Everybody Works Holidays at Best Buy

Discussion
Nov 16, 2006

By George Anderson


Best Buy has found a way to make sure it has experienced and knowledgeable temporary help for the holiday selling season. It is taking employees out of headquarters and moving them into stores.


Everyone from CEO Brad Anderson to folks working in the accounting department will be out in stores wearing the company’s blue shirts. They will pull four-hour shifts during the season to help regular workers stock shelves, wait on customers and take care of other tasks.


Headquarters’ people, known as corporate support volunteers, are currently being trained for what will face them come Black Friday and into the weeks leading up to Christmas.


The company launched this program not only to support stores but to make sure everyone within the organization stayed in touch with the chain’s customers.


“We need to make sure that the (corporate) people who are not in the stores as often have a connection with customers,’ spokesperson Dawn Bryant told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.


Best Buy expects to hire up to 25,000 temporary employees for the holidays.


Discussion Questions: What do you think of Best Buy’s corporate support volunteers program? How effective do you think it will be in helping them better
understand not only consumers, but the experience of workers in the company’s stores?

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27 Comments on "Everybody Works Holidays at Best Buy"


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Kenneth A. Grady
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Kenneth A. Grady
15 years 6 months ago

Best Buy’s program, while far from new, is a helpful one. Many retail companies (including one where I worked) have had similar programs for many years. They are a great opportunity for those at the headquarters who are without significant field experience to learn the challenges of the store staff, especially during the busier periods. I’m sure they will also find many areas for improvement. Even getting the Directors into the stores during this period can be quite helpful.

Mitch Kristofferson
Guest
Mitch Kristofferson
15 years 6 months ago

I agree with the many comments above. It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentals of a business as companies grow. Understanding the customer, knowing how products are actually being merchandised, and service is actually being delivered in the stores, etc. are all key fundamentals of retail.

Interesting ideas and perspectives often come from overseas. We also work with a multi-billion dollar electronics retailer in Japan whose flagship store carries over 500,000 SKUs but who’s corporate headquarters, for sakes of a term, sits above a barber shop on the second floor of a small downtown building. Philosophy: staff and other resources should be in the stores.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I think Kai has taken this too literally. The CEO and other executives will most likely only spend just a few minutes doing photo ops and not really do any real work. They will just go through the motions just long enough to be seen. The middle management will most likely be doing the real work.

I remember being an order selector in a distribution center during a labor dispute. All the men from HQ were suppose to take over for the striking workers. The top level executives basically just walked around telling us how good a job we were doing. There was no way they were going to get their expensive casual clothes dirty.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
I disagree with most of my colleagues on this. I am confidant that if you were to ask a major shareholder if they want their multi-million dollar upper management team, including their president, working at store level for a period of time during the holidays, instead of managing their corporate responsibilities, they would all say that this is ridiculous. You hire a CEO like Brad Anderson to strategically manage the direction of the corporation, not to “help out” during the holidays. Best Buy’s resources are better spent hiring, training and properly motivating their store staff to support their customer’s needs, rather than paying Brad Anderson to do this. Brad’s expertise is running a multi-billion dollar organization and better defining their focus and needs, not running a cash register. Instead, it is better to take the monies spent to hire, train and develop personnel who will become experts at store level. There are other issues here which need to be addressed rather than having the executive team working at store level.
Doug Fleener
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I’ve done this with other organizations quite successfully. The one problem we had though was that MOST of the employees did a good job, but a few saw it as a time to go shopping, hang out and talk, etc. We fixed that by requiring the store to report back on how well the support team member contributed. While it could have been seen as an “us against them” move, once we put it place the number of support members not doing what was expected of them went down to near zero. We also asked that the support staff department managers review at their weekly staff meetings what the support team learned during their time in the store The result is we were not only able to support the stores with extra staff but able to use at as a basis for learning internally.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
15 years 6 months ago

I am impressed with the (almost) overwhelming support for this tactic. Best Buy is giving a clear message that its management has it’s priorities straight and this message is to both store employees and customers.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
15 years 6 months ago
This is a very good idea and I make the assumption, based on their other behaviors, that Best Buy is doing this to really try to help store staff and to help HQ understand store challenges. I believe it is difficult for a salesperson on the floor to understand their customers more than superficially. Customers may tell you what they like and don’t like, and you may observe how they react to different information and products, but this is not a lot of the information that you can potentially know about your customers. Also, I believe it is difficult for someone from HQ spending a few weeks in a store to know what it is really like to be in the store day-in and day-out, month after month. We have observed that in many cases, store staff in these situations will put on a good face for the visiting HQ staff, and will not include HQ visitors in the discussions that really matter. What is Best Buy really after here? Helping to alleviate the holiday… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Sounds good to me so long as Best Buy pays the HQ people a bonus for doing so. Keep in mind the HQ people still need to get their regular work done. This is similar to working during a labor dispute. I’ve worked during a couple of labor strikes and really enjoyed learning and doing something else.

In fact, I have a gut feeling the HQ people will probably do a much better job that the regular store employees.

rich shaffer
Guest
rich shaffer
15 years 6 months ago

Best Buy made a very smart decision. Not only will the consumers ‘feel’ the difference, but the PR from their decision will reap them many intangible benefits down the road. If I’m in the investment business, I will want in my stock portfolio companies that go the extra mile and have good, smart management. I’ll probably look seriously to purchasing some of their stock.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Maintaining in-the-store contact with customers is an imperative that chain headquarters should pursue on a year-round basis. If I ran the world (or a retail chain), I’d require every HQ executive and staffer to spend one week per year working as a store associate – and I would spread those assignments throughout the chain (by lottery perhaps) to ensure that the experiences are not skewed by season, geography, age of the store, or other variables.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 6 months ago

Brad Anderson and Best Buy know that retailing is really just one customer-centrist world, not headquarters as the “store” and bunch of outlets. This is the same enlightenment that helped Sam Walton build the great Wal-Mart enterprise.

Nothing knits customers to a retailer like clear insight into its customers, which is enhanced by sincere personal contact. It’s rather surprising that every retailer doesn’t do what Best Buy is doing.

Pete Hisey
Guest
Pete Hisey
15 years 6 months ago

The first interview I did with Jim Sinegal was conducted while he packed groceries at a Costco in Clearwater, Fla. Best Buy used to have a program in which every headquarters employee had to spend at least one day in the stores. There’s no better way of making sure your stores are operating the way they should than to actually experience the day-to-day operations at one.

Brad Anderson started out as an assistant manager at a Best Buy store, btw.

Lilliane LeBel
Guest
Lilliane LeBel
15 years 6 months ago

Having been in a Best Buy store half a dozen times or so, I have found it:

a) difficult to find a sales person,

b) impossible to find a sales person who knew anything about the product I was interested in, and

c) never found the product I wanted in stock.

It should be extremely valuable to have corporate folks spend time in the real world and hear the frustrations of real customers. I just hope that they’re able to have a few corporate people in every store and not make assumptions from just a handful of “chosen” locations.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 6 months ago
I think this is a great idea and more retailers should do it. It also pays to get some of the people who have no knowledge of the business out on the floor, although you have to be careful they don’t create more work than they address. I am a classic example. Pulled from the office to help during a strike situation, I proudly walked into the store and announced my previous six years of store experience. I had just returned to work after a knee operation. They put me to work in the Dairy Department, filling the milk case. Anyone who has ever worked in dairy knows that the dairy carts were an accident waiting to happen, with their rear wheels too far from the end. When you had a large stack of crates at the very end the carts tended to tip over. I didn’t remember the issue with the carts until it started to go over. I thought of diving for it for a second, but then thought I wasn’t going to… Read more »
Matt Werhner
Guest
Matt Werhner
15 years 6 months ago

It’s an interesting concept from the point of showing the employees that the HQ personnel are “in the trenches” with them. I also agree that it gives HQ personnel real first hand experiences that they will undoubtedly carry with them throughout the next year. It also provides opportunities to interact with sales employees that can offer direct customer insights.

Let’s also be realistic about how much help HQ will actually be at the store level. Learning the layout of particular stores aisle by aisle is time consuming in itself, not to mention learning the nuances of the electronics and other products they sell. All HQ personnel that have never worked store level in December are in for a BIG SURPRISE. My advice: get ready to have your world rocked.

I think it is extremely important for Best Buy HQ to absorb as many of the experiences as possible. Executives in general need to spend at least a little time each week observing their own company’s stores and the stores of their competitors.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

I appreciate Paula’a dose of “healthy realism” here, but I think there is an important advantage to sending the HQ troops to the stores beyond understanding the shopping experience. It is also extremely important for them to understand the store employee experience, because, as others have pointed out above, a BBY shopping experience is what the store personnel make it. HQ folks often do not understand why stores can’t execute everything the way HQ envisioned it. You have to design initiatives and processes that fit the way the stores work if you want them to get implemented.

One of the most valuable experiences I had at Frito Lay was running a route for a week. You learn what the route salespersons tasks, motivations and frustrations are. That was invaluable in understanding how that all-important link in our distribution chain would react to a given stimulus.

Karen McNeely
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
Paula’s comments really surprise me. As one who has come out of the proverbial ivory tower and worked in the trenches I always find I learn a lot from the experience. I sometimes learn why my directives are difficult to carry out or could use some clarity. I often learn why what I thought was a great item, the customer isn’t so hot on or why someone is buying up another item that I only bought grudgingly. I also make a difference because the store people only have so much time, and I can focus on making sure my area in that store has the best presentation and someone who knows the merchandise thoroughly and who can also share that information personally with associates in the stores. Although I don’t know the store as well as an associate who works there every day, I make a point upon entering to take a mini tour so I have a basic idea of where the restrooms are and the other departments. As far as the work load… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
Everyone’s enthusiasm here is interesting, but surely you know this is not a new concept. Retailers have been asking home office personnel to work in stores during holiday seasons for as long as I can remember. But let’s get serious. Do you really believe that the corporate employees will be excited and enthused to work in the stores, even as they have to ALSO do their own jobs? Do you think it’s “fun” for headquarters personnel to give up their weekends to stock shelves? I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and the answer is “I didn’t learn much.” You learn more as a customer than you do as an in-store worker. As an in-store worker, you find yourself frustrated because you really don’t know where things are. You frustrate customers because you don’t know the store as well as a “regular” employee. As a customer, you find out what’s really wrong with the store. I think Best Buy would be better served sending their home office executives and workers to a Circuit City or a… Read more »
Joel Rubinson
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s brilliant. The biggest part of it is that you can forget the retail culture by being in a corporate office. Experience what it’s like in the environment; that is the purest form of corporate expression–the store–I love it–what better way to achieve the kind of alignment Michael Porter talks about?

Dick Seesel
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s a fine idea (and one emulated by many other retailers) as long as it’s recognized for what it is: Good symbolism (the corporate associates getting “in the trenches”), and an opportunity for those corporate associates to understand how their job impacts the customer-centered activity in the field.

Nobody should mistake this effort as a way to put meaningful payroll support into the stores for the holiday season, as it largely affects Best Buy locations in the Twin Cities. And any corporate staff needs to keep a close eye on headquarters activity during the holiday season, too…especially when there are last-minute decisions to make about pricing and merchandise allocation.

But if the exercise allows Best Buy to return to its offices with ideas for new “best practices” in its stores, so much the better.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
15 years 6 months ago
Moving the corporate folks into the “trenches” during the holidays is simply good business. Any decision from corporate that could impact the holiday has already been made, from product selection and ordering to marketing and signing, there is little that can be done now to impact sales. It is truly in the hands of the operators to maximize their business using the tools that they have been provided. Getting the corporate team members into the stores and clubs provides not only much needed additional payroll to the beleaguered stores (albeit in most cases it is not significant in total) but more importantly allows store associates the chance to mingle, question, critique and make suggestions to those who otherwise are out of reach. It provides Executives and other corporate personnel the opportunity to see first hand how their purchases, policies and other decisions impact (good or bad) the field. Sam Walton, among others, recognized the importance of this and to this day executives and buyers travel to the stores several times a year to “eat what… Read more »
Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

The one risk Best Buy runs by making HQ folks work the stores is in customer and product interaction. They have to make sure members of the corporate staff are trained to service the customer and sell the products. The last thing they need is Joe from accounting yelling at someone trying to return a product without a receipt.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

The greatest risk every retailer has is headquarters’ isolation from the customer. This has brought down more retailers than any other factor. Moving headquarters staff into the store should be mandated, not voluntary. Every new hire should start in the store for a minimum of 2 weeks. Every buyer should spend 1 day a week talking with customers. All Merchant Princes of the retail industry should spend time in the store talking with customers. Warehouse staff should work in the store and then come up with changes to save money and time. Like with so many things, Best Buy does well; this is just another example of why they are doing better than the competition.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
15 years 6 months ago

Best Buy shows that it cares about its customers and employees by doing the “everybody works holidays.” The employees see the “people in the ivory tower” working side-by-side with them. The customer gets to interact with the execs. And the execs get to see what it is like to be on the salesfloor. Additionally, this can be used to retrain the people who are always on the sales floor. Kudos to Best Buy!

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Hiring 25,000 people for the holidays? How are these people going to be trained, motivated or productive? Customers aren’t happy with temporary, untrained casual labor. The stress of holiday shopping increases when unskilled store staff struggles.

As for the HQ Best Buy people working in the stores during the holidays: maybe they should work in the stores during the non-holiday periods, in rotation, to minimize their disruption. The learning would take place regardless. Unless the HQ people are trained appropriately, working in the stores might not be a plus for the regular staff or the customers or the HQ people.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 6 months ago

This is clearly a win-win for management, employees and consumers. There are lots of learnings here that can be applied chain-wide, if we only listen!

Don’t forget adequate training for corporate staff as any “new” staff can be challenging and frustrating for customers if not adequately trained.

From my experience, programs like this are hard to execute but can be very meaningful. The key is to identify learnings from these store experiences and to have management react to needed changes.

Today, I was in a Borders and, clearly, there was a new or corporate staffer handling my order who was slow and still learning, and I was in a hurry. Now that’s a challenge for sure!

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
15 years 5 months ago

Fun, motivation, empathy, ideas…are a few words that come to mind.

Of course, I’m assuming, like a lot of others, corporate execs don’t do anything other than count their bonuses.

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