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How The Shore Group Helped to Feed The Nation

How Covid-19 shaped The Shore Group

Lewis Yorke-JohnsonCo-Founder
When the pandemic hit, The Shore Group was a very different business to today. 

Since we founded in 2008, our focus had been almost exclusively on recruitment. Our vision was to reach 4,000 workers on site each week in the construction, fitout and M&E sectors. 95% of our turnover came from white-collar and blue-collar placements. 

This level of ambition required a big engine to power it. We had a dedicated Compliance function checking worker compliance including ID, right to work and skills cards. Our Finance and credit control teams managed client credits closely making sure we stayed inside insured limits. And our Resourcers, mined our database of over 100,000 workers daily, matching known operatives with suitable placements. 

We were a fast-growing, recruitment agency in the construction sector with big plans for growth. 

Then Covid struck. 
When Covid struck 3 years ago, every element of our daily and business lives was turned on its head. For The Shore Group, 95% of our business dried up almost overnight as the construction sites all over the UK closed.

In the first few days of lockdown, hundreds of workers called our offices relentlessly, looking for any work available. There was none. Similarly, our Recruitment teams spent their days calling clients in the hope that some new opportunities had somehow opened up. There were none. 

We were literally on our knees. With the furlough and Government support schemes yet to be announced, The Shore Group was being rocked to its foundations. 

However the glimmer of hope was the remaining 5% of our business – our Retail Support division. This business had grown steadily since 2012, and by 2020 it had 150 employees in-stores nationwide each week. Initially Shore Group Retail worked as a sub-contractor to larger merchandising and replenishment agencies, before subsequently developing direct relationships with major retailers. 

Our Retail Division had some similarities to the recruitment agency, sharing core business processes and finance facilities, but it operated in a totally different sector, with a different labour force and different supply model. 
Whilst the lockdown had closed the construction sector, retail supply chains were creaking under the strain and struggling to keep up with demand. There were four different pressures that hit retailers all at once, creating a perfect storm. 

As the country went in its first lockdown, customers started panic buying, fearful of how long they would have to isolate for. Shelves were stripped bare and limits put on key items to try to share limited stocks.  

Like other businesses, retailers were compelled to isolate vulnerable workers by newly introduced Government rules. This instantly dropped their workforce in stores by up to 15%.

It wasn’t just stores that were affected. The retailers supply chains were also impacted by isolating workers which affected their suppliers and their own depots

In-store capacity was dramatically reduced due to the new protective measures that needed to be introduced to support worker and shopper safety. Hands, Face, Space was in full effect. 

When these four problems combined, the result was a massive demand crunch. Queues snaked around supermarkets whilst in-store the shelves were bare. Online shopping services crashed, with delivery slots snapped up for weeks ahead. This created a huge headache for retailers, anxious customers and the UK Government alike. 

How do you increase staffing levels across the supply chain? How do you do at lightning pace? And how do you keep workers and shoppers safe whilst doing this? 

Or to put it another way, how do you feed a nation in a Covid crisis?
Though very different, the construction and retail challenges combined to present an opportunity that The Shore Group was uniquely positioned to support. 

“We had the team, processes, knowledge and network to support retailers. But we’d never attempted to scale as quickly as they needed us to. Honestly, we didn’t know what would be possible but we had the drive and ambition to make a real difference.”
Dan Chittenden - Retail Director

After rapid discussions with Tesco, Morrisions, Central England Co-Op and AS Watson (Superdrug and Savers), the Shore Group team got to work. 

The plan on paper was simple. We would re-deploy our construction recruitment teams across the UK to fill retail roles, we’d offer work to our trusted construction workforce and use our compliance teams to ensure they were fully screened and inducted. 
At this point, the UK was gripped in full panic mode as a result of the pandemic. We were in a national lockdown, unthinkable only weeks before. Businesses were forced to closed and shoppers were struggling to find the food they needed. 

Spread over 9 offices across the UK, our teams raced into action to see what impact we could make. 

We were placing electricians, carpenters and traffic marshalls into stores to replenish shelves and depots to pick and pack orders. This freed up the Retailer’s own workers to work in other areas of the stores and depots. 

Our skilled installation, construction and fitout workers were also re-deployed to fit Perspex safety screens in AS Watson stores nationwide. Not only did this work require the technical trade skills, all works also took place in live operational stores with other retail colleagues present. This meant detailed Health and Safety RAMS statements were required for each specific store configuration. 

“Delivering the Perspex screens project was a major milestone for us. Not only did it help a key customer at a critical time, but it proved to us that we had the capability to deliver proactive maintenance and hard FM services. We’d inadvertently proved our FM that’s grown really successful since the pandemic.” 
Lewis Yorke-Johnson - Co-Founder
For retailers, we provided fully screened, inducted workers to help them get their operations back up and running. 

For workers, this provided essential income at a time where they’d unexpectedly had all work, and pay taken away from them.

For customers, it helped remove the backlog in stores and crucially get stock back on the shelves. 

And for The Shore Group, it kept our team in work and provide a huge sense of pride in our contribution. 
“Whilst at the time, we we’re solely focused on delivery, in hindsight, the work we did was a perfect match for our brand ideal; better for clients, colleagues, workers and the communities we serve. And the results were phenomenal. "
Within 24 hours we had tripled our retail workforce from 300 to 600. 
Within 72 hours we’d increased by 4X to a peak of 1,273 workers. 

Whilst the top priority was helping retailers fill the gaps in their own workforce, we were also committed to maintaining the high standards the retail industry sets. As such, as well as scaling our retail recruitment team, we also made sure scaled other core areas of the business. 

Our Compliance team trebled in size over night, to ensure that we could vet every work and comply with strict screening standards. 

We re-deploy colleagues internally so that we could process over 1,000 new employment contracts and maintain our zero outsource policy. 

The Shore Group IT team migrated our induction process online, ensure that every colleague arrived at store with a full Health & Safety briefing (including new covid protocols), store guidelines and retailer specific processes. 

“We set ourselves that challenge of scaling without compromising our standards which could expose employees and clients to unacceptable risk. Previous investments in training and multi-skilling the team meant that re-deploying to other functions was a smooth process that didn’t delay us.”

Whilst Covid still sadly lingers in the background, life does feel like it has returned to normal. In many ways it feels like a lifetime away. But the 3rd anniversary of the first lockdown was a good reminder of how the Group achieved and what it showed us. 

“We learnt so much as a result of the way we responded to the pandemic. It showed us that had the potential to be the Support Service company we are now and not a recruitment company. It laid the foundations for our FM, Logistics, Civils and M&E divisions powered by our recruitment core.”
It also highlighted how powerful the resourcing engine at the core of the business is for the other divisions. Our recruitment heritage means we can scale at pace across multiple services in a way that few other businesses can.”

3 years on The Shore Group is now a diverse Support Services business with just over 40% of Group income from our recruitment division. The remaining 60% sees our colleagues providing the services that power the biggest projects across the UK:

  • Over 100 colleagues providing complex logistics services on data centres across the UK
  • The FM team replacing cigarette and vape gantries in over 225 convenience stores nationwide
  • Integrated Services providing full property management services to a 55-apartment luxury residential complex 
  • The Support Services team with over 50 colleagues on sites across the Midlands and North providing the ancillary services that make major projects run smoothly

To find out more about our Support Services and Construction business, please contact lewis@theshoregroup.co.uk

Get in touch.

Lewis Yorke-JohnsonCo-Founder