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Human Resources

Footing the Wellness Bill

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Abbadabba’s sells comfort and active footwear brands like Vibram Five Fingers, Merrell and New Balance from its five stores in the metro Atlanta area. Since opening its first store in 1981, the privately held company has focused on offering footwear that helps people enhance their overall health, activities and passions. It has won numerous awards for its selection and customer service, including being named “Best Sneaker Store in Atlanta” in a local alternative weekly’s “2012 Best of Atlanta Survey.”

Employee training is one key to its success. “Our salespeople generally spend their first week off the sales floor, [gaining] product knowledge through online training modules, trying on products and working with managers before they start selling to the customer,” says CFO Kristin Smith. “At this point we are investing [in] their education of the company and the products while they are not yet bringing in revenues to the company.”

While longer-term employees bring greater “costs” in terms of benefits like paid vacation and employer contributions toward medical insurance, Smith says, “They also bring greater revenue to Abbadabba’s via loyal/return customer base.”

Training and education goes hand-in-hand with other company benefits. Abbadabba’s provides generous health insurance packages to employees, covering two-thirds of employees’ premiums for low-cost, group medical insurance, which is available to full-time team members after a 90-day waiting period. Dental and vision insurance are available to full- or part-time employees, as are flu shot reimbursements.

Get out and sweat
With some 40 workers on its payroll, including corporate officers and managers and full- and part-time store and distribution center employees, Abbadabba’s is a lean organization. And a loyal one, as well — 73 percent of its total workforce has been with the company for more than one year, and 61 percent of its hourly workforce has been with the company for more than one year.

In 2012, the company began to offer wellness benefits.

“We sell products that enable people to live a more active life, and wanted to provide benefits to our employees that back up this passion,” Smith says. “These unique benefits show employees how much we value their efforts and create a way to attract a better, healthier, happier and more loyal workforce.”

These aren’t the only benefits employers see from wellness programs. An article last fall in The Wall Street Journal noted that the programs not only help reduce absenteeism but also “presenteeism” (when employees are at work but not maximally productive), habits that collectively cost U.S. employers some $36 billion annually in lost productivity.

Abbadabba’s “Get Out And Sweat” benefit reimburses 50 percent of the cost for entry fees for races like 5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons and marathons/half-marathons. If an employee recruits another non-employee to race with him as part of an Abbadabba’s team, his entry fee is 100-percent reimbursed.

Health club membership reimbursements are also one of the company’s most popular wellness benefits. Abbadabba’s covers 100 percent of the cost of health club/gym memberships (or similar fitness classes) for all salaried employees up to $35 monthly, garnering a 43 percent participation rate. The retailer covers 50 percent of fitness membership fees up to $20 per month for full-time hourly employees, with approximately 10 percent participation.

To date, 10 percent of employees are participating in races through the Get Out and Sweat benefit, and a team of employees and customers are scheduled to run in a local race this month.

Gaining the competitive edge
“It’s great that Abbadabba’s now offers us these wellness benefits,” says Christine Porter, director of store operations/buyer, who uses the offerings to fund her gym membership and pay for fees associated with the Atlanta Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon and the Chicago Half Marathon. “Since the beginning of the year I have lost a significant amount of weight, have more energy and am not as stressed.

“I needed a new challenge in my life that I fully could control from start to finish and [through which] I got the self-accomplishment and the glory,” she says. Being in a team environment every day is great, “but once in a while I need the spotlight put on me and losing weight. Running half marathons was my solution.”

Porter’s new fitness regime includes working out five to six times a week, and she says her adherence to a new lifestyle is a keeper. “I have stuck to my commitment because I truly wanted it and I’ve treated it like my second job.”

Many retailers continue to wrestle with retention, and employers of all stripes are cutting back on benefits to reduce costs. In this context, Abbadabba’s commitment to going the distance with its new program is counter trend.

Smith’s take on the program’s ROI? “These unique benefits are making a big difference to Abbadabba’s bottom-line,” she says. “Our high retention levels allow us to invest in in-depth training of sales staff about products, creating a competitive edge over other footwear retailers that can’t offer the same level of knowledge or service.”

Now that’s walking the talk.