Joanna Legat, Managing Director, Isabel Harris fragrance boutique and gift emporium

Isabel Harris is a Newmarket store with four staff - one full time staff member and three part timers. It has traded successfully for over eight years.

Do you increase staff at Christmas?

Yes, we boost staff hours enormously at Christmas but try to retain and use staff employed all year. Typically the only new staff coming on at this time would be gift wrappers. During the year, we employ students as part time staff, and over the Christmas period these same staff take on full time work to boost their incomes and support the store.

What are you wanting this temporary staff to do?


Sales, sales support and gift wrapping.

Do new staff for Christmas know the business?

Because we are a specialty retailer there is a strong emphasis in store on product knowledge. Because of this I would typically not hire new sales staff at this time of year unless under duress and typically would only bring on new gift wrappers.This year we have a gift wrapper who has worked for us in a previous Christmas. In fact she was such a good gift wrapper that this year she will be in training to become a new regular part time staff member next year. Any new gift wrapper coming on to the team would have several days training before the Christmas rush gets going.

How much do your staff costs increase at this time of year and how much
are your sales up?

Our staff costs would increase a factor of around five times. Sales volumes would increase in December by around the same factor of five.

Have you ever got it wrong? Over-hired or under-hired?

Yes, definitely. However, this will be our eighth Christmas in Newmarket and we have gotten better at plotting the shopping patterns and planning accordingly. There are minor seasonal adjustments over what day Christmas falls for instance but typically the trends are very clear and follow pretty much the same patterns. Hopefully we have learned and refined the business as we have gone along!

Any lessons you have learned over the years about managing extra staff at Christmas?

One of the issues we have at Christmas is that during the year our staff typically work in teams of two or sole charge. When the busy Christmas season starts, staff have to adjust to working with a larger group and this changes the dynamic in store. It is very important to hire team players and people who work co-operatively. This sets a fun and harmonious tone in the shop and enables the staff to cope under huge pressure.

On a busy day leading up to Christmas, our tiny store can serve over 250 customers, all requiring a high level of service, gift wrapping and so on. This takes some organisation!

We have very good systems in place all year and when the store comes under pressure these systems keep things running smoothly. Well that's the idea anyway.

Our staff come on in shifts during the day so that there are fresh staff to support other members who may be flagging. I keep a lid on hours so that no-one works too many hours or days in a stretch and burns out. Exhausted staff are no good to anybody.

Coffee and sweet treats keep the store running, along with large doses of humour!

Next week: A number of enterprising companies are creating apps for their own purposes and for others. There are also a number of apps being developed for small businesses to help them manage their businesses better. I'd like to hear from all of you who are particularly proud of your app especially if it can be used by others too.