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May 20, 2020

Glossy: How Keeping Employees On The Payroll Primed Fabletics For Store Re-openings

Fabletics is hoping that its decision to keep those employees on board will make the store re-opening process much easier

by Danny Parisi | May 20th, 2020

Fabletics is one of the rare fashion companies with a large physical footprint that’s managed to survive to this point without laying off or furloughing any of its retail employees. Instead, it quickly launched a restructuring and training program for its 700 store employees, which involved shifting them to other parts of the business. Now, Fabletics is hoping that its decision to keep those employees on board will make the store re-opening process much easier.

Layoffs have been prevalent at brands from Gap to Rent the Runway to Everlane, which has helped lighten the financial load so that they can remain operational. But that’s at the cost of difficulties down the road — as stores re-open those brands have to hire a new workforce or attempt to rehire old employees. Even brands that furloughed their employees may face difficulties, since people who are furloughed are not legally obligated to return to work once taken off furlough.

Fabletics began having internal discussions about retail closures on Mar. 1 and officially closed all stores on Mar. 11. The average Fabletics retail associate makes about $12 an hour, and Ron Harries, svp and head of retail at Fabletics, said no one has taken a pay cut during this time. Despite operating in states that are allowing retail re-openings like Arizona and Florida, Fabletics has not re-opened any of its current stores and doesn’t have a specific date set for any openings just yet. It plans to open stores on a rolling basis, starting in lower-risk areas first.

Fabletics enlisted its store associates in two separate programs, one for retail leaders like store managers and another for retail associates. The leaders were put through a condensed version of an existing manager training program — it’s typically six weeks, but they completed it in three. Fabletics put all 176 retail leaders through the program between mid-March and mid-May, teaching them important management skills. Every participant had to prepare a capstone presentation based on those skills to graduate the program. The program was led by the brand’s internal corporate training director, conducted remotely via Zoom and focused on managing small teams.

The plan, according to Harries, was to give those retail managers a way to improve their skills, which was best use of their time which waiting for Fabletics’ 42 stores to re-open.

“Then we had another initiative for the retail associates, who we wanted to have assist with global member services,” said Harries. “We started having them take phone calls and chats, fielding questions about shipping, issues with memberships — all those things normally handled by our global member services team. That started in mid-April, and we’ve already trained 130 retail associates in these new skills.”

Those employees are supplementing the existing customer service team, which is seeing an increased workload due to a higher e-commerce demand.