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Social Networking Proves a Savior in Staffing 'Pop-Up' Store

September 15, 2010
Related Topics: Internet, Corporate Culture, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
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One of the hottest trends in retail over the last few holiday seasons has been the “pop-up” store, an outlet that opens for a few peak weeks or months and then fades away. Retailers from J.C. Penney to Walgreens to my employer, Toys R Us, have made use of temporary holiday outlets of late with favorable results.

One of the biggest challenges of pop-up stores is staffing them quickly, and my store was no exception. In my desperation, however, I discovered the power of social networking. For me, Facebook saved the day.

Toys R Us, one of the nation’s largest employers of seasonal workers, opened 80 pop-up stores during the 2009 holiday season, up from a handful of test stores the previous year. Some locations, most of which were opened in established retail centers, have proved so profitable that they have remained open for months past their January closing dates.

Often, the decision to open a pop-up location is made quickly, as new locations are found and leases are signed. As a human resources manager, I was called upon to staff and train a pop-up location during the 2009 holiday shopping season—and I had to do so in a hurry. While conceptual plans for temporary stores had been in the works throughout the summer, official word on the opening of a new store did not come until September 2—exactly a month before the planned opening. I work out of a large retail outlet in Riverhead, New York, that is typical for my company. New pop-up stores across the country were assigned traditional sister stores that would facilitate hiring and training for the smaller stores.

The manager of the new pop-up store would be a longtime employee of the company who was also a human resources manager in another store in the district. She was to be the only existing employee to be sent to the pop-up. I was assigned the task of hiring and training two additional key-holding supervisors and 12 part-time salespersons. The odds were stacked against me.

First, both my location and my sister pop-up were located in a rural area of eastern Long Island, with no more than one or two applications filed weekly. I sometimes go several weeks without seeing an application. The pop-up store was to open in an outlet center at an interchange off a major highway, far from a population center.

Second, I was allotted 14 days to find all 14 new hires for the pop-up location. That many workers are usually hired over the course of a year in a low-volume location such as mine.

Third, it was a challenge to find quality supervisors who were interested in seasonal employment. The new store was to be temporary, with only a slight chance of remaining open beyond the holiday season.

Fourth, information was scarce. Because the decision to open seasonal stores on a grand scale had been made only a few weeks before the September 2 announcement, training materials, staffing guides and new-hire paperwork had yet to be created.

I concentrated first on finding supervisors, using traditional tools such as referrals and my applicant pool. Several rounds of small-group interviews were held, with two favorable candidates selected by September 15. Starting a few days after the initial announcement, part-time candidates were also brought in for group interviews. By the September 19 hiring deadline, however, only seven part-time workers had been found, and the requirement had been raised to 14.

I had exhausted my applicant pool, handed out fliers, created a posting on the website of the outlet center where the pop-up store would be located, posted signs throughout my store, and requested referrals from my staff. Out of desperation, I made use of a tool that has become increasingly important to today’s HR manager: online social networking.

After a round of unproductive phone calls to applicants to another store in my district, I posted a status update to my account on Facebook: “Very motivated to hire workers for our new store in the outlet center! Write me for information.” To my surprise, responses began to pour in. Although I have several hundred “friends” through Facebook, I did not expect the dozens of inquiries I received as a result of this and subsequent posts. Friends, sisters and brothers of friends, children and parents of friends, friends of friends—all interested in employment, and all as a result of free postings on the Web.

Within a matter of two days, I had interviewed 10 more applicants and hired seven of them, almost exclusively through Facebook. By opening day, the store was fully staffed and stocked, and it went on to be among the top five most profitable Toys R Us Holiday Express stores nationwide, remaining open indefinitely.

The HR profession in general is waking up to the possibilities of Facebook and other social networking tools. A recent study in the Journal of Managerial Psychology shows that online social networking profiles can be extremely indicative of intelligence and academic performance of a job candidate, as well as their personality traits. Additionally, a survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com this year found that 45 percent of HR professionals make use of social networking sites to screen candidates, up from 22 percent last year. Of those that use the sites, 35 percent have found cause to reject a candidate.

Although I have yet to make use of the Web for screening applicants—in fact, most social networking sites are blocked on my company’s computers—Facebook proved to be an unexpected aid in staffing my pop-up store in a hurry. HR, however, has yet to tap the hiring potential of these free sites. Many companies have Facebook pages, but these are rarely used for hiring purposes. Facebook offers pay-per-click advertising packages to users, including targeted ads, and corporate accounts on the site have the capability to either collect application data or direct interested candidates to another site. But paid sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com continue to dominate the field.

When quick turnaround is required in hiring, move briskly and make use of every resource available. Leave no stone unturned, and look for new ways to recruit, such as social networking sites. Be cognizant of company policies, however, and avoid use of the company’s name and image that could be deemed inappropriate. I was careful to avoid using my company’s name in online posts, as policy restricts such use.

Above all, remain organized. Extra hours are a given; an assistant is a plus. Thankfully, I had help as I staffed the pop-up. Although I do not normally have an assistant, and complete all my hiring and training independently, having someone there to answer phones, make calls and organize materials proved invaluable. The time spent training this colleague—normally a supervisor in another department—was well spent. If possible, finish processing all necessary paperwork before leaving for the day. Immediately following the pop-up hiring process, our traditional stores entered into our regular seasonal hiring program, and some HR managers found it challenging to process paperwork for both their pop-up stores and their own stores at the same time.

As the pop-up concept gains momentum in retail—and social networking becomes a norm in hiring—the HR professional must remain open to change.

Workforce Management Online, September 2010 -- Register Now!

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