As vice president of operations for two stores in eastern Ontario, Rebecca Gravelle wears many hats. She runs the counter even as she oversees the direction of the Castle-bannered stores in the Ottawa valley towns of Renfrew and Burnstown. And that includes managing human resources. (Rebecca is also the 2018 Outstanding Retailer of the Year Award winner in the category of Young Retailer—Your accolade-proffering Editor.)
Gravelle’s story is likely all too familiar to many dealers. She shares that story in the latest episode of the Hardlines Podcast Series, “What’s in Store.” (That episode will go live tomorrow. Click here to sign up for the Hardlines Podcast Series and be alerted when the episode goes live. —Your ever-helpful Editor, again!)
When her mom, Laurie Wichers-Schreur, and her mom’s partner, Bruce Gannon, took over the Renfrew store in 2016, Gravelle was just finishing her master’s degree in industrial relations. Wichers-Schreur thought working in the store might be a good way for Gravelle to help out as the store got rebooted.
“Six years later, we’re still here, we’re still rocking. We have another store, and there’s lots going on,” Gravelle says. “It’s definitely fun trying to fit everything into a day.” That includes the full portfolio of HR duties, which can range from setting job descriptions and hiring to determining pay scales.
Between the two stores, Gravelle has about 30 people working for her now, and growing that team is something she’s very proud of. That goes especially for the Burnstown store, about 15 minutes down the road from the Renfrew location, as it had been closed for a few years when her family took it over.
“The previous owner wasn’t operating it anymore,” Gravelle said. “It was an empty store. So that was a totally new venture as well, taking on a store that was actually closed. We took about six or eight months and did a whole renovation on that location over the winter of 2017 through spring 2018. It opened in May of 2018.”
The stores serve slightly different markets—Burnstown has a large cottager clientele—with different customers. Like many stores in this sector, both businesses were very busy during COVID.
Besides managing the Renfrew store day-to-day, Gravelle has a full list of HR-related duties. “I’ve made all of our job descriptions and pay scales for all of our positions, our employee handbook, and all of our policies and procedures on an overarching scale, overseeing pay and benefits. We have full health care benefits and RRSP programs for staff as well.”
Wearing the extra hats means Gravelle has had to work “a bit harder,” she admits, but she keeps a structured schedule, establishing weekly priorities to ensure she devotes adequate time and energy to HR.
“You know, sometimes if all our positions are filled and all is going well, then HR doesn’t take up quite as much of my time. But then there are certain weeks where that’s pretty much all I’m doing—working with staff on solving HR-related issues. So each week is different, which is why I love it.”
One day she’s working out hiring forecasts for the coming season, the next she is working with an individual staff member to help them deal with a challenge of their own.
“I have to sit down each week and say, ‘Okay, what am I focusing on this week? And what what are my priorities?’ So it’s certainly, like I said, a learning curve, but it all kind of depends on what’s happening that week, really.”