How Warehouse Stationery came back from the brink

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When organisations find themselves in rough waters, it becomes easy to abandon ship and watch the vessel sink – but one iconic Kiwi company has proved that hard work and a dedicated senior leadership team can bring a business back on course.

“About 2007, almost 10 years ago now, Warehouse Stationery was in a really bad way within the group,” admits Jan Jones, general manager of people support.

“It was at that stage where it was making less money each year, sales were going down, staff retention was pretty horrid – it was not a very nice place to be.”

Now, with a multitude of respected accolades under its belt – including most improved workplace, retail employer of the year, and multiple awards for best workplace – it’s fair to say the company is back on track.

Jones said the major turnaround all started when the company finally faced the hard truth.
“At that point, a new CEO came in which ended up being Mark Powell,” said Jones – Powell later went on to become group CEO, overseeing the entire Warehouse operation.

“He basically said; ‘It’s not a good environment and we need to find the truth, we need to find out what’s wrong. Why are our customers leaving us, why are our new starters leaving us, why isn’t it a place that people want to come and work?’

“Although they are challenging questions to ask, we had to put a mirror to the problem and hear the ugly truth,” says Jones.

Warehouse Stationery then initiated a comprehensive employee engagement survey – the results of which they knew wouldn’t be easy reading.

“We got very clear messaging from the team – they gave us all we were looking for and then some – so we sat down and we asked; ‘What are were going to do with this?’” says Jones.
Bravely, senior leadership decided to set an ambitious goal – to become one of the top 10 places to work within five years.

“Lots of people probably thought we were crazy but we thought if we didn’t have something to aim for, it would be pretty easy to do small things and make little changes,” explains Jones.

According to Jones, the main messages coming through the survey was that the team wanted to have a clear view of what the business was about, what they were there to achieve and what they should aspire to.

The first step, says Jones, was to establish some guiding principles.

“We established a statement of everything we do shall be customer-led, store-focused and people-centred,” she says – a sentiment which lives on today.

“Looking at it now, you go; ‘Well that’s so obvious and it’s not rocket science,’ but fundamentally that was the start point of turning the business around because that then allowed us to generate some business principles,” stresses Jones.

“That then let us start to put some frameworks in place that gave people that clarity that they were looking for,” she continues, referring to Warehouse Stationery’s way of working – known internally as WOW.

The initiatives were so successful that they were eventually adopted by the entire Warehouse group and any new acquisitions also utilise the same frameworks.

Part of its success, stresses Jones, was down to continuously involving the entire team, turning to them for input and making them an integral part of the development process.

“They were very prevalent in that and remain so,” says Jones. “We have a tour, a team-member of the month and for the year and in stores and in support office staff and we talk to each one individually about what they mean in the business.”


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