How this retailer increased profit by $8.9m from rostering more hours

Liam Hukins

17 January 2019    |   

There has been a lot of speculation on why we are losing retailers so fast. An interesting research piece from the US presented an alternative hypothesis that generalises the issue down to rostering for profit rather than rostering to control costs. For context – If you were given the choice of increasing revenue by 5% or reducing costs by 5% in order to create the most profitable outcome, what would choose? A “back of the hand” calculation would show that reducing costs increases profit more than the equivalent uptick in revenue. Accordingly, most retailers choose option two. This makes sense if you assume the two scenarios are independent of each other, but what if the cost was your employees? This is where the problems arise. For industries like retail, where staff have a direct impact on sales, it’s not as simple of a question as cutting costs to increase profit. In a study led by Professor Marshall Fisher from Wharton, he and his research team constructed a conceptual model from historical data to identify stores within a US-based retail chain that had the highest potential to benefit from increased labour spend. Importantly, the strategy was actually implemented at 168 retail sites over a 26-week period to validate the model, with the retailer electing to implement the strategy further. The result: A near $8.9 million increase in profit of the stores included. The labour cost challenge The challenge in allocating labour budgets lies in the tradeoff between the known immediate payroll cost and the less certain increase in sales that could be achieved with more staff on hand. The researchers point out that retail managers have a tendency to overweigh the decision to reduce the known payroll cost than the less certain increase in sales which could be achieved by allocating additional labour spend. The labour budget death spiral The study highlights the limitation of the most common retail strategy — setting labour budgets as a portion of sales. Fisher points out that this approach creates a circular problem by failing to take into account how store labour spend can positively impact sales, with the worst case leading to a spiraling effect of reduced sales forecasts reducing labour spend which reduces sales further and so on. Quantifying the impact of labour spend on revenue Creating labour budgets that are designed to maximise profit requires retailers to know on a store-by-store basis the correlation between labour-spend and sales. One way to do this is by looking at times when staffing levels deviate from the original schedule. If ten staff were scheduled on a particular day, but on that day only eight turned up, did sales also decrease by the same portion? If not, by how much? If the answer to the above is that sales didn’t decrease at all, the store is likely overstaffed. If there is a measurable impact, the inverse scenario is likely true and the store may be losing sales by being understaffed. This is the same approach used in the study, which found the relationship between random staffing deviations and impacts on sales was statistically significant. Results showed an increase in labour spend pointed to increased sales at varying degrees, depending on known store attributes. Implementing the strategy for profit The study identified stores in a US retail chain which had the highest market potential, making them good candidates for an increased labour spend. The market potential factored in attributes like average basket value and proximity to competitors, which would create scenarios that allow workers to have the highest impact on converting sales. In the study, 168 stores were selected this way, then allocated a 10% increased labour budget over a 26-week period, of which 75% of the increase was actually consumed in practice by the stores. The outcome was a 4.5% increase in revenue at the impacted stores and resulting in a near $8.9 million profit increase. Learning from the strategy The study shows empirically why the common practice of setting labour budgets as a fixed proportion of forecasted revenue is often self-defeating when applied in a retail setting. An opportunity exists to all retailers to leverage this same profit-centric model for defining labour budgets. The data required is available to all retailers however, it may just be a matter of leveraging that information with the right systems. An integrated forecasting strategy that integrates foot traffic, sales, and employee scheduling data is a practical opportunity afforded to retailers of any size to optimise their labour resource allocations. The interesting part is, Fisher’s research is readily available to all retailers who are looking to drift away from the traditional method of fixing labour budget rosters. The next step is to get this method of labour resource allocation battle-tested in the Australian markets. Stay tuned. Up next: What is the Contingent Workforce and how can you leverage it in your business?

There has been a lot of speculation on why we are losing retailers so fast. An interesting research piece from the US presented an alternative hypothesis that generalises the issue down to rostering for profit rather than rostering to control costs.

For context – If you were given the choice of increasing revenue by 5% or reducing costs by 5% in order to create the most profitable outcome, what would choose?

“back of the hand” calculation would show that reducing costs increases profit more than the equivalent uptick in revenue.

Accordingly, most retailers choose option two.

This makes sense if you assume the two scenarios are independent of each other, but what if the cost was your employees?

This is where the problems arise. For industries like retail, where staff have a direct impact on sales, it’s not as simple of a question as cutting costs to increase profit.

In a study led by Professor Marshall Fisher from Wharton, he and his research team constructed a conceptual model from historical data to identify stores within a US-based retail chain that had the highest potential to benefit from increased labour spend.

Importantly, the strategy was actually implemented at 168 retail sites over a 26-week period to validate the model, with the retailer electing to implement the strategy further.

The result: A near $8.9 million increase in profit of the stores included.

The labour cost challenge

The challenge in allocating labour budgets lies in the tradeoff between the known immediate payroll cost and the less certain increase in sales that could be achieved with more staff on hand.

The researchers point out that retail managers have a tendency to overweigh the decision to reduce the known payroll cost than the less certain increase in sales which could be achieved by allocating additional labour spend.

The labour budget death spiral

The study highlights the limitation of the most common retail strategy — setting labour budgets as a portion of sales. Fisher points out that this approach creates a circular problem by failing to take into account how store labour spend can positively impact sales, with the worst case leading to a spiraling effect of reduced sales forecasts reducing labour spend which reduces sales further and so on.

Australia-Retail-Profit

Quantifying the impact of labour spend on revenue

Creating labour budgets that are designed to maximise profit requires retailers to know on a store-by-store basis the correlation between labour-spend and sales. One way to do this is by looking at times when staffing levels deviate from the original schedule.

If ten staff were scheduled on a particular day, but on that day only eight turned up, did sales also decrease by the same portion? If not, by how much?

If the answer to the above is that sales didn’t decrease at all, the store is likely overstaffed. If there is a measurable impact, the inverse scenario is likely true and the store may be losing sales by being understaffed.

This is the same approach used in the study, which found the relationship between random staffing deviations and impacts on sales was statistically significant. Results showed an increase in labour spend pointed to increased sales at varying degrees, depending on known store attributes.

Implementing the strategy for profit

The study identified stores in a US retail chain which had the highest market potential, making them good candidates for an increased labour spend. The market potential factored in attributes like average basket value and proximity to competitors, which would create scenarios that allow workers to have the highest impact on converting sales.

In the study, 168 stores were selected this way, then allocated a 10% increased labour budget over a 26-week period, of which 75% of the increase was actually consumed in practice by the stores.

The outcome was a 4.5% increase in revenue at the impacted stores and resulting in a near $8.9 million profit increase.

Learning from the strategy

The study shows empirically why the common practice of setting labour budgets as a fixed proportion of forecasted revenue is often self-defeating when applied in a retail setting.

An opportunity exists to all retailers to leverage this same profit-centric model for defining labour budgets. The data required is available to all retailers however, it may just be a matter of leveraging that information with the right systems.

An integrated forecasting strategy that integrates foot traffic, sales, and employee scheduling data is a practical opportunity afforded to retailers of any size to optimise their labour resource allocations.

The interesting part is, Fisher’s research is readily available to all retailers who are looking to drift away from the traditional method of fixing labour budget rosters. The next step is to get this method of labour resource allocation battle-tested in the Australian markets.

Stay tuned.

Up next: What is the Contingent Workforce and how can you leverage it in your business?

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The Print Bar’s warehouse in the inner-suburbs of Brisbane is a symphony of people and machinery, churning out some of the highest quality custom t-shirt printing available in Australia. In just 5 years, Managing Director Jared Fulinfaw has grown from 2 employees in his parents’ garage to become one of largest suppliers of custom t-shirt printing in Australia, with 28 employees working around the clock, 7 days a week. It’s a resounding success story, but it’s clearly been no accident. Jared is keenly focused on running a lean business and striding ahead of the competition. Tools for rapid growth To run The Print Bar, Jared is hands on with everything and believes that up-to-date and forward looking financial data is essential. He uses MYOB to manage his finances, and Tanda to manage his people. “MYOB lets me keep track of my inventory and expenses, I even have my accounts reconciled fortnightly so I know exactly where I am. Tanda is for managing my biggest asset and my biggest expense – my team. To sell my product at competitive prices and maintain my margins, I need to be great at managing, rostering, and keep a very close eye on the costs of my staff.” “My team is everything,” says Jared. And the team agree — they say he’s the best boss ever. Rostering Every week, Jared uses Tanda to put together his roster. He starts by copying the last week’s so he has a template to work with, then makes any changes necessary based on availability or feedback from his team during the week. Next, he checks the roster’s cost – based on the award rules he’s configured – to ensure that he’s within budget. When it’s all looking good, he sends the roster out to staff by email. He generally does this well before the working week; if he needs to make any urgent changes afterwards, an updated roster by SMS alerts the relevant people. Attendance The Print Bar staff clock in and out of work using a Tanda time clock. It’s positioned on the wall near the entrance to the staff room, so it’s easy to spot and hard to forget! For Jared, the time clock acts as a virtual assistant – every day he gets a roll call of who clocked in, and who didn’t (based on their roster). And if someone’s not at work on time on a weekend, he also gets an SMS alert so he can quickly run in if need be. Timesheets and Payroll Every few days, Jared checks over staff timesheets, makes any necessary changes, and approves shifts when he’s happy with them. At the end of the fortnightly pay cycle, he clicks a button to export the timesheets directly to MYOB. Because Jared’s configured Tanda to work with his EBA, all of the data he downloads is mapped to the correct MYOB wage category – saving him hours he’d have spent doing it by hand.

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About the author

Liam Hukins

Liam Hukins leads the Retail Solutions team at Tanda, the World’s #1 Platform for Workforce Success. Tanda integrates existing retail data from Point of Sale, foot traffic monitoring systems, and other demand sources to create profit centric schedules.

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