The word is out: The 2016 holiday season is setting up for growth in online sales and seasonal jobs. As pent up demand is released post-election, consumers are looking to shop and spend more. The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday spending in November and December will reach $656 billion. Online sales are forecast at $117 billion, growing between 7 and 10 percent year-over-year.
To address this volume, merchants are staffing seasonal jobs. Employment placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says U.S. retailers will hire nearly 740,000 temporary workers in seasonal jobs – and not just in stores. An army of seasonal help is needed in distribution centers as more retailers fulfill growing demand in online channels.
No one knows this better than PFS Area Vice President Billy Malady, who leads all PFS distribution centers in Memphis. The company operates 7 fulfillment centers totaling 2 million square feet – more than 45 acres of warehouse space – in the Memphis area. These and other PFS distribution centers around the world shipped $2 billion in products last year, fulfilling more than 2 million peak season orders per month.
In preparation for holiday demand, Malady and his team are adding staff for seasonal jobs in around-the-clock shifts in 7 locations to fill a wide variety of roles and responsibilities.
What’s the secret to identifying and retaining top temporary talent in an extremely competitive market and time of year? How does creativity factor into the equation? Billy answers these and other questions about delivering a best-in-class experience with seasonal workers.
Billy Malady: We are gearing up for a busy holiday season. We’ve added new clients and, at the same time, online sales are increasing across all of retail, and that includes brands we support with distribution solutions.
Q: How has eCommerce changed the nature of holiday hiring?
Billy Malady: It’s all about volume. An article I read recently characterized warehouses and distribution centers like ours as the next generation of ‘stores’ that retailers require to satisfy rising demand in online channels. I don’t think that’s too far from the truth. And, of course, demand is highest around the holidays, which requires us to staff up with associates – faster and more than ever.
Q: Memphis is known as “America’s distribution center,” so it’s a crowded market. How do you compete to hire the volume of talent that’s needed for seasonal jobs?
Billy Malady: To start, we team with several recruiting agencies in the Memphis area that understand our business, culture, and core values. This is key because it means they are more likely to identify the right talent – and people with the right attitude.
We have a strong reputation in the area, too, so word travels. Colleagues refer friends and family members – and that’s great because retention rates for referrals are high. Also, we start early. Keep in mind, there are many distribution centers in the area, so all employers are pulling from the same pool. This year, we had overlapping peak seasons – another customer peaked in October for their Halloween sales. This meant we could hire talent earlier and retain them for the holiday season.
Q: What does creativity have to do with seasonal hiring?
Billy Malady: Actually, a lot. Creativity is key to building a fulfilling work environment. It’s also key to incentivizing associates with competitions, drawings, and unique ways to recognize excellence. This is a people business. It’s all about attracting the right talent, providing good training, strong incentives to stay, and motivating people to perform at their peak.
Q: Are there challenges staffing brands that require ‘white-glove’ services with seasonal talent?
Billy Malady: No, not at all because we have a lot of experience with luxury brands. I am talking about anything from providing special packaging to delivering value-added services that differentiate the brand, including monogramming, custom messaging, and engraving. We have a highly trained and skilled staff that works with these brands. Temporary talent is brought onto the team and they are mentored. The team is cross-trained so they understand the brand experience we are helping to impart – and that our customers entrust us with.
Q: What best practices do you adhere to in hiring seasonal associates?
Billy Malady: These are our rules of the road – what has worked for us in hiring thousands of seasonal workers for holidays over the years.
- Invest in training – Set teams up for success with ample training. Don’t just make sure they know how to do a job well, but also that they understand their role within the organization and the value they add. Also, make sure they understand company values and the culture.
- Think outside the box – I talked about this already, but you can’t be too creative with seasonal jobs, and this doesn’t just apply to contests. This is about work hours – can you design shifts differently? What extra perks can you provide that motivate workers – transportation, meals, non-traditional hours.
- Respect everyone – Seasonal workers are part of the team, and an important one to the entire team’s success year-round. Treat each person with respect and don’t differentiate between full-time and seasonal workers.
- Value experience and attitude –These two variables matter. You can accomplish more with experience and a can-do attitude. It’s pretty simple.
- Start hiring early – The holidays are static, so you know when they are coming and when you need to ramp up. Make sure you start early.
- Partner with agencies – The right employment agencies are an extension of your team. Make sure you choose an agency that understands your company and what will make you successful.
So, if you’re a retailer, get ready for a busy season. With the right help in place, it will be profitable, too. To learn more about what to expect this holiday season, check out our holiday projections white paper.