With recruitment returning to pre-recession levels, fashion retailers need to improve their strategies to attract and retain the best candidates
Fashion retail doesn’t have a great reputation for staff recruitment and retention. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the annual national average staff turnover rate across all industries is about 13%, while the fashion industry is lucky if only 40% of its staff move on in the course of a year.
Not only does the cost of unsatisfactory recruitment go straight to the bottom line, it also affects the reputation of a business. But across the fashion industry employers are striving to improve the quality of their recruitment strategies and are increasingly focusing on staff retention.
Annual salary and benefits benchmarking, formally done through recruitment agencies and on an ad-hoc basis, should become standard practice if a company is to retain a competitive edge over rival employers.
But the internet, too, has become a crucial environment for developing talent, with business networking site LinkedIn offering a group for fashion HR professionals where businesses are informally benchmarking.
At Aurora Fashions, where some 8,700 people work across its Coast, Karen Millen, Oasis and Warehouse stores in the UK and internationally, the recruitment function has moved to a direct model, with an in-house HR team for each fascia taking control of appointments and talent scouting.
The direct model, put in place in 2008, now recruits more than 70% of its staff directly. This was an advantage when the business was in pre-pack administration last year, as it was better equipped to allay concerns from candidates it was looking to recruit about the stability of the business.
Aurora group resourcing and development partner Kate Dixon says: “Recruitment has got tougher. But the focus for Aurora is increasingly on the quality of candidates […] and on the use of social media as part of the recruitment process and as a retention tool.”
She adds: “Salary always plays a part in what candidates are looking for, but they increasingly want to know what it is like working for the company, what the structures are and whether they get autonomy. And they want to know if the skills and experience they bring with them will be recognised.”
Dixon believes Aurora’s in-house structure gives it some advantages. While it is a significant size as a group, each fascia recruits for its own personality and unique culture.
Aurora uses LinkedIn to recruit and to network with those who show an interest in working for the business, creating what Dixon describes as an “active talent bank”.
“What we can do through social media is build a relationship with people before a potential vacancy arises - it works for the group, for the individual businesses and for international and executive positions,” she says.
Dixon maintains that improving the quality of the “candidate journey” not only helps the business make the right decisions, but helps rejected candidates take away a positive view of the company. If word of mouth was powerful before social networking, the exponential nature of the internet makes it more important than ever now.
Dixon gives the example of feedback. “Every candidate wants feedback. We make sure it’s a positive process for candidates, letting them know where they were strong and where they can develop,” she says.
Shelley Pinto, director of recruitment firm Fashion & Retail Personnel, is clear about what keeps people in a business. She cites three key elements - clear procedures, a serious commitment to appraisals, and training and development opportunities.
“People need to know that if they do well they can move up the ladder. People leave jobs when there is no progression and no recognition,” she says.
Pinto concedes that this is harder to achieve in smaller businesses, which have fewer resources and do not always have a clear progression structure, but she says the principles still apply. “Candidates want to know that there are prospects - whether that is moving through a large business or growing a role in a smaller business,” she says. “The salary and benefits package is crucial, but following the recession people also want to see that a company can offer stability and security.”
Businesses that are good at communicating their vision and their aims are also likely to have better retention rates, she adds. And, as the post-recession environment has forced people to shift their focus from hard cash to the work-life balance, a flexible attitude to working patterns and family commitments is also attractive.
The issues for smaller businesses can be personal. Mark Bage, owner of premium independent Sarah Coggles in York, says that, despite the formal recruiting techniques he uses, “the chemistry also has to be right”. He adds: “When I recruit, I need to feel the spark and if they [lack] experience or qualifications, I’m willing to train. Sometimes, for a smaller business, standardisation works against creativity.”
The “gut feeling” approach seems to be working for Bage. Now with 50 people on the team - 35 in the stores and 15 in the head office functions - Bage claims an average service of 11 years among head office staff and three years across its two stores.
“We have a good retention rate because we employ people young, and give them responsibility early,” he explains. Bage concedes that he does not always get this right. “Of course, it doesn’t always work,” he says, “but we definitely have more successes than failures as a result of encouraging people to work autonomously.”
Seeing it through
Kate Barron, operations director at recruitment firm Success Appointments, warns that businesses must keep the promises they make to candidates during recruitment in order to improve retention.
“We are returning to pre-recession levels of recruitment,” she says.
“Recruitment used to be all about money. Now it’s about much more than that. It’s often the smaller businesses that can be more innovative. But, when the market is competitive, businesses need to realise that there has to be non-revenue generating investment put into recruitment and retention. And if they are giving out a message about what a great company they are to work for, then they have to follow through with that.”
Top 10 tips
- Benchmark salaries and the benefits package
- Ensure the “candidate journey” is positive for all candidates
- Use your own people to recommend new people
- Use social media to develop a pool of people who want to work for your business
- Fulfil promises made during the recruitment process
- Communicate the vision of the business and how your people can contribute to it
- Create a transparent route for progression
- Hold formal appraisals and staff updates
- Commit to training and development
- Build flexibility into working patterns