It takes quite a team to run Cornwall Hospice Care’s 32 shops and that includes the small number of more senior managers who support the staff on the ground. Rob Griffiths is the charity’s Retail Operations Manager and Tamsin Thomas spent a day with him to find out more about his role.
“One piece of management advice I remember well is about eating the frog”, says Rob in an unexpected statement. “If you put the action off you’ll still worry about having to do it and eventually you will have to swallow the frog down. So the best tactic is to get on with it and then it’s over and done with, much like dealing with a tricky issue.” We’re in the car and heading down to the charity’s Penzance shop and already I know this is one tactic I won’t forget.
Two recent issues have illustrated the demands on the retail management team; the snow and the arrival of Cybertill. The snow came and went and the shop teams did their best to keep the doors open. It was tricky but soon over. However, Cybertill is here to stay. The early glitches with the system brought short term pain, but the long term gain will be a till that will bring us in to the 21st century. Already the amount of Gift Aid money (the tax man will stump up an extra 25p for each £1 a tax payer donates), has risen by more than 5%, a massive increase according to Rob. “Cybertill allows us to streamline processes, to record a customer’s details more accurately and account for every penny. It’ll make life more easy given we handle upwards of 100,000 transactions across the shops every month!”
Rob’s phone pings with messages and texts from his colleagues as we drive then walk to Market Jew Street and our Penzance shop. Here one of Rob’s team, Business Development Manager (BDM) Frazer Hopkins is working in the shop and they immediately start talking about developing the entrance to entice more people in and the work already done to bring more life to the shop. There’s a steady flow of customers.
“I try to get to every shop once a month” says Rob as we walk back to the car to head to Hayle. “So I’m on the road twice a week, sometimes visiting for a short time, sometimes staying longer if there are things to address”. Wednesday is an office day for Rob and his team of three BDMs, but then he’s back out keeping an eye and listening. At Hayle, Shop Manager Jim who’s just back from leave, has business updates for Rob and while they talk, I buy a lovely wooden fire engine that’s been donated by someone who has chosen to Gift Aid it. Retention of staff and volunteers is vital in the charity retail business and Jim’s team are a shining example of a harmonious group. For Rob an issue he’s constantly addressing is retention of volunteers and paid staff, they are the life blood of the charity’s shops.
As we drive on to Camborne for a flying visit to the shop in a town over run with charity stores, Rob explains how we’ve changed the offer there to do something different to the competition. “We sell fabrics, craft items, bric-a-brac and small pieces of furniture just to try and be different.” Today the shop is being run by volunteers and again, there’s a steady number of customers passing through.
Our final drive is to Perranporth where we have the only charity shop in the village (or is it a town?) It’s a bright and vibrant shop, much like its hard working manager Libby who greets us, serves a customer and accepts a large number of donated items in one seamless transaction. This is a flagship store but space is so tight that today’s donations, all received since 11am, are piled high in one of the changing rooms waiting to be sorted. Libby greets the donors warmly and it pays off as one buys a kite surfing board before he leaves! Rob is pleased with what he sees but acknowledges the space issue and continues to think about how to deal with it.
As we drive back to Mount Edgcumbe Hospice Rob talks of the pain and the pleasure of management, of how he’s enjoying his role and of his hopes to develop our e-commerce offer in the future. “Retail generally has, in the last 8 years, seen its biggest drop in footfall” he explains, “and we have to be aware of this and work hard to keep our offers fresh and our staff and volunteers engaged.” But for Rob it’s exciting, “I like how one of my colleagues, Lindsay Taylor put it. We’re dealing with raw retail. We haven’t got a planned offer to rely on. We have to wait and see what people donate and then make it work in our shops.”