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The Right Fit


Apparel retailers know success hinges on finding the right fit for their core customer — and that “fit” encompasses all aspects of the shopping experience from merchandise selection to customer service. The challenge is even greater for Casual Male Retail Group (CMRG), the nation’s largest retailer of big and tall men’s apparel and accessories.

“We need store associates who engage guests,” explained Dennis Hernreich, COO and CFO, Casual Male Retail Group, Canton, Mass., which operates 456 stores under several banners. “Our customer satisfaction index is in the 90th [percentile] when an associate interacts with a guest, but drops to the 70th [percentile] if there is no interaction.”

The epiphany that guests equate proactive interaction to positive service prompted the chain to redefine the in-store experience and what constitutes a “right fit” in terms of the professionals recruited to manage its stores.

When recruiting managers to create a customer-engagement culture, a candidate’s personality and behavior are bigger factors than prior retail experience. Casual Male partnered with Headway Workforce Solutions of Raleigh, N.C., to develop a centralized recruitment program integrating assertive sourcing with technology-based screening. Through online and live behavioral assessments, candidates who exhibit the defined characteristics of a “best-fit” assistant manager, store manager and district manager are identified.

Following the February 2010 implementation of the recruitment program, the company experienced a marked improvement in its hiring process that has translated to numerous benefits for the business.

“We’ve made great strides transitioning our stores to a customer-engagement model where guests receive better service because Headway has brought a wider selection of qualified candidates who are consistently capable of executing our culture,” Hernreich said.

While the chain anticipated improved recruitment processes, the most dramatic benefits were a pleasant surprise.

“The most significant improvement is that district managers (DMs) have more time to train and mentor store teams,” reported Walter Sprague, senior VP human resources at Casual Male. “DMs still interview every candidate who might hold a key to a store, but they don’t have to review thousands of applicants. Headway narrows the pool to a handful of candidates who are the best fit.”

Outsourcing the initial screening streamlined the interview process and freed DMs to focus on creating a customer-engagement culture that effectively improved overall productivity and performance in stores.

“All of the key metrics we use to gauge store performance have increased,” said Brian Reaves, Casual Male’s senior VP store operations, “including year-over-year improvements in dollars per transaction, sales per hour and number of units per transaction.”

Adopting the customer-engagement culture precipitated a hiring frenzy and, in the first 18 months, Headway screened 50,000 applicants, from which the chain hired 735 employees. To fully appreciate the time savings, consider how many hours district managers would have invested to assess the 50,000 candidates screened by Headway. In addition to store managers and assistant managers, 14 of the company’s 30 DMs were recruited through the new system, which Casual Male also utilizes for corporate positions, call center workers and seasonal help.

“We’ve certainly seen better-quality candidates since we began using this recruitment process, and the caliber of seasonal candidates is just as strong as for full-time management positions,” Reaves added.

Connie Robbins Gentry is a regular contributor to Chain Store Age.

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