HomeFix's DIY way to cope with shortage

HomeFix's DIY way to cope with shortage

SINGAPORE - A DIY chain in Singapore is doing it itself when it comes to coping with the manpower crunch.

At the HomeFix outlet in Marina Square, customers need only stand in front of a special TV set, wave a product they are keen on buying, and see it in action on the screen.

This interactive product demonstration replaces the need for one human sales assistant on the floor, and will be rolled out at each of the store's 22 outlets by the end of this year.

The software cost the chain more than $500,000 to develop, but the firm feels it is worth every cent.

"This means (we can save on hiring) 22 people, and in today's tight labour market, that's huge," said managing director Low Cheong Kee.

HomeFix currently hires 120 Singaporeans (70.5 per cent), seven permanent residents (4 per cent) and 43 (25.5 per cent) foreign workers.

This is well within the current Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) announced in February last year for the service sector. The DRC, which specifies the maximum proportion of work permit and S Pass holders a company can hire, was reduced to 45 per cent - down from 50 per cent. From July 1 this year, it will be lowered to 40 per cent.

Apart from interactive TV sets, the chain has also shifted to retaining Singaporean workers, especially part-timers.

Last month, it also raised part-timers' pay from $5.50 to $6 an hour. Part-timers are trained to work across three outlets, so they can be redeployed easily.

A $50 monthly token is given out to each employee if he does not take medical leave that month. This helped to reduce medical leave days from 59.62 days a month in 2010 to 50.4 days a month last year.

Sales performance incentives were also tweaked recently.

Now, each employee is paid 0.25 per cent of the value of goods he sells each month. In the past, each staff member was paid the same sum depending on a store's overall sales.

All this, said Mr Low, has helped Homefix improve service levels - an anomaly during a labour crunch.

Last year, its complaint to compliment ratio stood at 1.08 to one. This is an improvement over 1.17 to one in 2011 and 2.3 to one in 2010.

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