At the Ahrens department store in Marburg, a lot is moving along well recently. Key indicators show a development toward increased productivity. This can be attributed to a better shopping experience for customers – thanks to optimised staff scheduling and working times. Further evolving and reinventing the company again and again is also part of Ahrens’ history in Marburg.
Founded in 1949 as a shop with only 50 square meters in a former ice cream parlor, the company has long been a fixture in the Marburg region (Hesse). Various shopping and adventure themes can be explored on 13,500 square meters and six floors, drawing on the expertise of over 250 top international brands.
The department store focuses on fashion, accessories and sport. The range is complemented by a selection of brands offering watches / jewelry, stationery, kitchen and children’s goods. Ahrens also run their own travel agency, a restaurant and a subway fast-food store. To complete the experience, you can also find well-known partnering businesses under Ahrens’ roof, including Douglas for perfumes, Görtz for shoes, Thalia for books and Rewe for groceries. Further tenants at Ahrens include a pharmacy, hairdresser, bakery, shoe and key-making service.
To consolidate and expand their position in the market, Ahrens is digitising: a customer app has been developed and released that also connects to their online shop. At the same time, Ahrens is setting up an online-shop with a platform connection. Existing social media interaction will also be further intensified.
Two years ago, the company committed to an important investment to be fit for the future, by switching its staff scheduling system to SEAK software. One of their goals: to offer customers a higher quality shopping and service experience by ensuring that the 200 employees on the sales floor are present when they are really needed. “We achieved our goal. The numbers prove it.”, say Ulrich Mücke, Commercial Manager and Authorized Officer at Ahrens, and Alexander Marczoch, HR Manager.
We had a few questions for the experts.
Why did you look for a new staff scheduling system?
Ulrich Mücke: Actually, we were not dissatisfied with the existing one, but there were times when we scheduled too many or too few hours. This was quite a wasteful use of available hours, especially since at the same time we were often understaffed during high-sales times, where sufficient staffing is crucial to provide customer service. The deployment plans we used then just didn’t consider these factors in sufficient detail. So, a sales- and frequency-oriented staff scheduling system was difficult to implement.
How did you get in touch with SEAK?
Mücke: When talking to other experts about this topic, SEAK almost always comes up right away. Additionally, partner companies with whom we regularly exchange information were already working with SEAKproHR. When SEAK software was recommended to us, we were also told that the price-performance ratio of the product is excellent.
What has changed since then and what is working better now?
Alexander Marczoch: We are now able to prepare much more detailed plans, i.e. monthly, weekly, daily and hourly, for each department or specific area. In the past, some employees clocked a lot of overtime while others accumulated a significant deficit. Since switching to SEAK software, it has become much easier to balance working hours between employees. This also applies to any leisure time preferences, which are stored in the system and therefore always considered when creating schedules.
Mücke: Of course, we also expected our business indicators to improve. In fact, productivity has increased since the system was introduced.
Which key indicators are you thinking of?
Mücke: First of all, the conversion rate, i.e. the proportion of buying customers. This increased by more than one percentage point over the course of two years. The development of parts per receipt and value per item is also encouraging.
We can also conclude that the quality of customer consultation and overall service has been optimized as, for instance, more employees are now on the sales floor during high visitor frequency periods, which allows everyone to devote more time to intensive customer care. Our employees’ hourly balance sheets have also significantly improved.
How do you use the software?
Marczoch: Using the ERP system, the department heads and managers plan and adopt annual and monthly sales targets. These are transferred into SEAK software, which then distributes the targets over the available days based on the previous year’s trends and taking into account calendar shifts such as Easter or other public holidays.
I then work with our department heads to define sales volume classes, which are used to calculate daily staffing hours allocation density in annual plans.
Each staffing hours allocation density depends on expected turnover, as well as the variation between different weekdays. For each day, staff schedules have a time step of 30-minutes. The respective department head can and should check and, where necessary, correct, the monthly schedule before confirming it.
Mücke: Our managers also specify a target hourly productivity, so that an appropriate number of hours from the hour budget is spent.
Were there any concerns from department heads and area managers regarding SEAK software?
Marczoch: No, and for one simple reason: the planning process is more efficient, and results are achieved faster than ever.
How has communication with your employees changed?
Mücke: Communication is much more structured and simpler now. Our department heads now regularly receive up-to-date, automated evaluations from the SEAK system. These evaluations highlight the parameters we are interested in, such as target control or sales figures.
The SEAK principle aims to align the goals of companies and employees with the expectations of customers for service. Do you feel that this is being achieved at Ahrens? Does it work?
Mücke: We know that our employees spend more time on the sales floor, providing more customer service. We verified this from feedback and evaluations from our in-house Qualitize system customers.
SEAK claims that all legal aspects relevant for staff scheduling are stored in the software. How important is that for you?
Marczoch: Of course, we were also legally compliant before the software was introduced. But the system’s legal compliance features certainly make the work easier. If you exceed the maximum daily working time during the planning stage, a message appears immediately.
How would you rate the SEAK support team?
Mücke: The SEAK team deserves an ‘A*’. The speed with which they get back to us on the phone and the fact that they are happy to provide help in Marburg on site when needed, is remarkable.
Marczoch: I can only agree with that. A very competent team in every aspect.
What particularly surprised you about the software launch?
Mücke: That everything worked so well so quickly. This is by no means the norm.
What you describe as “typically SEAK”?
Marczoch: SEAK offers a software solution that is optimally tailored to the retail sector and also takes individual requirements and needs into account.
What are your future plans with SEAK?
Mücke: We know that SEAK is planning to expand on the general customer app by releasing an additional app specifically for the workforce. We intend to get SEAK’s mobile shift rota app and make it available to our employees. It would make many things more convenient, such as paperless holiday requests. Additionally, we could also store rules in the app that employees can call up if necessary.
Marczoch: We will continue to optimize our workforce to provide our customers with the best possible service, and not only to have satisfied customers, but also satisfied employees.
We would like to thank Ulrich Mücke and Alexander Marczoch from the Ahrens department store for their time. This interview was conducted by retail journalist Bruno Reiferscheid.
Photos © Kaufhaus Ahrens