reduce training time and head count, she adds.

But hiring seasonal staff usually isn’t a problem, Silva notes. “We host a job fair and send out a post card mailer to local areas announcing the job fair,” she says. “We had great luck this season filling all our positions. We also hang a huge “Now Hiring” banner outside our facility and offer referral bonuses to attract more staff.”

Lands’ End elfs it up

To liven up the holiday order experience for both customers and telephone representatives, Lands’ End’s three contact centers participated in a new company promotion called “Elf of the Day.”

At Lands Ends’ three Wisconsin call centers, located in Dodgeville (the apparel merchant’s corporate headquarters), Stevens Point, and Reedsburg, one of the cataloger’s customer service representatives served as the Elf of the Day each day from Nov. 28 through Dec. 18.

What did the elf get to do? For one, he or she talked to customers from a cubicle upholstered with red and white flannel sheets. And as part of the promotion, the elf could offer randomly selected customers free monogramming or free gift boxing.

Although it’s a small gesture, Lands’ End wanted to add a little something extra during the holiday season, says spokesperson Amanda Broderick. “It’s a way to spread a little extra surprise and happiness to customers,” she says. “And for our customer service representatives, it’s another way to make a little more excitement for them. — JT