Footwear Company: Relocation Fears

FOOTWARE COMPANY: RELOCATING A CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS

Calming Employee and Community Fears


Our client was a highly profitable operating subsidiary of one of the world's largest footwear manufacturers. With a loyal customer base, outstanding retail channels, and exceptionally high name recognition in global markets, it was imperative that the company announce a corporate relocation without the slightest interruption to its business or distraction to its employees.

Background and Situation Analysis

Nearly 30 years after its founding in a small, blue-collar Massachusetts town, this footwear company was required to move to the recently completed headquarters of its larger, even more well known parent. In addition to the 50-mile move, which was part of a major cost-cutting program, the company also needed to announce the sale of its building and a major restructuring that would eliminate 30 percent of its workforce. Slowly, the company had been shifting new employees to the corporate campus, many enduring an extended, time-consuming commute. Now, everyone had to move.

Since its founding, the company had been fiercely proud of its corporate culture, which was quite distinct from its larger parent and other firms in the industry. The company also had a long and fruitful relationship with the community it was about to leave. Many local political leaders - including the mayor - had helped nurture the business, which created hundreds of good jobs at good wages. Rumors of an impending move were rife. Employees were understandably concerned and anxious.

Our client needed to find a way to communicate its move in the proper context, maintain a cordial and constructive relationship with its hometown, and protect its history and hard-earned reputation among employees and community leaders.

The Plan

A team of N&A counselors met with the company's chief executive officer and other senior executives to develop a comprehensive strategy. Key audiences were identified. They encompassed employees, business partners, Wall Street, political leaders, civic organizations, the news media, footwear industry trade media, real estate media, state employment security officers, and economic development officials. Goals were set. Key messages and talking points were defined.

The basic strategy was to "tell it like it is." The decision was made to talk about the move as a necessary business decision and not a reflection on the company's employees, hometown, or its political and civic leadership. The relocation was positioned as enhancing the company's competitiveness and creating synergies and efficiencies within the corporate parent and its subsidiaries. This could only be possible by moving the company to the corporate campus.

Given its distinct corporate culture, the company also needed to demonstrate that it was sensitive to and was taking steps to mitigate the disruption that the relocation would cause in the lives of the affected employees and their families. The company was advised to openly talk about the severance packages it would be providing to the dozens of employees who would lose their jobs and talk specifically about retention packages for the employees whose jobs were being relocated.

The Results

  • What could have been a highly charged employee issue was managed honestly, expeditiously and professionally.
  • Only two stories appeared in regional and local newspapers (one of the two stories was only two paragraphs long).
  • Footwear trade media barely mentioned the story in monthly newspapers and magazines.
  • There was no disruption in the stock price of the parent company to whose campus the footwear company was moving.
  • Any lingering criticisms of the move were put into a proper context...without any irrational or inappropriate employee behavior.
  • Key employees willingly made the move to the new facility and understood the reasons that made it necessary.