Realigning HR Practices at Egan’s Clothiers

Realigning HR Practices at Egan’s Clothiers

At the end of fiscal year 2004, revenues at Egan’s Clothiers had increased 21 percent

over 2003 and had increased at a compounded rate of 24 percent over the past five

years. That’s the good news. The bad news is that costs have risen at an even more

rapid rate, thereby shrinking the company’s gross margins. As a consequence, Egan’s

profitability (measured as return on sales and return on net assets) has actually fallen

by 14 percent over the past three years.

The drop in profitability at Egan’s is particularly worrisome. In fact, according to

Egan’s chief financial officer, Richard Coyle, if something isn’t done immediately to

control material and labor costs as well as administrative expenses, the company may

need to restructure its operations. In the short run, Coyle, company president Karen

Egan, and vice president of HR Jim Rooney have put an indefinite freeze on all hir-

ing. Further, they are contemplating layoffs of nearly one-quarter of Egan’s sales staff

and are weighing the benefits of cutting back on HR-related expenses such as train-

ing. Compared to others in the industry, their labor costs are very high.

Company Background

Gene Egan and Pat Pollock opened their first store in Baldwin, New York, in 1958.

The company grew rapidly during the 1980s and now operates a chain of thirty-four

medium-sized stores located throughout Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and

New Jersey. Since the beginning, Egan’s customers have been primarily middle- and

upper-middle-class families purchasing sportswear, dresswear, and fashion acces-

sories. The company has established a long-standing tradition of quality and cus-

tomer service. In addition to its thirty-four stores, the company also maintains two

distribution centers and its administrative offices in Stamford, Connecticut. Total

employment currently stands at approximately 2,400 people: 15 executives, 40 staff

specialists, 40 store managers, 215 sales managers, 250 administrative personnel,

1,600 salespeople, and 240 distribution workers. Except for the employees at the dis-

tribution centers, the company is not presently unionized. However, it is no secret

that Egan’s management has been trying very hard recently to keep current labor-

organizing activities to a minimum. Especially in these times of growth and change,

management views unionism as a threat to the company’s success. In this regard, the

HR office has been asked to conduct a program audit of various HR practices at

Egan’s. The purpose of this audit is to assess the impact of HR policies and practices

on employee outcomes (such as performance, satisfaction, absenteeism, and

turnover). The corollary objective of this audit is to identify specific problem areas in

which policy adjustments may be necessary. The final report to the executive staff

will include the HR department’s evaluation of current problems and recommenda-

tions for implementing changes in HR practices.

Human Resources Management History

Over the past five years, Egan’s has made several changes in order to implement the

best HR practices possible. Partially, this has been to circumvent unionization efforts,

but primarily it reflects Egan’s long-standing belief that success in retailing depends

on the competencies and efforts of its employees.

The commitment to HR is demonstrated by the fact that in 2004 the company

spent $1.3 million on an intranet-based human resources information system

(HRIS). The HRIS has successfully automated most employment records (for exam-

ple, job titles, salary information, sales levels, attendance, and demographics) and

connects each of the retail stores, distribution centers, and executive offices. Also,

Egan’s has maintained an ongoing training program for the past five years to help

salespeople improve their retail selling skills (RSS) and customer service. The annual

cost of this program has been roughly $750,000. To further ensure high ability levels

in their workforce, the company sets selection standards substantially higher than

those of its competitors. Whereas other retail companies typically hire inexperienced

high school students, Egan’s generally requires some retailing or sales experience

before considering an applicant for employment. While this policy increases overall

labor costs, Egan’s management has been confident that the added expense is well

justified over the long run. However, recently even the strongest proponents of HR

have been wondering whether it might be a good idea to cut back on training, given

the company’s current financial picture.

By far the most problematic and volatile HR issues at Egan’s have involved pro-

motions and salary increases. Because the company promotes from within and dis-

tributes raises on a company-wide basis, comparisons generally have to be made

across employees in different jobs and departments. To combat arguments of subjec-

tivity and bias pertaining to these decisions, Egan’s links these rewards to objective

measures of performance. Specifically, rather than utilizing subjective managerialvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Plains, New York, who noted, “My people are beating up the clientele in order to

make a sale—the very opposite of what the RSS program trains them to do.” This

lapse in customer service is frustrating to management because the RSS training has

proven effective in the past. Additionally, there seems to be a great deal of competi-

tion within departments that is hurting team effort. Although intergroup rivalries

between departments has always been viewed as normal and healthy, the lack of

intragroup cohesiveness is seen as a problem.

Additionally, Egan’s has been plagued with increases in lost and damaged mer-

chandise. Management attributes this to the fact that storage rooms are disorganized

and unkempt. This is in sharp contrast to the selling floors, which have remained

fairly well orderly and uncluttered. Nevertheless, inventory costs have been increas-

ing at an alarming rate.

Everyone notices that something is wrong. But the behavior patterns are perplex-

ing. Absenteeism has decreased by 23 percent, but employee turnover has actually

increased from 13 to more than 29 percent, thereby increasing labor costs overall.

Unfortunately, many of those leaving the company (43 percent) are rated as very good

to superior employees.

As executives in the company look at these trends, they are understandably con-

cerned. The success of the company and its reputation for quality and service depend

on solid investments in HR to ensure the best possible workforce. However, the

expenses are eroding the company’s profits, and worse, it looks now like these invest-

ments are not paying off.


1. List and describe the issues with the performance appraisal system.

2. What would you change and/or add to the performance appraisal system to address the issues?

3. Can increased sales be linked directly and/or indirectly to the appraisal system? Additionally, list some of the other performance effects?

4. Describe why absenteeism has decreased at Egan’s while turnover has increased?

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