Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M launched its first-ever national recruiting campaign Thursday boasting its benefits, pay and sustainability efforts as competition for retail workers has pushed companies to create more attractive workplace environments.
H&M is looking to hire thousands of employees to support its rapid expansion in the U.S., which is its second-largest market behind Germany, and saw sales jump 22% in 2014. It has plans to open at least 61 new stores this year after opening 62 in the past year, including what will become the world's largest H&M when a 63,000 square-foot flagship opens in New York's Herald Square next week. (Tweet This)
The campaign is part of a growing shift toward the perception of retail jobs as sustainable long-term careers and shows a willingness among retail companies to be more vocal about their company culture, says Bill Thorne, senior vice president at the National Retail Federation, a trade organization.
"It is not in the retailers' best interest to provide a job that somebody gets into and realizes, well there's another opportunity literally two blocks away where I can make more money, get better benefits and maybe advance faster," he says. "They're all talking about why it's important to work at their store and the opportunities that company provides (employees)."
The campaign includes displays in all 363 U.S. stores, video testimonials from current employees, plus billboards and advertising in malls and elsewhere in Houston and Philadelphia, two growing markets for the company. The ads feature statements related to what's possible at the company, like, "Five weeks vacation is possible," and "Making sustainability fashionable is possible."
H&M is heavily promoting the opportunity for long-term careers, not just temporary hourly wage jobs.The company says 35% of its executive team started out as sales advisers, what they call store associates. The campaign is primarily focused on recruiting sales advisers, with the potential for growth later on. It will also target Millennials in particular with a college campus tour that kicks off in September.
H&M's effort comes as retail workers have made significant progress toward higher wages in a tightening labor market. Walmart announced in February, after years of pressure from workers and advocacy groups, that it would gradually raise its starting wage to $10 an hour. T.J. Maxx followed with a similar declaration, while Target quietly started giving employees raises. Gap had made the same promise to get to $10 an hour in February 2014.
Since service-sector jobs were some of the first to come back after the recession, employees have gained bargaining power as they've grown in demand, says Beth Ann Bovino, Standard & Poor's U.S. chief economist. The rate of employees quitting their jobs is also at a six-year high, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, pointing to increased confidence among workers, Bovino says.
"Supply's getting used up," she says. "You're going to need to pay them more."
Also working in employees' favor is the fact that more local governments have raised minimum wages above the federal floor of $7.25, and even shoppers are becoming more concerned with the way the companies they frequent treat their employees, says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, a group that advocates on behalf of low-wage workers.
"If you want to be seen as a good corporate citizen and want consumers shopping in your stores, those consumers want to feel like they're shopping at a place that treats its workers decently," she says.
H&M North American President Daniel Kulle says the company has always paid above minimum wage since it first opened in the U.S. in 2000. On average, full-time workers make $12.03 an hour, while part-time employees make an average of $10.76 an hour. The lowest-paid H&M store employee makes $9.48 an hour.
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Though its pay is a highlight for H&M, the ads in the campaign focus more on employee freedom, sick time and vacation perks. Full-time employees start out with three weeks of vacation and seven sick days a year, with the opportunity to get up to five weeks vacation. Kulle says H&M already stands out from other major U.S. retailers for its entrepreneurial culture and reputation for being stylish.
"I think that we are not always looking for exactly the same (employees) as our main competitors," Kulle says. "We are a value-oriented company." Store managers are given the independence to make hiring and strategy decisions and run the stores fairly autonomously. "We think you can come and make a difference," Kulle says.
The retailer known for its fashionable, trendy clothing at cheap prices also hopes to attract Millennials with its commitment to sustainability. H&M has an eco-friendly line of clothes and is the world's biggest consumer of organic cotton, according to a report from a non-profit called Textile Exchange.
"We see that a lot of Millennials, they want to take responsibility, they want to make sure they can be involved, they want to work for companies that are sustainable," Kulle says. "And they like fashion."