“In retail, there is GST. Greet, Smile and say Thank you. We must really give customers and our people a reason to smile. That underlines our HR philosophy. We must get our fundamentals for our people right so that our guys can serve our customers well.”
That is the mantra peppered throughout the conversation with Mr Low Cheong Kee, the founder and Managing Director of Home- Fix, Singapore’s premier D-I-Y home solutions retailer.
The company has come a long way since it was established in 1993, after Mr Low took over his family’s traditional hardware store business. With a combination of hard work, business savvy and enlightened human resource policy, Home-Fix today boasts 19 stores across Singapore, and nine in Malaysia, Cambodia and Mongolia. It also provides handyman repair services.
In a sector renowned for long hours, high staff turnover, and high reliance on foreign labour, more than 70% of Home-Fix’s employees are local while staff turnover is just 2%.
Secret #1: Create Attractive Careers
The company achieved what it did by taking on sacred cows in the retail industry – it introduced a five-day work week with options of some weekends off for frontline staff, provided comprehensive staff welfare benefits, developed a career path and sponsored higher education for promising staff.
It won the 2014 Work Life Achiever Award, an accolade given by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
Secret #2: No Resources? Find A Partner With One
To do even more, Home-Fix recently inked an MOU with the NTUC’s U SME, an initiative which focuses on helping small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The partnership will see the retailer updated on the latest regulations and best practices, be assisted with grant applications, and get access to the myriad of courses and seminars that NTUC organizes for bosses and workers alike.
“NTUC has a lot of resources. We will benefit from the U SME because we have limits to what we can do in terms of the programmes and benefits we want to run. It is important to tap on NTUC. It’s also a very important collaboration because we get to hear perspectives outside of the industry, know what’s going on in other sectors.”
In fact, Mr Low is so convinced of the benefits of collaborating with NTUC, he is even insisting that his staff sign up for union membership by paying for their dues, for all his 170-strong workforce.
“There are so many benefits for individuals. Discounts at FairPrice, recreational facilities, subsidized courses. NTUC has so many seminars. I’m sure there is something my guys would find useful and interesting. We want them to attend. It’s to broaden their minds. Training and learning are crucial today because the world is changing very fast. Allowing my guys access to this platform will help them to upgrade and go further.”
Secret #3: Groom The Young And Make Lifelong Learning A Culture
Mr Low is a firm believer in lifelong learning, and has engraved that into his company’s value system.
“When we recruit, we look for an open attitude and a passion for learning. I continue to learn, take on executive courses. I am going to be learning about the online world. Tomorrow, I am talking to search engine gurus. I think that the moment we stop learning, we deteriorate, especially more so in today’s world.”
To take that learning further, Home-Fix has started learning labs in three secondary schools in Singapore to engage students and expose them to what the company does. It will also be starting on a collaboration with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in August.
Ostensibly, this is one way of grooming potential staff for the future, especially in a tight labour market. But it is also about cultivating an interest in the practice of D-I-Y home improvements, developing skills and craftsmanship to benefit the industry as a whole.
Secret #4: Equip Your Staff To Do Their Jobs Better
Within the company, Mr Low feels it is more important to have a systematic way to collate, catalogue and share the knowledge and information which his staff amass.
Home-Fix is developing a Learning Management System (LMS) and using Artificial Intelligence technology to harness the learning on the shop floor (“real learning comes through interactions with customers”), codify and transfer it to the backend to add to its training manual.
In time to come, “hopefully, if a staff is asked a question they can’t answer, they can type in the key words and get an answer to satisfy the customer. We want to embrace technology. We are thinking about how to push information not just to staff, but also to customers. It’s a very different kind of training approach we are working on.”
It is a sensible approach. Productivity and morale are boosted when staff are well-trained and feel they can satisfy customers’ needs and do their job well. It is also about meeting staff’s aspirations to keep learning so they can do more significant things.
Secret #5: Train Your Staff For Their Next Job
And one of these significant things is that staff can progress to become their own boss! With the launch of the company’s new Entrepreneurship Scheme in April, driven and capable staff can enter into a special franchise agreement with Home-Fix to own and run their own store.
“We are training entrepreneurs. We are trying to meet the aspirations of our staff. The first employee to take it up is Ricky Soo, who has been with us for six years. He has 16 years of experience in the retail industry, and now he has taken the first step to be his own boss. I am very happy.”
It seems Home-Fix has found not only a creative way to reward good staff, but also one that makes perfect business sense. Some of the company’s foreign staff have also expressed interest to start Home-Fix stores back in their home countries. This can only help to expand the company’s footprint and brand. There is certainly a reason to smile, all around.
Featured Image Credit: TAFEP SG50 Work-Life Publication
This article was contributed by LK Lai. She has travelled the world as a news journalist and enjoys interacting with people and listening to their stories. She also likes to pen her thoughts and observations on family life, work issues, and anything that impacts societal development.