Supplying the Nation: maintaining the availability of household essentials

grocery staffing
supermarket staffing

Company Overview

One of the UK’s largest and oldest supermarkets, this award-winning grocery retailer operates from over 300 stores across the UK, including local convenience stores. It also offers an established home delivery service, with online ordering.

Committed to environmental sustainability from field to fork, this retailer embraces the team approach, with an ‘all or nothing’ attitude to customer service, aimed at sharing their knowledge and passion for food with customers, with emphasis on personal service.

“I was used to managing peak demands but doing so at such short notice was a new challenge. I’m so happy that the Blue Arrow, Guidant Global and wider Impellam infrastructure pulled together so well in a time of crisis in support of this exceptional retail brand.”

Jan Lacy, Account Manager, Blue Arrow

The Challenge

Contracted to sister company Guidant Global, Blue Arrow has been a supplier of replenishment staff to the supermarket chain for the last seven years, providing holiday and seasonal cover as required. Demand is highly seasonal, peaking at a total of 200 plus employees per week across all stores during the Christmas season (November-December), with short spikes at Easter and during the summer, where the total requirement is typically 20-30 workers per week. Ordinarily, temp requirements are minimal with weekly demand in the single digits.

The sudden onset of the COVID-19 lockdown saw shelves emptied rapidly with panic-buying of essential items such as toilet paper, pasta and flour. Within less than two weeks, temp demand rose from 10 workers to 585 per week. In addition to store replenishers, Blue Arrow dramatically increased their supply of temporary night shift picking and packing staff to meet a significant increase in demand for home deliveries.

Whilst dealing with peak demand levels is par for the course for Blue Arrow, the key challenge on this occasion was the speed of response required. Blue Arrow was requested by Guidant Global to ramp up activity virtually overnight, compared to the typical 8-week lead-up to peak period fulfilment.

supermarket staffing
supermarket staffing

The Journey

Guidant Global is a trusted MSP/RPO recruitment partner to some of the UK’s leading companies. As a specialist recruitment supplier in retail and a sister company within the Impellam Group company, Blue Arrow is one of the company’s largest providers.

Its position as a prime supplier has been earned through proven results in supplying high quality staff to meet demand. Twelve months prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Blue Arrow’s Account Manager committed to and achieved 80% target fulfilment across all relevant roles up to and during the Christmas peak period.

Guidant Global’s resultant confidence in Blue Arrow’s approach as a prime supplier of Stock Replenishers secured agreement for Blue Arrow to forego candidate referencing for new placements during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had previously been a barrier to fast placement.

In addition, up to 60% of the workers placed were returning workers from the recent Christmas peak, available trained and ready to hit the ground running.

Through Blue Arrow’s sister companies, the company also had access to an expanding pool of available and engaged workers in sectors impacted by COVID-19 such as Hospitality, Construction and Aviation.

All these factors meant that Blue Arrow was able to place temporary workers within hours rather than days and to sustain workforce supply to meet the urgent requirements of the pandemic throughout the grocery stores nationwide.

The Solution

Blue Arrow’s Key Account Manager worked with as many as 56 Blue Arrow branch offices in meeting the client’s demand for extraordinary staffing resources to understand the capabilities and capacities of each for meeting live vacancies and to reallocate resources as required.

The company’s proprietary Vendor Management System (VMS) was a critical element in delivering the solution, providing real-time management information on open vacancies, shift fulfilment and highlighting potential gaps in service delivery.

Accessible online by both client and supplier, the VMS system allowed the client to place a request directly on Blue Arrow via an iPad link. On completion, hiring managers received live reporting in real-time on shift fulfilment. Online checking-in of staff enabled timesheets to be processed swiftly using the system’s batch handling capabilities. The VMS system also assisted with checking workers’ shift assignments so that any gaps in rotas could be addressed quickly.

supermarket staffing

The results

Vacancies increased exponentially during March, doubling then quadrupling over the first three weeks. In the fourth week, Blue Arrow placed 585 temporary workers into 1614 shifts, supplying 80% of Guidant Global’s total requirement, rising to 89% by the end of the month. Shifts multiplied one hundred-fold, with the norm being 20 per week for this time of year, even exceeding the highest ever Christmas peak shift patterns.

Before the COVID-19 ramp-up effect, Blue Arrow was supplying 6 stores. Just two weeks later, it was supplying staff to 144 stores. Weekly placements quadrupled during the first three weeks of lockdown.

Blue Arrow’s VMS system helped simplify the admin process around sourcing staff from multiple suppliers. Automation of timesheets meant that human error was reduced and pay queries all but eliminated. Prior to the introduction of the system, pay issues were a major concern, with over 32 million in unpaid supplier charges accruing at one point.

“Blue Arrow have earned their position as the preferred recruitment partner. I don’t think they could have handled the COVID-19 situation any better and I’m so impressed with their ability to actually improve performance during what was a highly stressful and unpredictable time.”

Nick Vincent, Client Service Manager, Guidant Global

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