HR team engineers return to profit for fashion retailer

The HR team at fashion retailer Arcadia has helped the company transform its
performance over the past two years.

In 2000, Arcadia’s 13 brands had been struggling severely, suffering from
poor sales and heavy debts. However, a change in company structuring, with
significant input from personnel director Kim Morton and her department, has
engineered an impressive turnaround.

In the first half of this year the company generated a like-for-like sales
growth of 9.4 per cent – one of the best performances among clothing retailers.

Morton told Personnel Today the HR department had been heavily involved in
the restructure, in which the company’s 13 brands consolidated into three
business units.

Each business unit: young fashion, mainstream and speciality, has its own HR
department to help keep it market focused, but the group also has group-wide
shared services.

"Each business unit has its own personnel team, but we still have a
central HR function to deal with the whole group," said Morton. "We
also looked at the culture of the company and did lots of work on the employer
brand. We’re now in a unique position where staff can have the feel of a small
employer with an individual culture and have the security and benefits of
working at a large group."

Morton said separate HR teams were formed for each business unit to help
bring the brands closer to the customer. Talent managers were appointed for
example, to ensure the right staff were recruited for a particular brand such
as Top Shop.

At that group, the HR team uses innovative new techniques to improve the
employer brand and help make it an employer of choice by going out into the
community and putting on fashion shows for schools, or doing special

"The HR team in Top Shop did some great communications work getting out
the message of a hip young brand. We freed them up to do it as they wanted and
it was certainly radical, but got us out of the normal mode of corporate
thinking," she said.

Morton overhauled training and development, introducing a competency
programme that trains and promotes staff through three grades and then on into

"We also take on more than 100 graduates each year to fast-track them
into store and eventually area management within five years," she added.

As part of its HR strategy, Arcadia has launched a flexible benefits scheme
for all 26,000 staff. ‘Unique’ allows staff more choice over their benefits and
includes provisions for company cars and pensions. Staff can also benefit from
a package of exclusive offers on lifestyle items sourced through the firm’s
suppliers, such as mobile phones, discounted gym membership and cheap holidays.

Morton said: "I want people to feel really good about working for the
company. It is very tough to recruit the best people now and you have to build
a top employer brand to do it."

She believes that two key themes currently emerging in HR are corporate
social responsibility (CSR) and work-life balance, both of which she is trying
to develop at Arcadia.

"We’re working on a flexible working plan which will be available to
everybody," she said.

"It is easier for us than lots of other businesses, because the opening
hours of our stores enables us to be flexible about people’s hours."

Morton is cultivating a new approach to CSR by developing links to national
charities and getting staff involved in things such as volunteering and
assisting local schools. The group recently held its first community challenge,
when head office staff helped clean up a children’s playground.

"Each brand will be linked to its own national charity and we’re
introducing a volunteering scheme where staff can take time off work for
worthwhile activities," she said.

By Ross Wigham


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