By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor.
Managing labor hours is just one of a handful challenges human resources managers face every day and St. Joe Petroleum is no exception.
Because all eight of St. Joe Petroleum’s Fastgas c-stores are within close proximity of one another, employee “borrowing” is a regular activity. That is a unique advantage when it comes to beefing up staff at locations when needed. But it can be annoying for the employees who might get more calls than they can handle.
“Employees were getting calls from multiple managers multiple times per week, and they were getting frustrated,” said Matthew Flynn, director of operations for the Saint Joseph, Mo.-based company. “There was no one place that the managers could look to see who was working where and when at the multiple sites.”
Also, it was difficult for the corporate office to know whether schedules were coming in on, over or under the correct number of hours for maximum customer service. After trying Microsoft Excel and some other solutions, Fastgas began using PeopleMatter’s Schedule platform almost two years ago.
This software allows managers from the various stores to instantly see which employees are working when and at which stores. So, instead of calling around to various employees, the managers can see who is available by just looking online or on their smartphones.
Because it is available on a mobile app, PeopleMatter Schedule is easy and convenient to use, Flynn said. “Employees have adapted well to using the app; 75% of our employees use it.”
In addition to ensuring that the proper numbers of employee hours are allotted, the platform has been a boost to employee morale. “It’s easier to keep track of things like vacations, requested days off and other personal considerations, such as family and school, so employees know that we’re acknowledging their specific needs when we’re making up schedules,” Flynn said.
Effective Employee Management
The system also makes it easier and more efficient when employees need to find colleagues with whom they can trade shifts to make sure there is sufficient coverage in the stores. Instead of having to go to the store and check a paper schedule or call a manager, the employee can access his or her schedule using the Internet or app.
The only thing the manager needs to do is to approve the change, again, using the PeopleMatter platform. After that, the system automatically changes the schedule and notifies the employees after that approval has been given.
“This gives employees a feeling of more control and reduces time managers have to spend mediating shift trading, so they can focus more on the job of managing the stores’ operations and building the business,” Flynn said. He estimated that the software saves his managers about 2-3 hours per week in scheduling time. “It has more than paid for itself.”
The software also gives the corporate office an opportunity to keep close check on the hours managers are assigning. “Too many hours and you’re wasting money, too few and you’re risking quality of customer service,” Flynn said.
Fastgas is beta testing an attendance management controls component of PeopleMatter Schedule, which allows for pulling information from the stores’ time clocks to determine when employees are clocking in versus the time they are scheduled to do so. The company is also testing a component that allows the stores to pull sales data from the POS system to allow for “smart scheduling,” suggesting staff additions during hours of higher sales volume and deductions during slower times.
“By layering the various components of the platform, it just helps us to work smarter and smarter,” Flynn said.
In September, Rockland, Mass.-based Tedeschi Food Shops launched a partnership with Dashboard Advantage, a mobile, Web-enabled data collection and reporting system, to increase the efficiency of the chain’s labor management control process. This new cloud-based solution, which can be used by division managers, store operators, franchisees and corporate general managers, takes customer transactions, individual tasks, food production and specific store facility profile into account and delivers a line item budget for each location, said Gregory Donoghue, Tedeschi’s vice president of human resources.
For convenience and ease of use in the field, the platform can be accessed using a cell phone or tablet device. “It can be used anywhere there is Web access,” he noted.
Brian Sullivan, Tedeschi’s director of compensation, explained that the chain needed a flexible scheduling platform to meet its ever-changing needs that can be affected by anything from a change in the weather to a parade or other special event taking place in one of its communities. “The system has to anticipate and readily adjust for local market conditions,” he said.
To determine the optimal labor schedule, each store inputs lists of fixed tasks such as filling a cooler, completing daily paperwork, making coffee and sweeping the parking lot, and transactions such as cash, credit cards and gas cards at the pump. All are assigned time parameters and these are added up to get a total number of labor hours required by the stores for optimal customer service.
These numbers can fluctuate season by season (winter, for example, may require time for snow shoveling and/or salting) and even week to week.
Tedeschi already had the task information, so based on each store’s history over the past couple of years, the system can project out through the end of the year. Prior to Dashboard Advantage, the chain had used Excel to create and track schedules. “If we made a change in one store, it didn’t flow through to other stores; we had to do one at a time,” Donoghue said. “Now we can do groups of stores at one time.”
Because everything is there at a glance, labor problems at any particular store jump out quickly, he pointed out. Another thing the platform can be used for is to create a customized shift duty list.
Staying Service Focused
At Family Express stores, scheduling is based on time motion analytics for each task encountered in the daily routine of operations, said Alex Olympidis, director of operations for the Valparaiso, Ind.-based chain. “The challenge is allocating our planned hours in a way that complements our transaction activity and thus delivers outstanding customer service,” he explained.
For well over a decade, Family Express has been using a custom-designed labor allocation system that delivers more than $140 of in-store sales for every labor hour. “But we think we can do even better,” Olympidis said. “Labor efficiency is important to Family Express, yet what is more important than efficiency is scheduling our resources in a way that serves our customers best.”
For the past couple of years, Ted Roccagli, retail marketing manager/business coach for Gainesville, Ga.-based Mansfield Oil, which services 350 c-stores, has relied on the Ruby/Sapphire cash register system to generate a report at close-out each day that breaks down the previous 24 hour period’s sales by hours and departments.
Roccagli recommends that his customers graph those results to determine peak sales times for their stores and compare the graphs over weeks to determine trending. “As technology has advanced in this industry, we are now looking at some of the newer Web-based options to make us even smarter about scheduling,” he said.
While York, Pa.-based Rutter’s uses a software graphing program that recommends the number of employees to schedule at any given time, making sure that every shift is covered adequately also requires cross-training of all employees. “Every employee has to know how to take care of the customers,” said Jerry Weiner, Rutter’s vice president of foodservice.