HASTINGS, Mich. -- G&R Felpausch Co. here is rolling out a computerized scheduling system chainwide after labor hours were reduced substantially in a test.
The retailer plans to roll out its labor scheduling system in two to three stores each week, with a goal of having all 22 stores on line by early November.
The pilot, which was run during the month of April here, demonstrated the system could reduce weekly employee hours by an average of 12.6%. The system also greatly cut the time needed to plan and write a front-end schedule.
"We have four stores up and running right now and we hope to have another 18 up and running in the next 60 days," said Michael Hubert, management information services director. But finding enough personnel
and time to conduct adequate training sessions presents the largest obstacle to a smooth rollout. "That's been our biggest challenge," he said. "It's going to be an aggressive rollout, and we'd like to do two to three stores a week, but it's going to depend on the availability of the training staff."
The decision to move to an automated labor schedule system came after Felpausch began a re-engineering process last year. "We determined front-end labor scheduling was one of the avenues in which we could use computer technologies to gain efficiency," Hubert said.
Though the retailer had an unsuccessful test of a labor scheduling system four years ago, the key difference for the pilot's success this time was the automation of data entry into the system. The earlier program required an employee to enter hourly sales data every week, a chore that soon became neglected.
"Before you know it they got a few weeks behind, and then they were projecting schedules with bad information," he said. "Things went from bad to worse and then came to a screeching halt. But now that portion of the information is accumulated by itself. All [schedulers] now have to do is to keep employee information current."
The results of the pilot surpassed Hubert's expectations. "I set up successful completion criteria of saving 6% in hour usage over the period, and the system was able to double that," he said. The reduction in hours mostly came from cutting unnecessary employee time, even by a half-hour. "I think a lot of it was changing our own personal stereotype that shifts begin on the hour and end on the hour," Hubert said.
The program, from CompuSked, Florham Park, N.J., schedules employees in 15-minute increments.
The program has also enabled Felpausch to predict hourly sales more accurately and determine customer counts. "It can monitor sales trends much better than we can, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis, so that we can have the correct number of people in at the right time," Hubert said. "You have a real tendency to overschedule 'just in case,' but by being able to predict [customer movement] more accurately we didn't need as much of a cushion from a scheduling standpoint."
The time it takes the front-end manager to write the schedule has also been reduced from eight hours weekly to less than two hours.
The site of the pilot was a strategic one because Felpausch had tested the earlier version of the system four years ago in the same store, and it had failed. "They've enhanced the package to make it far more flexible from a standpoint of scheduling," Hubert said. "You can build your culture into the program so that it allocates hours based on the same type of criteria you would have used: full-time over part-time, seniority."