Telling the truth about SME life today

Why everyone, including the CEO, must muck in during seasonal rush


Throughout the year, any business will need to calculate how resources should be sufficiently allocated towards their various operations, and at Christopher Ward we are no different.

But, with today’s retail calendar, the increased pressures certain’seasonal rush events,?bring and the heightened expectations of customers in today’s omni-channel world, you’re only ever a flash sale or holiday season away from your regular resourcing strategy being put out of joint.

Two such instances will be coming up for us in the next few weeks: our annual autumn clearance, and Black Friday with the way we reallocate internal resources for the former serving as a practice run for the latter.

During these unique periods it really will be all hands on deck, with myself and the other co-founders of the company splitting our time between the boardroom and the dispatch room floor. This was a strategy I first deployed at the Early Learning Centre, where during ‘spike periods the entire head office, except for telephone cover, would go out and work at the stores.

At Christopher Ward, there are three core reasons for us doing this.

Dealing with seasonal rush

Firstly, the reality is that without senior management mucking in and playing their part, dispatches would otherwise end up 4-5 days behind schedule during a seasonal rush spike. The intensity of the period sees orders coming in over the wires in their hundreds and, as an SME, we are a relatively small team with limited resources. Without everyone chipping in, customer orders simply wouldn?t be dispatched on time.

Ensuring our customers receive their orders the next day is a principle we are unwilling to compromise on, as we believe our customer promise of next day delivery should hold true in both sale periods and full price periods. In recent years the likes of Amazon and Ocado have perfected the dispatch and delivery process, and customers expect this benchmark to be met irrespective of who they are ordering from. We know from customer experience that a delayed order is one of their biggest bugbears, and so ensuring orders are dispatched on time will be the most important priority during this time.

Of course, hiring temporary staff during a seasonal rush is one solution and over Christmas we do draft in a number of temps for a six-week period to help ease the pressure. However, from a moral standpoint, we are opposed to hiring staff on zero-hours contracts. Employment must be a balanced approach where it suits both employer and employee, and by and large zero-hours contracts tend to suit the employer at the expense of the worker.

The second reason for senior management getting stuck in on the floor is to maintain motivation and morale. The spike periods present a unique set of challenges for the company, and we know the pressure levels for everyone can rise. To this end, we try to make the spike period fun turning it into an internal mini-campaign with posters around the office and pizza piled high. We also keep shifts to a maximum of four hours, to prevent tiredness and ensure mistakes don’t creep in. Working with the rest of the team also demonstrates our appreciation for our staff’s efforts, and ensures heads don’t dip when orders are flying in and backs are up against the wall.

Not just a PR stunt

Thirdly, immersing ourselves into an environment that we don’t often hands-on operate in is a great means of improvement. Exposure to different areas of the business leads to both personal and professional development, and can teach us as the senior management lessons that will hold us in good stead for the rest of the year.

When senior management of CEOs get stuck in with their employees, it can often come across as a shallow PR stunt a cheap attempt to connect with the people and look like they?re in touch. But in my experience, utilising the entire team including those in the boardroom to solve a single major issue is one of the advantages of being a smaller, more agile business. During our autumn clearance this approach has been hugely effective, and despite the added hurdle of our site being taken down by a DDOS attack on the first day of clearance, 100 per cent of our product has been dispatched on time.

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This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.


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