Coping with COVID: Make Employee Retention a Priority
BY MITCH HEIMAN
Keeping in Constant Communication with Staff and Customers helps to maintain Valuable Relationships
In part one of this series, “Coping with COVID: How We Overcame Staff and Supply Shortages”, I talked about how we dealt with shortages.
As our workload increased, these shortages naturally impacted our turnaround and delivery. When this happened, we contacted our customers and encouraged everyone to increase their quantities wherever they could, knowing that reorders were going to take longer than normal. We wanted to make sure they had product in their stores. That was our highest priority.
As I mentioned in the first blog, as a way to motivate employees to come back to their jobs, work their regular schedule, and even do overtime, we offered pay incentives. To some degree, we had to pass some of those costs (as well as garment and raw material price increases) on to the customer, as we tried to maintain our margins.
By encouraging higher quantities, it allowed us to say "Our company is structured to offer quantity discounts for larger-size orders, so there's going to be a win here on a couple of levels. If you increase your quantities, you will not run short, especially through your busy season.
“Additionally, it lets us manage and, in some instances, maintain your pricing. Normally, you would see sizable increases, but with increased quantities, we can level things out." So we tried to create wins where we could with that.
The Value of Constant Communication
Communication is also vitally important in times like these, and we used phone, email and text to contact customers. I’d like to encourage people to remember that no one likes to give bad news, but the more transparent you can be, the more your partners can anticipate and plan what the best actions are.
We are fortunate to have been working with some of our customers for 26 years. During that time, we’ve developed a great reputation for our ability to communicate and deliver. Due to that reputation, even though people in general were aware that the shortages were worldwide, at first, some of our clients didn't understand that we were impacted too.
Some got onboard right away and started changing their buying habits, but for others, it took a little bit of time before they really understood.
Another interesting observation we made about communication during this time had to do with delivery dates. In the past, we would normally ship between five and eight days from art approval. We saw those times increase to anywhere from two to six weeks. I told staff to give clients as accurate a date as they could. However, we heard some of our competition was saying "We don't know when we can ship it to you." That makes it difficult for customers to plan for anything.
In my opinion, always provide as much information as you can and adhere to your projected dates as much as possible. A client is going to wait if he has to, but everyone wants to know if that order is going to arrive or not. If you can provide a date, even if it’s after what the customer is hoping for, it’s better than not knowing.
Setting Priorities to Manage Workload
Another strategy we used at Perrin Sportswear was to evaluate how to make the best use of our time. When you're working with limited staff, you have to look at the labor intensity of everything you're doing. We decided if we wanted to make sure everyone had product, there were some things we should not be doing. That meant eliminating additional decorations or touch times we felt wouldn't negatively impact the sale.
For example, for certain types of embroidery that took longer to sew, we suggested the client look at some alternatives, because we could get the product out faster. We also suggested to some clients to avoid doing relabeling. Sometimes the client insisted, but when they did not, it freed up the staff to do other things.
So it’s a process you go through to evaluate where you can find time savings. It was asking ourselves: How can we provide the best service to our client? For us, it was by encouraging them to increase their order size, offering value-added services in the form of new products and to try and save time by reducing labor-intensive work such as relabeling and certain types of decorating.
Next blog, I will continue to share ways we pivoted during the pandemic to keep our business thriving.
The Benefits Dilemma
Another way we tried to service our existing clientele was to provide products they normally purchased from other suppliers, but couldn't get them. To do this, we had to get creative and do some sourcing for them.
For example, we had a customer who needed garment-washed and tie-dyed apparel in large quantities. We made some calls to a factory in Honduras that made the blanks, and just down the street, also in Honduras, we found a dye house. The next thing you know we're supplying thousands of shirts we never anticipated doing because other manufacturers were not servicing those areas.