Efficiency studies: making every minute count

When Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase ‘time is money’, he was only half right. Time is also opportunity. If you’re a brand looking at improving your productivity, it can mean more chances to innovate, serve your customers and boost your performance. We carry out efficiency studies that help clients turn time wasted into minutes well-used or money saved.

Whether you’re a department store or a hotel chain, serving customers matters; more customer time means more chances to boost your profits. Sure, there are back-of house tasks or essential processes that indirectly support sales, but typically, you don’t want them to eat up any more minutes than is strictly necessary. As for seconds spent on things that don’t add any value, that’s time – and money – down the drain.

So, what’s the reality for your business? Do you have a clear picture of how your team split their time? And perhaps most importantly – how would you use that information?

Knowing you spend 10% of your total time on replenishing stock, for example, isn’t particularly useful on its own. Maybe that’s a standard percentage in your industry. Maybe it’s not, and you should try to cut it down, but you need to know where and how to focus your efforts, and what the pay-off might be.

Our efficiency studies aren’t just data-finding missions, they’re diagnostic tools. And they can make a big difference, often identifying thousands of hours for our clients to trim off their processes or activities that don’t add value. They use those savings to tighten up their salary budgets, or reinvest them to increase customer time.

How our studies work

Initially, it’s all about data collection and making critical observations.

Our workstudy analysts spend up to five days in your stores. They repeat laps every five minutes, noting how and where your colleagues are spending their time and allocating it to one of three categories: directly supporting customers, carrying out essential tasks, or not adding any value. They also record how many colleagues and customers are in a particular place at any one time. And they use their expertise to spot opportunities to drive sales and claw back valuable minutes – by cutting out time wasted and streamlining processes.

Next, we analyse the in-depth data our team have collected. Because we’ve come from the client side, having spent years in retail and workforce management, we know just how important it is to have context and practical next steps.

Using our database of benchmarks, you’ll see how you rank against competitors in your industry, not just in terms of the proportion of time you’re spending in each of the three categories, but also time spent on types of processes, like admin and cash handling.

We turn our analysts’ records of your colleague and customer numbers into a usable map of footfall with peaks and flows, so you can better align staff rotas. And a list of observations and areas for improvement becomes a road map of solutions. From introducing new technologies and equipment to switching to a more efficient layout, we’ll divide it into quick wins and longer-term goals, all quantified with predictions of the hours you can potentially save, so you can see which changes will have the biggest pay-off.

Answering challenges

Sometimes, it’s as simple as needing a fresh pair of eyes to scrutinise your business. When you’re close to the action, it’s difficult to see opportunities for improvement or question things that ‘have always been done that way’. An efficiency study can hold issues up to the light, providing supporting evidence, introducing a different approach and helping you pinpoint the next goal in your strategy.

Checking for outdated processes

When B&M called us in, they were on their way to becoming one of the UK’s fastest-growing variety retailers, but some of their processes hadn’t kept up. We showed them that a disproportionate chunk of time was spent refilling shelves; they were using customer trolleys to move items from the stock room, and although it was a method that hadn’t posed too much of a problem in the past, it was starting to cost them in terms of colleague hours as stores became busier.

Along with other tweaks to manual systems they’d begun to outgrow, we recommended introducing new, more efficient stocking equipment plus options for pricing and ticketing technology, and showed them just how many hours it could save them.

Dealing with downtime

Quiet periods at tills and counters can be hard to avoid, and they can have a significant impact on your overall efficiency.

Screwfix, for example, have separate till areas for trade and retail customers, looked after by colleagues trained to serve one or the other. Our analysts noted that, at times, the trade sections were busy while retail was empty and vice versa, but because of their division of skillsets, colleagues weren’t able to switch over and help out.

Screwfix HQ were surprised by the amount of downtime it caused, and although there’s no quick fix – our recommendations were to either multiskill colleagues or introduce more digital kiosks – the quantifiable data we’ve given them will help inform decisions around their long-term strategy.

Travelodge also had an issue with quiet periods. They wanted to investigate whether there was a way to reduce downtime on reception, when no customers were waiting. We discovered that teams in different locations had developed their own methods for filling that time, from finding small jobs they could complete in situ to spending short periods away from the front desk. Our data gave HQ the information they needed to trial different approaches and inform their customer strategy.

Maximising chances to sell high-price items

Convertible prams. Car seats. Furniture. All big-ticket items that sell better when you’ve got colleagues engaging with customers and guiding them through their purchases. Our efficiency studies for both Mothercare and B&M revealed there weren’t always enough of their people out on the shop floor to drive high-value sales.

In Mothercare’s case, it was a sign that staff were too thinly spread, and an even greater incentive to drive out inefficiency and release more time to customers. For B&M, it was a reminder to move with the times – they’d only recently started selling larger, high-priced items and hadn’t yet adapted their selling techniques. Their only service point was at the tills, and in some stores, the floors that displayed furniture were unmanned at peak times.

Getting to the bottom of suspected issues

Do your teams feed back that too much time is spent on admin, or on staff meetings that keep colleagues away from customers? They’re common complaints, but the reasons behind them aren’t always clear. An efficiency study can help unpick issues – and give you the evidence you need to prioritise tackling them.

As part of a study for a major department store, we found that admin tasks were blocking managers from spending time on the shop floor, and recognised that introducing tablets and technology could prevent them from being tied to the back office. We also uncovered data that indicated more time spent on sales meetings and updates didn’t necessarily translate to better store performance.

At Costa Coffee, we showed that more consistent use of mobiles and iPads could offer a slicker method of keeping colleagues up to date on new offers. While at Vodafone, our insights helped them take a new approach to staff planning, reducing back-office time by around 12.5%.

Recognising the impact of travelling empty-handed

Plumbing supply company Primaflow originally brought us to their warehouse to investigate variations in efficiency between night and day shifts. As well as uncovering differences and making recommendations around staff planning – ensuring people with the right skills were working at the right time of day – we made an important observation that affected all shifts.

The layout of the warehouse wasn’t as efficient as it could be, so forklift trucks used for picking products were empty for long periods of time as they travelled between aisles. Just as walking long distances from a shelf to a refilling trolley wastes precious time in a store setting, it meant a crucial process was costing Primaflow many more minutes than it needed to. We recommended adjusting the layout – a long-term undertaking – or trialling faster, more nimble trucks, and gave them the data they need to predict their return on investment.

Saving time and money

Efficiency improvements can directly benefit your budget. In eight years, we’ve helped 39 brands make £99m+ of savings. Recently, we identified £14m worth of savings for a single retailer, mostly through tightening up their processes, reducing non-effective time and updating technology and equipment.

And, because time is opportunity as well as money, it’s also worth looking at outcomes in terms of hours saved each year – over 450,000 at Mothercare. Think of the opportunities your team could be taking with all that extra time.

What Our Clients Say

“ReThink were professional and a delight to work with, open to conversation and challenge whilst also supporting us to think differently. We really valued the realistic view they had of retail and its challenges.”

Karen Godbeer, Head of Retail, Mothercare