· 5 min read · Features

Customer service is a major part of the brand at Krispy Kreme but it's about getting the right staff mix says HRD

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Ask any child what job they want to do when they grow up and the answer will probably be: a firefighter, a police officer, a pop star......or perhaps work in a doughnut factory.

Claire Giraldo, (pictured) head of HR at Krispy Kreme, is living out the dream of millions of children around the world, working in the UK head office of one of the world's most iconic doughnut brands.

It might come as a surprise, but the US organisation, founded in 1937, has had a presence in the UK for less than 10 years.

HR magazine met Giraldo for a coffee - and of course a doughnut - at the company's 'hotlight' store at Shannon Corner in south London. And we didn't let the complimentary treat, Giraldo's bubbly demeanour and fiery red hair, or even the 1980s background music, affect our view: this is a woman who means business.

With only a week to go until the opening of the newest branch in Gateshead, recruiting 99 staff and stretching its presence to the North of England for the first time, Giraldo's focus is firmly set on expansion.

"We have a plan in place called 'ignite', which launched in 2010," she explains. "We planned then to double our site numbers and double the number of employees."

Krispy Kreme employs 1,100 people in the UK, but the strategy means it will have 1,500 staff by the end of 2015.

The company operates as an independent UK franchise, launching in 2003 as a concession at Harrod's. "This demonstrates our confidence as a brand - to be seen as a premium sweet treat retailer," Giraldo says.

Giraldo, who cut her teeth in HR at PepsiCo under HR directors Jackie Orme and Jan Woods, before moving to Mars Confectionery, is no stranger to the sweet treats market. She joined Krispy Kreme in September 2011 to spearhead the HR process as the company was poised for UK expansion.

In October 2011, Krispy Kreme UK secured a management buyout worth £25 million. Backed by private equity firm Alcuin Capital Partners, the retailer took this opportunity to pave the way for rolling out regional offerings.

Mark Storey was appointed to the board as chairman by Alcuin, which owns a majority stake in the business. He works alongside the existing joint MDs Richard Cheshire and Rob Hunt. Giraldo, having an operational board level position, reports directly to the MDs.

"We are moving from a small to a medium organisation," she says. "We have enjoyed steady organic growth over the past nine years, but this year there has been a different feeling in the organisation, of confidence, credibility and building of momentum. My role will be to recruit the right talent, focus on engagement, training and retention, and secure skills and capabilities in staff to support our overall business agenda.

"From an HR perspective this has been about re-establishing our core function, examining all our processes and getting consistency secured across the brand. I've had a solid first year here, supporting growth plans, but now is the time to innovate."

Its unusual business model means Krispy Kreme operates primarily through its 13 'hotlight' stores, which manufacture every doughnut the company retails. The doughnuts are prepared (with a secret recipe from the USA) in patented 'doughnut theatres' in the branches. These come with full-length windows, so customers can watch staff baking the products.

The doughnuts are then sent to coffee bars, kiosks and cabinets in Tesco, Roadchef, Welcome Break or Moto, within a local radius. There are no mass-production factories or preservatives, and doughnuts have a shelf life of just a day. Fewer than 40 staff work in the company's Reading head office, so more than 1,000 employees are on what Giraldo calls the "frontline", serving customers.

"When we consider initiatives in HR, we have to think about how every one of them would work on the frontline," says Giraldo. "This autumn we are reinvigorating our customer service strategy, with an initiative called 'customer magic' to instill excellent customer service in our staff through workshops and consumer feedback."

Giraldo adds: "I love my function and I would always like to work in people strategy, but on the board I have to contribute more widely. A board needs to work in partnership focusing on the alignment [of the different departments] and collaboration. By operating this way, board members can make the business much stronger."

Giraldo sees the role of her HR department as allowing the company to be sustainable, "giving support where it is needed and empowering managers".

"I'm reassured by the steps HR has taken this year," she adds. "When I have brought a business case to the board it has been supported and we have grown our HR staff numbers from six to nine. This means we have been able to deliver our against our agenda - but we have also grown more savvy."

In March this year, the HR team set its recruitment strategy in place with the creation of a recruitment Facebook page and the launch of its Krispy Kreme Jobs website. The company also works with Government-funded recruitment agencies to hire long-term-unemployed jobseekers. In the Gateshead branch, a third of new starters found employment with the firm this way.

Giraldo explains: "When we identify a new site, we launch a marketing campaign on the strength of our brand to recruit. The government agencies we work with provide the first stage of screening, but we want to recruit staff who can demonstrate passion and the right attitude. We have a deep induction course so we can train people in skills. The energy of new recruits is critical for us, and recruiting long-term unemployed has worked really well for us. There's a social mobility angle here too. We are keen to support the communities we work in."

Giraldo has also set in place career journey-planners so staff can specialise in a part of the business in-store. After 18 months, staff become 'gurus', meaning they can then train colleagues in their function. The company also has a target of filling 50% of vacancies internally.

"It's vital that staff have exposure to the entire supply chain," Giraldo explains. "We encourage ownership, visibility and pride among staff because we actively encourage customers to engage with them. Staff engagement is vital as well because it links straight back to the bottom line through good customer service and productivity. Our line managers are targeted on their staff engagement scores as well."

In the spirit of supporting the communities Krispy Kreme operates in, the company has also launched a CSR campaign whereby customers representing a registered charity can buy doughnuts at cost price and sell them on at retail price, giving the proceeds to their chosen charity.

But in spite of Giraldo's people development initiatives, she admits there is a massive challenge ahead. Krispy Kreme is operating in a competitive market against coffee providers such as Costa and Starbucks and other treat providers in stores. Even with ambitious plans and the enhancement of customer service, its growth plans depend heavily on the right talent coming in, and the right marketing messages going out to ensure the right (or "magic" as Giraldo puts it) customer experience.

"We are on a growth journey - we have exciting and ambitious plans and HR is part of that - but we are at a juncture now. We're not 'there' yet - and I think anyone who says they are 'there' is wrong."

But this self-confessed savvy head of HR is optimistic about what lies ahead for her function and her business.

"I'm reassured by the steps we have built this year. I'm feeling privileged and energised. I'm proud of my team and the relations I have built with the board.

"There will be twists and turns ahead - but life would be boring without them, wouldn't it?"