Why family matters at DFS

DFS is looking at different ways of working to attract and retain a more diverse workforce that reflects its family ethos.

 

Family is important at DFS. Not only are sofas at the centre of much of family life, but the firm began as an entrepreneurial family business and many of its employees have been with it for years. For CEO Tim Stacey, maintaining that family feel is important, as is the connection with the company’s heritage.

Tim hosts lunches celebrating employees who have been with DFS for over 25 years – and he has been struck by how many there are. “People stay with us. There is a real family spirit,” says Tim.

That family spirit extends to employee policies too – DFS now offers enhanced maternity pay of 20 weeks at 90% to women who have been with the company for a year and two weeks at full pay and a third week at 90% of average weekly pay or statutory paternity pay, whichever is lower, to dads.

In addition, DFS places an emphasis on personal development and training, from the apprenticeship level upwards and covering all departments from administration and retail to supply chain and manufacturing. Indeed, Tim says developing future leadership potential is his number one priority.

DFS apprentices, for example, complete The Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and are trained in a variety of roles in the business. “I am very passionate about developing leadership potential,” says Tim. “If people are engaged, they will get results.” He is very proud that DFS was voted one of the top 25 best big companies to work for in the UK by The Sunday Times, based on feedback from employees.

Family feel

Tim has been at DFS for around eight years. An accountant by trade, Tim previously worked for 12 years at Alliance Boots where he led Boots.com for around five years. He joined DFS in 2011, working on modernising its website and leading business development, including acquisitions of companies such as furniture retailer Dwell.

Tim went on to become Chief Operating Officer, gradually increased his responsibilities by taking on management of supply chain and IT, as well as international stores, before being appointed CEO last May. He took up his post on 1st August 2018.

Although DFS is much bigger than when Tim started, with the DFS Group having acquired Sofology, Dwell and Sofa Workshop, as well as building its international presence, Tim says it retains a family feel.

With a £1bn annual turnover, 200 stores and 5,500 employees, it is fairly small compared to major retailers like Tesco, he says. “It is very important to me as a leader that I know the store managers at all our stores and that there is a sense of camaraderie,” he says. “We recognise that a sofa is a big purchase and a significant investment and our customers are very engaged – they spend three to six months researching before buying a sofa. When they come into our showrooms they want to talk about dimensions, fabric types and much more.

“Lots of family life happens on a sofa – it can be a play den, a place to catch up or a place to relax with the family…a sofa is genuinely the heart of a home. The style you pick says a lot about you and our customers are very house proud. This is a real people business and we need to keep that spirit and be approachable and empathetic. That is the key to our success.”

He says DFS has three simple values, which link back to its founding ideals:

  • Think customer. That means treating everyone as if they were a friend or a close family member. “In the end our business is built on customer recommendations,” says Tim.
  • Be real. That means engaging with people, including colleagues, in a genuine manner. “DFS’ roots are in Yorkshire and being straightforward is important to us,” comments Tim.
  • Aim high. “We are ambitious and innovative. Our founder, Lord Kirkham, was the first person to offer interest free credit. We have our own design studio, which means we can be really responsive to the latest trends and design sofas to suit our customers’ changing needs. It is important that we understand our DNA and what has made us successful,” says Tim.

Flexible roles

Tim says that providing family friendly working and improving gender diversity within the business are also key aims. “We are proactively looking to create more flexible roles that can help in providing family friendly working and improve our gender diversity,” says Tim. “That includes targeting people who have taken time out of work to look after children and ensuring that women are well represented at all levels of the business, particularly as women are more likely to be the decision makers when it comes to buying sofas.”

His priority for flexible working is in the more customer-facing roles in DFS stores and he sees considerable business benefits of greater flexibility, aside from an ability to recruit and retain a more diverse mix of colleagues. For instance, he says most of the stores’ business is done at weekends. “A lot of our roles are full time and part-time, which can put some people off. However, we recognise that if we only operate a full-time model, we will only attract certain people who are able to work weekends and we are at risk of missing out on talented employees,” Tim states.

“To address this, we’re looking at ways we can develop more 30-hour contracts on weekdays to cover school hours, for example, in return for the odd extra shift at the busiest times of the year like bank holiday weekends.” Tim adds that DFS salaries are relatively high, with the average earnings for a salesperson in stores being around £35K a year, dependent on the size of the store.

Tim would also like to increase the number of working mums in DFS’ stores. “Our approach has changed a lot in recent years and the focus is more on establishing customers’ needs. Our sales people need to ask questions and be interested in people’s lives in order to find the right sofa for them. Working mums have so much life experience. They are hugely important to businesses like ours,” he says.

It is not just in DFS’ stores that the firm is looking to increase flexibility. Tim adds that other roles that could be more flexible include those relating to customer services.

Given that most calls to customer service are made between 6pm and 9pm, it makes sense, he says, to offer customer service shifts at these times. Manufacturing roles and roles in DFS’ supply chain could also be open to greater flexibility, he adds.

Leading by example

Tim, who has two children aged 15 and nearly 18, recognises that dads’ roles are changing and that flexible working is something that they want too. Indeed, he says there are many reasons that employees might need flexible working during their career and he is clear that it helps with recruitment and retention.

He mentions a woman who was the top salesperson at the Milton Keynes store and the main breadwinner in her family. When her father became ill, she thought she would have to leave the business, but instead DFS agreed to reduce her hours to fit around her caring responsibilities. “We recognise that people’s circumstances change and we want to help our employees when they do – this particular colleague remains our top salesperson in that area. We are delighted to have been able to work together to find a solution and she remains very committed to the business,” says Tim.

Asked about female career progression, Tim says role models are vital and he highlights several, including an area manager in the North West who started off working in administration at weekends before going full time and moving into sales, becoming a store manager and then an area manager.

Tim is very aware of the need to lead by example when it comes to family friendly working and, over the course of his career, has seen the impact of “draconian managers” who don’t understand family responsibilities. He is clear how that affects employee engagement. He talks about his family a lot at work and hopes this enables others to do so too. His colleagues vouch for this and say it is very common for him to mention his son’s favourite football team or his daughter’s ballet lessons and add that he often refers to other people’s children. Tim says: “It’s important to give the message that we know that family comes first – they’re the reason we work.”

 



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