COMPETITION in Fiji’s second-hand clothing business is fast growing, anyone who has taken a walk through our towns and cities can tell you that.
Although data is not available on the quantity of used clothes imported into the country, the number of retail outlets trading as second-hand clothing stores suggests the business is thriving.
So how has one of the oldest second-hand retail chains, Value City, managed to stay ahead in the business?
Managing director Vera Chute has a very direct and simple answer to this question — make your staff part of your mission, and create careers not jobs.
Last week, the company opened its 14th outlet in Tavua, in response to what Ms Chute said was a “demand from residents that we take our services and products there”.
Snapshot of Value City
Value City is a family-owned business founded in Labasa in May 1990 by Alick Patrick Chute and George Doonan. The business is one of the biggest traders in pre-loved clothing and other used goods. Ms Chute says the company imports about 60 tonnes of clothing and related items per month. Other items sold by the company include shoes, bags, books and household goods. The company employs 165 staff members who operate out of the 14 outlets located around the country.
The company credits reward schemes that support the organisation’s goals as having served as incentives for employees to lift their performance and increase productivity.
This renewed spirit helped the business remain competitive and survive the challenges that face the business world.
The reward schemes also encouraged and promoted employee behaviour that were desirable and pertinent to achieving the company’s objectives — and in meeting targets or increasing profits.
“We have an annual awards night where we transport or fly in all our staff,” Ms Chute explained.
“It is in recognition of the staff who worked hard in achieving their targets or exceeding the targets that were set.
“So it was to thank them and it was also an incentive for others to work hard.
“What we have found is that for work on the production floor it has been very effective.
“We used to just tabulate the results and give it to the staff but now we give them graphs because some of our staff are not that well educated and they did not understand the tabulated results.
“The use of graphs has made it easier for them to see where they were in terms of meeting targets.
“When we did this, we saw results within a matter of months, in some cases staff were doubling their productivity levels.
“So I think giving incentives is effective — it raises a bit of friendly competition, while raising profit for the company.”
Evaluation, monitoring and assessment of staff performance has set a benchmark for other employees and the company as well.
It has also served as a measure for the potential of the company when outfitted with employees who come to work with the right attitude and the interests and wellbeing of the company at heart.
“We introduced some awards in categories that people might not think are very important.
“I even have an award for the person who is the most punctual throughout the year.
“I don’t think it is unique to Value City, it is something that is prevalent in most businesses that people come late to work.
“Even when you issue warnings verbally or written, it continues to happen.
“At the same time we also noticed that some staff turned up early every morning without fail.
“They would arrive even before the supervisors got there and without being told, they would come in and start working earlier than others.
“Now, why shouldn’t I reward them for making the effort?”
Notice the ‘unimportant’ things
For Ms Chute, the awards night is in appreciation and recognition of staff members who go out of their way to help the business.
“There was one award the staff were not aware of during our annual awards ceremony.
“While HR was doing its assessment of staff performance, I noticed there were two staff who had not missed a single day of work or taken a sick day.
“They did not even take leave without pay.
“I decided to introduce a new award as a result of this. I made the announcement during the awards ceremony that from that year onwards, we would have the Zero Absent category as part of our annual awards.
“I informed the staff that if they did not miss a single day of work, they would receive all their sick leave in a lump sum, at Value City, we give staff 12 sick leave days a year.
“From the first two who received the award, the following year it increased to six and then to eight.
“So is it effective? Even if one person is improving in a year, I count that as rewarding, being effective because that’s 12 days of down time.
“And I’m not saying giving incentives and awards totally solves the ‘late’ issue or people who continuously come late, but what I can say for sure is that it does improve for most of them.”
Strength in communication
The company’s strategic goals and plans are verbally conveyed to staff through meetings with all branch managers.
However, in instances where a branch has done exceptionally well or broken a sales record, as MD Ms Chute pays the branch a personal visit to thank them and treat them to morning tea.
She also personally visits branches that are under-performing and interviews staff members to find out where the problem lies and identifies ways to fix it.
Supervisors are mandated to hold regular meetings where data is evaluated and individuals and departments are assessed.
“These meetings allow senior staff to gauge factors that were either slowing business down or causing a certain outlet to do well.”
Company benefits from rewards
Value City also has an overseas travel award which is based on performance, attendance, attitude and commitment. Winners are selected according to these criteria.
Because Value City is a regional organisation, staff members have the opportunity to travel to Australia or New Zealand to learn quality control.
“Everyone vies for this award.”
Winners travel for three months and hand pick clothing and items for sale from there.
They continue to receive their normal salary in Fiji while accommodation, transport and meals in Australia are all paid for.
They also get an allowance for being away.
Happy employees more productive
“The returns are even great for the company because workers are trained to select what is suitable for the company.
“Some staff have travelled at least four times on these assignments. There are others who have travelled around the region numerous times.
“And the trips, apart from being educational, has allowed for some of them to return and extend their homes and add appliances they never could afford to their kitchen.
“So it has improved their lives in a tangible way.
“So taking care of your staff and communicating is important. You must not lose touch with your hands, eyes and ears on the ground because they are the ones who represent you.
“I do that, and even my parents who founded the business did that.
“And we continue to learn over the years that if you take care of staff, they will take great care of you and your business.”