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Inside Matalan's new head office

Moving to a new head office involves plenty of challenges, but careful planning and a strong team spirit ensured Matalan’s move went smoothly.

It’s a time for celebration at Matalan. Not only does this year mark its 30th in business, the value retailer has just completed a move to a purpose-built 700,000 sq ft head office in Knowsley, Merseyside, a little over nine miles away from its original 405,000 sq ft site in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. Staying in the local area was of great importance to founder and chairman John Hargreaves, who opened his first store in nearby Preston in 1985.

Glass-fronted with a flash of red panelling, the modern exterior of the new headquarters is striking, but Matalan’s forward-thinking outlook goes deeper. “Our big campaign this year centres around Matalan being ‘made for modern families’; now we have a building that’s fit for a modern Matalan,” explains Lee Pinnington, marketing director and, as executive sponsor of the move, the person responsible for ensuring every area of the business had a voice at board level during the process.

The three-storey building takes the form of a letter ‘U’, with key product areas – including womenswear, menswear and kidswear – situated in the base of the shape along with the marketing and ecommerce team, and support functions such as IT, legal and HR situated in the two wings. This layout highlights Matalan’s emphasis on product, with these departments consulted heavily throughout the move. As a result, their areas are equipped with dedicated product rooms and plenty of racks on which to hang samples and designs.

Other features include a conference room that seats up to 400 people, a realistic ‘mock shop,’ where buying and merchandising teams can come to sign off product in situ, and 24 meeting rooms, several with video conferencing facilities. “We wanted to get people to talk more and work together better, and now they have the space to do so,” explains Pinnington.

A bistro-style canteen located at the front of the building and break-out areas on every floor encourage staff to get away from their desks to socialise with colleagues from other departments. Within the next month, the manicured grounds in which the building is set will be furnished with outdoor tables and chairs so staff can enjoy their breaks in the sunshine. These facilities are emblematic of an ongoing shift in the working culture at Matalan towards a less formal, more collaborative office environment. To accompany this, the dress code has been relaxed to smart casual from the more formal business attire that preceded it at Skelmersdale.

This new approach was spearheaded by the staff of the HR department, who Pinnington credits with playing a pivotal role in the relocation.

“In order to ensure a smooth transition, we knew it was really important to get everyone’s input and feedback,” says Laura Oxton, senior HR manager. In July 2012, the HR team set up a group of about 30 ‘relocation champions’. This group included at least one representative from every department who would attend meetings about the move and then relay any information back to their colleagues.

“It was about communication,” Oxton says. “We assured the relocation group that they’d be the first to know any news related to the move. It was also a great opportunity to gather feedback.”

Pinnington adds: “[The relocation group] were amazing right the way through. They challenged us, they asked us lots of questions and even today we still go to them for their opinions.”

The relocation group

The relocation group

This level of staff consultation and planning meant that by February this year, when the move physically began, everyone was as well prepared and as organised as they could be. While moving almost 1,500 people is never going to be entirely straightforward, Pinnington proudly explains that the relocation “ran like clockwork”. Staff were asked to begin clearing out the Skelmersdale office nine months before the start of the move. “We were there for 20 years, so you can imagine how much rubbish we’d accumulated. I have to admit that in the marketing department we uncovered a few copies of the 1989 Matalan catalogue,” he jokes. Staff were asked to limit themselves to two crates each, the expectation being that this would keep the Knowsley office tidier in the long run.

The move itself was split into several phases spanning six weeks, with two departments moving at a time. The relocation period was planned around the buying calendar to minimise disruption for the product teams and, impressively, staff were unable to work for just three-and-a-half hours. “The teams who were moving would pack up on a Friday morning and we’d let them go home at lunchtime,” explains Pinnington. “Then they would come into the new office on Monday with everything ready to go.”

Throughout this time, the Knowsley and Skelmersdale offices maintained dual facilities so teams at both sites could function normally. “There was a bit of toing and froing, of course,” Oxton admits, “but overall it was incredibly smooth.” The board were the last to make the move when the process was completed in late March.

The move in numbers

Number of years spent planning the move: 3½
Number of relocation group meetings: 23
Number of crates moved: 3,500
Number of site visits led by HR: 22
Number of hours staff were unable to work due to the move: 3

All that remains is for staff to settle in and put their mark on the new building. “The Skelmersdale office was what it was, but we had a great sense of community there and people do reminisce about that,” says Pinnington. “We want to recreate that here; we want to put the Matalan footprint on the new building.”

An official opening is planned for the summer, with Pinnington hoping to invite a celebrity guest as well as some of Matalan’s longest-serving employees to host an event for the whole of head office. “Matalan is a family and we want to celebrate that,” he says. “We want to celebrate where we’ve come from. We’re moving into our 30th year with a building that is going to take us onwards and upwards.”

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