Crew Stories: Employee-Owned Grocery Chain Shares How it Retains & Empowers 4,000 Team Members

For our latest customer interview, we sat down with the team at Harps Foods, an 88-year-old Arkansas-based grocer with 87 locations and 4,000 employees. The employee-owned company’s mission is to provide the best overall value to its customers through competitive prices, product quality and freshness, friendly service and cleanliness.  

Frank Ray, Harps’ vice president of human resources, joined the chain as a manager trainee fresh out of college and has held numerous positions there over the past 30+ years. Today, one of his top priorities is developing potential leaders for store management, so naturally we were eager to hear how Crew helps him train and empower great managers.

Here are some highlights from our conversation about how the company uses Crew’s scheduling, communications and award features:

Crew: Tell us about some of the challenges your frontline grocery teams faced prior to rolling out Crew.

Frank: Before Crew, we struggled with motivating and recognizing the achievements of our thousands of employees. We had no unified system for awarding or praising employees, nor for sharing best practices across stores. In addition, shift management was extremely inefficient across Harps Foods. Employees and managers were always frustrated when making and approving time off, shift swap, and coverage requests.

That’s because each store previously used an old fashioned system for scheduling, with a single physical book that contained current shift schedules. If an employee needed to check their schedule, they either had to go into the store or track down a manager over the phone to check the book for them. Communication surrounding shift changes was very difficult, and managers would end up with all these sticky notes and papers and no way to organize it all.

Crew: How did you first discover Crew?

Frank: Amber Parker, our general manager in Gentry, Arkansas, first came across Crew when she was looking for an easier way to manage shifts within 
her store. Once she had seen the capabilities of Crew and was convinced of its benefits, she reached out to me and we decided to roll it out to all 87 of our locations company-wide.

Crew: How does Crew help you celebrate and motivate employees?

Frank: With so many different departments (grocery, deli, bakery, meats, produce, frozen) and functions (greeter, checkout, inventory, warehouse), each Harps location is its own complex universe. By using Crew, our managers are able to easily award employees across a variety of functions and foster team spirit. They do weekly pop quizzes and recognize people that score well. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate wins.

Store managers used to recognize people maybe once a week, but now they’re likely to do so several times a week on Crew. One manager told me, “At my store, we award gold stars for as many things as possible, whether it be an associate a customer mentioned on the secret shopper reports or simply a great display built by one of the departments. Each month, I give the associate with the most gold stars a gift card. It’s my way of saying thank you for being a rock star.”

Crew: You mentioned that there used to be frustration around scheduling – how have you evolved that process?

Frank: With Crew, our schedules are instantly accessible in each team member’s pocket. Employees love that they no longer have to come in on their day off just to see their schedule, and our managers love that Crew reminds everyone of their shifts two hours ahead of time so there are no excuses for missing or being late for work.

One of the unexpected benefits we’re enjoying is that employees have the visibility to see which departments need help across the entire store. We’re getting people raising their hands, saying that they see open opportunities out there and want to be trained in, say, produce, grocery, or deli. As a result, they’re getting to learn new skills, and will hopefully rise up through the organization to become potential leaders.

Crew: How does Crew help with learning and development?

Frank: With 87 individual locations, both night and day crews, and many different departments, we rarely got around to recording best practices before and so they were too quickly forgotten. Managers often had to take time out of their day to show each individual associate how they wanted things done. Now, Crew gives us a way to quickly document and share learnings that make the whole business run better.

For example, inventory is always a stressful time for our grocery departments. Being able to post a short video of how we want things done during inventory is great because everyone can see it and learn. Crew also helps us with important communication up and down the chain of command. We bring together several different groups within the platform, such as all closing managers, specific location teams, and our district and department managers. That makes it easier to share the right info with the right people, right away.

Crew: What kind of measurable impact did Harps achieve by rolling out Crew across its 87 stores?

Frank: Thanks to Crew, our employees feel more empowered and we’ve seen significant increases in both employee and manager satisfaction and retention. Several associates have mentioned that they love how easy Crew is to use, and appreciate hearing about what’s going on in the store—it makes them feel more like part of a team.

Being able to communicate with everyone instantaneously is especially great for managers, now that they don’t have to wait until they see an employee to tell them something. In fact, one of my favorite comments that I heard from a manager was: “Working with Crew takes us from zero to DONE.”