On how the French chain PYLONES manages to reduce staff costs in its German stores without compromising the quality of service through staff scheduling and time management from SEAK software.
PYLONES is the extraordinary story of Jacques and Léna Guillemet, who started out as designers in a small creative studio in 1985 and today own an international company.
The product range focuses on fashionable accessories, souvenirs and gift items. The designers develop truly unique concepts that bring to life surprising products with unusual colours and motifs which, according to the company’s own philosophy, “would make a rainbow pale with envy”.
At the heart of the company is a glass blowing plant in Colombes near Paris. This is where their jewelry collection of pendants, finger- and earrings is created. Eight glassblowers, guardians of the knowledge of an old craft, blow each piece with their mouths and a cutting torch.
The store network extends from Tokyo to Baku, from Cape Town to Hong Kong and from Bogota to Singapore. There are 37 shops in France, 80 in Europe and over 110 worldwide. Around 700 employees work for PYLONES.In 2009 PYLONES opened its first store in Germany. Today there are twelve stores in Germany, one of them in Cologne.
Here we met Jürgen Kohnen, a PYLONES area manager alongside Rob Houst and Karsten Leonhardt, who is also responsible for scheduling the approximately 80 employees in Germany. During times of high sales, for example during the Christmas season, this number increases, as stores hire additional staff for the season. The retail professional has been working with SEAK software for staff scheduling and time management since the beginning of 2017. We had a few questions for the expert:
What was the situation like prior to introducing SEAK software and which problem did you aim to solve with it?
Jürgen Kohnen: The system for billing working hours was not 100 percent transparent for either employees or payroll accounting. Entries made by employees weren’t always easy to interpret. It was a system that sort of worked but always gave us the feeling of being incomplete.
Plans were made subjectively, rather than objectively and carried out using a simple Excel table to enter working hours and where the previous year’s sales were only vaguely factored in. These tables were sent to the head office and used for payroll accounting. The “resource” that our staff represents was merely managed, not scheduled sensibly.
How did you get in touch with SEAK?
Kohnen: I knew SEAK and the advantages of the system from my previous career in fashion retail. At that time, I was involved in some training courses and had an idea of the what the SEAK system could do. Fortunately, the company management accepted my proposal and invested in this software for staff scheduling and time management.
Which planning processes have been changed?
Kohnen: Each day’s information is stored with a planned turnover that is based on an estimated frequency during that day. This information is the basis for the staff schedule. What is new is the different actions that the system expects of us as a consequence of this different planning approach. Some of the system’s specifications initially seem restraining. But the bottom line is that it has actually brought us further.
Within two years, we were not only able to reduce the share of staff costs as a percentage of sales, but also in absolute terms by more than 20 percent.Jürgen Kohnen, area manager at PYLONES
What are you thinking of specifically? What is working better now?
Kohnen: The system is unique in that it makes it clear that we need to be more flexibility-minded. As a result, we have significantly increased the proportion of part-time employees. Daily estimates have also become more precise, because SEAK automatically takes into account the fact that several holidays fall into a different calendar week or month over the years.
Of course, this affects the number of working days, planned sales and thus the proposed staffing for each shift. That sounds obvious. But not every staff scheduling software offers this level of automated adjustment.
However, introducing the time management system was met with some resistance from employees. Some were confused because their own calculations differed from the numbers in the system. To clarify this situation, the SEAK employee service portal proved to be an ingenious solution. It enables you to check your own working time balances online, to book working times, to make booking corrections or to submit holiday requests.
Can this improvement be expressed in numbers?
Kohnen: Within two years, we were not only able to reduce the share of staff costs as a percentage of sales, but also in absolute terms by more than 20 percent. This is because the system shows us more accurately how many people we really need at any given time.
Who in your area works with these software solutions?
Kohnen: In addition to myself, the branch managers, their representatives and the training specialists for retail sales.
We don’t want to make the software a secret, we want to communicate as transparently as possible in the area of staff scheduling and time management. How else would a positive team spirit develop? And we absolutely need it. Because retail is now a business in which nothing works without quite some effort.
Has the way you work with the employees that use SEAK changed? Are there any topics that you have been able to talk about in a more differentiated way or for the first time at all since introducing SEAK?
Kohnen: There were some long-time employees who left us. Perhaps that was because SEAK time management made incorrect bookings almost impossible. Before SEAK, time recording was basically the comparison of scheduled time and contractual working hours, rather than real-time measurements. It was very abstract.
With SEAK time recording, you log in with a terminal, using a chip. This makes it easy for all employees.
How do you measure the success of your investment in SEAK software?
Kohnen: In addition to the gratifying development of staff costs, we are seeing greater employee satisfaction. The flexibility that the system demands also offers employees more flexibility in planning their free time. Many young employees in particular are enthusiastic about this.
If they want to, everyone can view their work plan as a PDF file on their smartphone. The Employee Service Portal makes this possible. Something like that also has an “it” factor in this age group. Additionally, the system provides objective numbers which give us good arguments for better use of those employees we already have, rather than immediately defaulting to more recruitment.
Which evaluations are you usually most interested in checking out?
Kohnen: Totals and balances that show me how the store managers plan.
What media do you use IT from SEAK on?
Kohnen: Only on my notebook and on a desktop PC.
The SEAK principle aims to harmonize the goals of companies and employees with the expectations of customers in terms of service, product availability and consultation. Do you feel that this is happening? Does that reflect your experience?
Kohnen: That is exactly right. Because staff scheduling à la SEAK is structured according to this objective. Above all it works because it puts an end to gut-based planning and instead introduces anticipated customer frequencies and planned turnover as planning baselines.
A brief impression of the SEAK support team. Have you ever called the SEAK hotline? Did you get connected immediately and could they solve your problem?
Kohnen: Yes, for example, when I couldn’t immediately find certain functionalities that were supposed to be stored in the system. The hotline solves issues like that in no time. In other cases, I was sent screenshots from which I could understand the solution. I have archived them – in case I need them again. I call that a real knowledge transfer.
What surprised you the most and what would you in your experience describe as “typically SEAK”?
Kohnen: The software gives me the good feeling that we are using a system that is unusual in the way it completely and simply reflects the reality of retail in its complexity, while making accurate estimates. I know that this combination is extremely rare.
What plans do you have for the future?
Kohnen: So far, software from SEAK has only been used in our German and Austrian stores. Now there are considerations to install the IT solution in France.
The analysis tool Team Performance Monitor (TPM) from SEAK is supposed to bring transparency at the click of a mouse, with which performance indicators of a company can be analysed quickly and clearly and that makes the causes of current developments transparent. Why do you not yet use this solution?
Kohnen: I have already been introduced to that system and I am thrilled about it. Now I just need to convince the decision-makers within the company. I really want to have the tool.
We thank Jürgen Kohnen for the interview. The interview was conducted for SEAK by retail journalist Bruno Reiferscheid.
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Photos © PYLONES