How Orgill attracts talent

Laura Freeman is the executive vice-president of human resources and chief human resources officer at Orgill, Inc., the giant Memphis-based hardware wholesaler. Hardlines interviewed Freeman earlier this year during Orgill’s spring dealer market in New Orleans. Although she had been on the job just a few weeks, she took the time to share her insights with us.

Freeman came over from the grocery industry. She had spent the previous seven years heading up HR as chief people officer at Schnuck Markets, a family-run chain of over 100 supermarkets in the American Midwest.

Many a hardware executive has come over from the grocery industry. We asked Freeman what learnings she felt she could bring with her to the hardware distribution business. She identified some similarities. “A couple of things: one is just the dispersed workforce and the hourly workforce. How do you connect with them? So in the supermarket industry we had multiple stores in multiple states. Here, we have our distribution centres, but we also have our different business units, like CNRG,” she observed, referring to Central Network Retail Group, a group of 144 stores under a variety of banners owned by Orgill.

But at the front lines, it’s all about the people and understanding their needs, regardless of the sector. “Especially with the DCs, with the hourly workers, what are they looking for? What attracts them to us? How do we become that preferred employer? It’s so very similar to what it was in the supermarket industry.

“There’s a war on talent, and you certainly want to get the best talent.”

Freeman admits that the recent news of layoffs had been largely in the tech sector, while retail remains a tough sector to hire for. “It’s hard to find the right people, to find the right talent.”

Customer service remains a priority in any business, whether it’s the shopper in a supermarket or a customer on the other end of the line in the distributor’s call centre. “That’s what differentiates a great business.”

Freeman says the changes happening in the workforce during the pandemic had started well before the pandemic. “Even pre-Covid we were seeing our workforce change. It was not all of a sudden that it started changing—it was just accelerated.”

Organizations today have multiple generations of employees working side by side. Each generation has unique needs and goals. The core values of an organization have to resonate for everyone from Gen Z (“where’s my career going?”) to Boomers (who may appreciate the stability that being an employee can provide).

“From an HR perspective, you really have to think about that employee proposition across all different areas and then across all the different generations you have in your workforce today.”