WESTBURY, N.Y. -- King Kullen here will begin rolling out chainwide this month automated labor scheduling software following tests in three stores, which reported reductions in preparation time and improvements in service levels.
The 46-store chain plans to complete its rollout by early 1997, said Bob Braun, assistant human resources director.
King Kullen's new software monitors customer and item counts as frequently as every 15 minutes and uses the data to create a work schedule more contoured to changing customer volume.
Braun said automated scheduling software identified understaffing problems and allowed the chain to "tighten up areas where we were weak on service. The system found those areas first and showed us that we had to hire people to fill those hours," he said.
The new software's access to the point-of-sale database is crucial to designing better employee schedules. "The computer can take the actual data on your store traffic flow and key into our busy periods better than the human mind seems to be able to do," he said.
For example, the software can compile and incorporate such information as employee availability for the week, union rules and state and federal labor regulations to compose schedules.
The system "takes into consideration minimum and maximum hours [for employees] and labor," Braun said. "It even tells you the best time to send people on coffee breaks and lunches."
King Kullen has also reduced the workload for store managers and other officials responsible for writing schedules, he said. Scheduling the front end now takes an average of 45 minutes, as compared to the three hours needed to manually compose a schedule.
Such improvements were recognized early by store-level staff who readily accepted the new way of scheduling, Braun noted. Resistance at the store level has been a recurring problem for some retailers trying to introduce computerized scheduling.
"Now that they have labor scheduling, they wouldn't give it up for anything," Braun said.
King Kullen plans to expand usage of the software, provided by HeurisTec, Boulder, Colo., to other store departments after first installing the system chainwide to handle its front-end scheduling, he said.
While automating schedules for the deli or grocery departments, for example, should deliver major benefits for the retailer, it will not be as easy as scheduling the front end, Braun said.
Where front-end schedules are primarily driven by customer volume, other department schedules must take into account the need to schedule employee tasks that are unrelated to store traffic patterns.
Automated scheduling "is harder to do in other departments because there's so many tasks, like sweeping floors, cleaning cases and unloading trucks that you have to take into consideration," he said.