NEW YORK — United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, has found that labor-scheduling software integrated with a time-and-attendance application can help the 50-store chain afford its emphasis on customer service.
Service is reflected at United's three banners — United Supermarkets, Market Street and Amigos United — in the absence of both long lines at the front end and self-checkout lanes, noted Chris St.Clair, chief information officer, who spoke about United's implementation of workforce management tools from Kronos, Chelmsford, Mass., at the National Retail Federation's Convention & Expo here.
“We invest in staffing the front end,” St.Clair said, adding that front-end employees also carry out groceries to the parking lot for shoppers, who are called guests. “It's about having the right person on the floor at the right time.” But United needed to figure out how it would pay for its attention to service, he added, and for that turned to labor management technology.
United has used Kronos' time-and-attendance system since 2003, and rolled out its workforce-scheduling and optimization software in early 2009. To date, the technology has been applied to front-end employees who comprise 60% of its store labor, but United has begun piloting it in the foodservice department of its largest location, and plans to apply it to other service areas such as bakery and meat/seafood in what St.Clair called “wall-to-wall scheduling.”
The scheduling system “provides an accurate forecast so we know when we'll be busy,” said St.Clair. The forecast is able to handle seasonal variances such as the Super Bowl and other sporting events, as well as graduations, back-to-school and holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day. It also factors in distribution times for government programs like food stamps and WIC.
One store manager cited by St.Clair said the forecast was able to predict sales within $5,000 to $10,000 for a store with a $1 million weekly sales volume, an accuracy of at least 99%. Another store manager said it cut scheduling time by 50%.
The integration of the scheduling system and time-and-attendance system means that employees are not able to clock in early or take other liberties with their schedule. “With 10,000 team members, that's a significant savings,” he said. “We increased our ROI with the integration.”
The systems are also able to spot potential overtime scenarios. “Having this visibility has reduced our expenses and helped us pay for our labor and support our service,” said St.Clair. In addition, the system can limit labor expenses to conform to a specified budget.
In its trial of the system in the foodservice department, United is scheduling both production and counter employees, helping to improve service and sales while preventing overproduction. The chain also plans to use the scheduling application to determine the best hours for the wine steward in its wine departments.
Last week, Kronos announced the availability of its Workforce Mobile Scheduler, which allows store managers to send a text message to the mobile devices of employees qualified to fill an open shift. Once an employee accepts the shift, it is automatically assigned, and a second message notifies employees that the shift has been filled. Meanwhile, the work schedule is updated in the Kronos scheduling application.