While candidates will be fighting for the best jobs, businesses must ensure that they position themselves to attract the UK’s best talent.
Churn and burn is not a very attractive way to describe the employment policies of fashion retailers, but it is true to say that some businesses in the sector have a bad reputation. And a good reputation lost is very hard to regain.
Many companies say that people are their most important asset, but fashion is such a tough business that sometimes the challenge to sell and survive is prioritised above people development.
So what makes a good reputation, and how can a business use that reputation to market itself as a good employer?
Fashion and Retail Personnel director Karen Hill says: “Ours is a small industry and it is getting smaller, so what people may be saying about you as an employer is crucial. This means that you have to treat well everyone that you employ.”
Hill maintains that if you are a stable business and offer a good package of benefits, then a good reputation will usually ensue, but candidates are increasingly interested in the business more broadly.
She says: “Candidates are now asking questions about the corporate social responsibility of a business, whether the supply chain is ethical, for example, or how it supports charity.”
In addition to the positive messages created by consumer advertising, a company’s website can be used to convey the brand values of the business. This is not only through the personality of the product but also the personality of the business using ‘work for us’ pages.
The use of social networking to market the business as a good employer is also now critical. Many fashion businesses are using social networking to identify potential candidates for employment, but it is also being used as a way of conveying a retailer’s or a brand’s values.
Peter Gerrard, managing director of Michael Page Retail and Michael Page Design, says that an important hallmark of a good employer is one that manages people’s careers, so that they have good stories to tell about their working lives.
The challenge as an employer, he says, is to train, reward, recognise and respect the team. A company’s image, both internally and externally, needs to be under constant management.
Gerrard comments: “Employer branding is critical. This is particularly so in retail as potential candidates are possibly your customers, too. It is very easy to devalue your brand.”
Gerrard says: “A major part of getting your story out in today’s world is using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You can use software packages to monitor what is being said about your business. While you cannot stop anything negative, you can contribute to the discussion and get your own message out in response. These tools are a tremendous opportunity.”
Building a reputation
At Debenhams, the scale of the business, its growing international and UK operations and its combination of own brands and bought-in Designers At collections gives it a broad scope to be able to offer opportunities for career progression. It also has as a significant resource for training and development processes. This alone, however, does not guarantee a good reputation as an employer.
Sally Greenwood, head of HR for Debenhams’ head office in London, agrees with Hill and Gerrard that reputation comes from the stories people tell. “Being a business that people want to work for is very much about the reputation of the [retail] brand, the culture within the organisation, the people who work in it and the success stories that they can tell.”
In Debenhams head office, she says, people are given responsibility and are accountable for their work - factors that are increasingly acknowledged across organisations in all sectors as qualities that make people both happy and successful.
She cites the retailer’s “refer a friend” recruitment scheme as one device that encourages the Debenhams team to talk positively about the business to those outside of it. At the same time it has become a successful tool for bringing new talent into the retailer.
“This is a great way to bring in like-minded people who want to work in a fast-paced, energetic business where they can build a career,” she says.
David Pidgeon, managing director at young fashion value chain Select, draws on his experience across fashion retailing when he comments that it takes time to establish a good reputation.
A business in its earlier days often has to make itself attractive to candidates by offering higher than average salary and benefits. “But once a business has a head of speed, and it has some good people working for it, and good things start to happen, then it becomes easier to attract the best people,” says Pidgeon.
For Jan Shutt, director of independent retailer Sunday Best in Rawtenstall in Lancashire, marketing her business as a good employer is no less important, despite being smaller in scale. She says that key to the reputation of her
business is the profit-share scheme paid to everyone, including admin staff, twice each year.
The “John Lewis model”, she says, means that the whole team feels that Sunday Best is their business. “Despite being small I try to make this business as professional as possible. All the team have contracts of employment, we have formal and informal appraisals and I am as transparent as I can be.”
Further, there is little division between buying and selling in the business. “There is no upstairs and downstairs here. My buyers are responsible for sales, and there is no ‘glamorous’ side of the business that excludes anyone.”
Shutt pays the same rates as central Manchester stores - and sometimes more - and says she never has to advertise when a vacancy arises. Sunday Best’s reputation is such, she says, that people contact her to express interest in working for the business.
And that is how it should be. Fashion and Retail Personnel’s Karen Hill says that now that word-of-mouth is exponentially magnified by social networking, fashion business employers have to look at how they are perceived, and how their brand values are conveyed both inside and outside the business.
She concludes: “It is important that the whole team feels that it can trust you as an employer, and that everyone feels that they are in a business that treats people fairly. Then they will talk about the business outside of the company in a positive way.”
Top tips for marketing your business as a good employer
- Have good processes in place, so that employees feel that they have been fairly treated
- Your reputation for how you treat people circulates around the industry. Make sure it is good
- Train, appraise, reward and develop the team. Become known as a business that wants its people to have good careers
- Get your team to talk about the business to friends
- Use your website to convey brand values
- Use social networking to get your message across
- Promote the positive aspects of the business
- Recognise team achievements