Aéropostale is a high flyer among fashionable teens who are not only on the cusp of current style, but also embrace technology. The specialty apparel chain operates nearly 1,000 stores in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada with on-trend, private-label clothing for teens; its reach now extends beyond North America, as Aéropostale licensees currently operate stores in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The company also operates P.S. from Aéropostale, stores aimed at four- to 12-year-olds.
Just as important as the fashions are the store environment and amenities. A new prototype designed by Aéropostale and design consultancy GH+A incorporates timeless New York City icons to attract today’s savvy teen customer. The new concept opened last fall at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., with a number of Big Apple images — think Times Square and Lady Liberty — against a backdrop of authentic materials: exposed brick, wood floors, pressed-tin ceilings, plus salvaged bits of Coney Island.
The new store employs numerous strategically placed chalkboards where associates and customers alike can post community or personal messages, but it is the store’s high-tech status that speaks most directly to tech-savvy teens. Customers can use the store’s iPads to purchase from the mobile-optimized e-commerce site and even scan in-store barcodes to learn more about specific items and read reviews or product recommendations. There’s also an iPad-based build-your-own-outfit guide customers can navigate alone or with help from store associates.
That new prototype design is meant to attract not only customers, but also potential employees — in Aéropostale’s case, store associates from its target teen demographic. Yet those very teens, while terrific brand ambassadors, are often hard to find and schedule, and Aéropostale needs teen workers by the truckload to staff its stores appropriately. Finding a solution to better manage the workforce could also go the distance in reducing costs and raising retention rates while enhancing both employee and customer satisfaction.
“One of Aéropostale’s greatest assets is our culture,” says Stan Hopkins, Aéropostale’s director of store processes. “We embrace our four core values of integrity, respect, teamwork and compassion. Because our store associates are involved with their schools, families and communities, we feel it is important to support a work environment that encourages our employees to achieve their best both at work and in their personal lives.”
That means working around wants, needs and obligations, of which teens have plenty. “We believe building a work environment and corporate culture based on our core values has helped us attract and retain the best talent,” Hopkins says.
Retailers with a contented workforce enjoy a number of benefits, including higher productivity and above average customer satisfaction. “Aéropostale did not become one of the Top 100 Fortune best companies to work for by accident,” says John Orr, senior vice president of retail for Ceridian HCM, the human resources division of Ceridian.
“Mobile access was part of the initial phase, as it represented a great opportunity for Aéropostale to further engage and provide for their associates, which are about 94 percent Millennials,” Orr says. “They knew it was important to provide communication in a flexible manner.”
The retailer began working with Ceridian three years ago as it was transitioning from manual spreadsheets and timesheets to workforce technology that would automate time and attendance functions. In September 2010, Aéropostale began a pilot rollout of Ceridian Dayforce HCM for time and attendance in 150 stores, all of which were operational for that year’s holiday sales season.
The pilot rollout coincided with new store-level, back-office hardware and a network upgrade; its success prompted rollout of Ceridian Dayforce enterprise-wide. It also paved the way for future applications like optimized scheduling and employee self-service.
“With almost 1,000 stores in the U.S., maximizing operational efficiencies continues to be an important initiative,” Hopkins says. When Aéropostale implemented the Dayforce HCM cloud-based mobile application in 2011, it also instituted “a comprehensive training program that took a top-down approach with our field teams, starting with the regional manager and ending with our store associates,” he says, “so everyone had a good understanding of the technology.”
Aéropostale made substantial investments in its processes and technology. To support the key initiative of realizing greater efficiencies across stores, Aéropostale “added hardware to our back offices, and upgraded our networks to support the Windows Silverlight framework, which was essential to our Ceridian Dayforce implementation,” Hopkins says.
Up and running
“There was not a need for a prolonged pilot of mobility,” Orr says. “From the outset, Aéropostale experienced an agile approach and tremendous responsiveness that allowed it to configure and deploy within budget and within time.”
In addition, the Dayforce HCM solution did not require Aéropostale to upgrade its store technology. In fact, Orr says, “Dayforce was the only solution that could fit into their existing infrastructure.”
Dayforce HCM solutions support iOS, Android, Windows 8 Style and any device that can run a web browser. These days it’s tough to find a tech-enabled teen sans smartphone, but store associates without access to a smartphone or tablet can use a web-based Ceridian Dayforce application that can be used while in the store or via any Internet platform.
“We have been able to leverage the rising reliance on mobile technology by enabling our store associates to see their schedules, time sheets and change their availability all from their mobile devices,” Hopkins says. Adoption and usage of Ceridian Dayforce HCM’s mobile application “was well received and has helped our store teams become even more efficient and allowed them to focus an even greater amount of time on the customer experience.”
The Dayforce solution was designed to incorporate traffic curves and provide visibility and efficiency scores for how well the stores are leveraging their payroll spend, Orr says. “Aéropostale saw the return to the business was so great — that Dayforce not only would pay for itself, but would also pay for an IT project that was trying to be funded for years.”
While Orr is not at liberty to divulge Aéropostale’s financial results, he could share characteristics that drove significant value to the retailer. These included enhancing work-life balance, reinforcing a fun employee-centered workplace and communicating leadership and guidance (while making both increasingly visible). Other benefits of the Dayforce solution include reduced average annual labor costs, improved budget distribution and optimization, better associate-to-traffic coverage and increasing service quality.