How Bon-Ton Stores Onboards 10,000 New Employees Every Holiday Season Without a Glitch

Chris Stewart

VP of Global Client Success, Cornerstone

While consumers are just now getting ready to navigate the crowds on Black Friday and spend hours checking off their holiday shopping lists, hiring managers in the retail industry have been prepping for the holiday season as early as summer.

This year, retail companies will hire nearly 800,000 seasonal workers. As every retailer knows, a strong workforce is essential to holiday success—if you want to please busy crowds of customers, you need the best people (and a lot of them) helping out behind the scenes, on the store floor and at the registers.

But this influx of new hires presents a challenge for employers. With little time and a lot of talent, how do you ensure that seasonal employees are as well versed in your company practices and processes as full-time employees?

We sat down with Denise Domian, senior vice president of HR at national retailer Bon-Ton Stores, to learn how they approach seasonal hiring—and why their holiday hires are just as integrated into company culture as any other employee.

How many people do you hire over the holidays?

During the holidays, we hire between 10,000 and 13,000 seasonal associates. Our regular base of employees is about 24,000, so it is a big increase — almost 50 percent of our full-time staff.

How do you engage potential employees — especially in today's competitive hiring landscape?

It's a big number and I think that every retailer out there is struggling to find seasonal hires. The key is to work through every avenue that you have and tailor it based on the markets that you're in. One size does not fit all.

"The key is to work through every avenue that you have and tailor it based on the markets that you're in. One size does not fit all."

In some smaller communities, the newspaper is still a great avenue for recruiting seasonal workers. In other communities, the newspaper will not work for you at all. We're utilizing social media advertising, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to communicate with potential associates. The other thing that can't be underestimated is the power of actually going out and physically recruiting. We've done a lot more company-wide hiring events.

How many of your seasonal hires become permanent workers?

We retain almost 40 percent of our workforce every holiday season. Many people stay on for what we call "short-hour" — so they might only work five to 10 hours a week. Once they come in, they become immersed in the culture and become familiar with the atmosphere — you know, working in a store is exciting. There's a certain energy level that you don't get working in an office.

What do you think is behind the high retention rate? How do you invest in your seasonal employees to make sure they feel part of that "energy?"

Sometimes retailers try and scale back on the training simply because of the number of people they're trying to hire — they may not see the value of that piece of the training since the person's not going to be there that long, or feel they don't really need to integrate them into the culture. I think that can be a real miss.

We do group onboarding sessions to save time, but we also make sure that every employee is trained on our mission, vision and values, so that they understand what we expect from a customer service standpoint, how we want to collaborate and the caring environment that we want represented within our interactions with each other and our customers.

"That's our mission: Even if you're not going to be here for more than six to 10 weeks, you're still part of our team."

In addition to training, do you have any offboarding or performance evaluations for seasonal workers?

We have an offboarding session where we sit down with them and review how we think they did, and cover any questions or comments they have about their experience. Then, if there is an opportunity for something permanent, we review that with them to see if they might be interested in continuing with us.

One of the things that we've always prided ourselves on is the length of our tenure, which is really unique in a retail industry. The average associate across the company has been with us for at least eight years. When I ask people, "Tell me how you started with the company," it's amazing how many of them tell me that they were seasonal hires and that, at the time, they had no intention of staying long-term.

What advice do you have for other retailers on seasonal hiring?

I think that you really need to consider people not just as a seasonal hire, but as a part of your team. It's important that you have those touch points [like offboarding]. At a minimum, you should have a check-in at the end, but you should be obviously touching base with them and their management staff throughout employment.

"I think that you really need to consider people not just as a seasonal hire, but as a part of your team."

That's our mission: Even if you're not going to be here for more than six to 10 weeks, you're still part of our team.

Photos: Bon-Ton Stores

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