Gibor Sabrina – Making Saleswomen Feel They Belong

Gibor Sabrina was founded in 1969 and became one of Israel’s largest textile companies. Later it merged with Lodzia Rotex, which was founded in 1924 and became a subsidiary of Argaman, a family-owned corporation. Although it used to employ thousands of workers the company underwent several transformations and today employs 360 workers in Israel at two main centers: the manufacturing department in Kfar Saba, whose products are all exported, and the local-market department, whose products are marketed through two primary channels:
A. The company’s chain of stores, which now includes 29 branches, some of which are owned by franchises. The company-owned stores employ some 50 saleswomen.
B. Outlet stores and apparel stores such as Hamashbir Letzarchan. Some 80 sales promoters are employed at these stores to offer customers Gibor Sabrina products.
Gibor Sabrina also owns a subsidiary in Romania that employs 500 workers and a substantial portion of the manufacturing process is carried out by subcontractors in countries like China, India and Turkey.
The company’s main product line is undergarments, particularly seamless underwear. Annual sales total NIS 260 million ($63 million). Seventy percent of sales are directed to foreign markets.
We spoke with Gibor Sabrina’s human resources manager in Israel, Etti Bernstock, about the company’s approach to employee management.

What is the composition of the workforce at the factory?
Etti Bernstock: “The production apparatus in Israel consists of approximately 120 employees, who can be divided into field workers and development workers. If we add to the production people at the machines the packaging and warehouse workers as well, their numbers approach the 80-mark. The development staff numbers about 40 workers. The remaining workers, over 80, are administration workers and managers.

Some of the managers are located abroad. In Romania the management is Israeli. Even at the subcontractor in Jordan there is an Israeli manager and Israeli employees. The Jordanian contractor manufactures primarily for us. Even some of the machines there are ours.

 If the production process in China and Romania is less expensive, why operate a production setup in Israel at all?
Because the products are complex. In China and Romania they don’t yet have the know-how to manufacture them and in Israel there is more advanced expertise in the complex products. Of the classic production professions the only ones that remained here are knitting and dying.

Today the cost of the conveyance process is less significant. A product can leave here for sewing in Jordan and come back to Israel for dying and finishing work.

Gibor Sabrina recruits employees via the Internet. Why would a traditional production factory recruit employees via the Internet? Isn’t it a recruiting platform for high-tech companies?
To tell you the truth I hardly do any recruiting through other means. Keep in mind that although Gibor Sabrina belongs to the category of traditional industry, in this industry as well there has been a shift to higher caliber employees. I wouldn’t post an ad for a production worker on the Web because such candidates won’t come from the Internet. But for administrative, managerial and other types of positions I would post an ad. People surf the Web on a routine basis. This recruitment track alone meets almost all of our needs in these areas.

I assume the recruitment needs are not very high. The turnover rate at traditional factories is not particularly high. And it’s not a factory that has been bringing in more workers. Activities are being transferred to subcontractors and streamlining processes are being introduced.
There are very veteran workers who have been here for over 30 years in every department – production, management and administration. But there is turnover, which can be seasonal. Last year, for instance, we cut back partly because of the transfer of activity abroad. Now we are bringing back workers, including some of those we laid off last year.

But these workers occupy relatively simple positions. If I go looking for a knitter it would be very hard to find one outside the factory.

So what do you do?
We look for a suitable candidate who is willing to be a knitter and then we have to train him. This type of recruitment task is definitely complicated. Therefore first we would try to find someone like that within our system. For example, we closed a department in which two cutters were employed and we trained them as knitters.

But our primary recruitment activity is at headquarters and development; marketing and design people, and managers of course. These are professions for which those involved surf the Web routinely. If we’re not under pressure, first we’ll advertise on Jobnet before we turn to placement companies.

[Since this article is being posted on Jobnet, I would like to note that before my conversation with Etti Bernstock I was unaware that Jobnet is Gibor Sabrina’s main recruitment tool for managers, central administration workers and development personnel. –S.S.]

Why Jobnet, when there are other recruitment sites as well?
It’s considered one of the leaders in its field. At first we used them on a trial basis and when we saw it worked, we continued.

What kinds of placement companies do you work with?
It depends what kind of employees I’m looking for. If I need laborers, I will turn to personnel companies that specialize in recruiting these kinds of workers.

Personnel companies prefer having the workers employed through them rather than just receiving a finder’s fee. How does this work at Gibor Sabrina?
I prefer having the worker be an employee of ours from day one, so that he doesn’t feel like a foreign transplant. But even if I employ him as a placement company employee it won’t be for more than three months, just a trial period.

If you prefer hiring a worker as an employee of yours from the first day on the job, why are there cases in which this doesn’t happen?
Sometimes a placement company is adamant and I concede to it. Sometimes I hire workers on a temporary basis and sometimes I’m really unsure regarding the worker’s suitability, and in such cases I prefer having him employed at first through a personnel company.

So are these your only two recruitment tools – Internet and personnel companies?
There are cases in which I have to place newspaper ads. This tool is appropriate for certain niches, such as sales promoters. They use Internet less and seek the help of personnel companies less, therefore in order to recruit them we will turn more to the local press. That generally suffices.

What about the nationwide press?
Usually this is unnecessary. The cost is unjustified. But if I have a number of positions I want to fill I might consider advertising them in a nationwide newspaper.

Although Gibor Sabrina is no longer a large company in terms of the number of employees, it is still very heterogeneous and decentralized. Sales promoters, production workers, designers and finance people. How do you create integration among such a broad range of workers at a relatively small organization?
That really is quite a challenge. For instance, when we want to organize an event that will meet everybody’s expectations. But on the other hand what does facilitate the bond is Gibor Sabrina being a longstanding company.

Company veterans have known one another for years, and this familiarity almost totally eradicates the potential barrier due to differing background and levels of education. This applies to a considerable portion of the factory workers, almost half of them.

Naturally new employees fit into this familial atmosphere. Conversation is very down-to-earth.

From this standpoint sales promoters are not really part of the organization
It’s definitely not the same kind of bond. They work all around the country and even at sites not belonging to retail chains and not to the company. This is also a group that by its nature has a larger turnover rate. And they’re not always employed on a fulltime basis. Therefore our primary recruitment activities are in the area of sales. First of all, because the sales promoters account for the majority of turnover at the company, and secondly because the network of stores is expanding, which means more saleswomen are needed.

Do you try to give the sales promoters a feeling of belonging to the company, or is that pointless?
We try. For example, recently we held a Purim party at a local events hall [in Kfar Saba] and called it “Dancing With the Workers.” We paired the employees with dancers and held a competition. Over 300 people came, both employees and their spouses.

The sales promoters and saleswomen were of course invited. Not all of them showed up, since some live far away. In the dance competition we made of point one of insuring at least one of the contestants was a sales promoter to give them the sense they’re an integral part of the competition and of the company.

Among the sales personnel more than ten sales promoters came to the party. It seems we were more successful in giving the saleswomen a sense of belonging than the sales promoters.

That’s only natural. The saleswomen work in the company stores and feel they belong, despite the physical distance from the company, whereas the sales promoters work at a different organization. In essence they belong to a different group – the retail chains they are assigned to.
You’re right. It really is a problem. It’s not just a problem at Gibor Sabrina, but at every organization that uses sales promoters. I experienced it at my last job, too [at Intercosma, a cosmetics and toiletries importer –S.S.].

Does Gibor Sabrina offer training activities and organizational development?
Until a year and a half ago there was no built-in activity in this area. If somebody needed training he was sent to a course outside the factory. One of the reasons I came here was to develop this area.

I met with the department managers and we began to set annual goals related to organizational development in order to create an annual training program.

This represents a change in the organizational culture, not just a series of technical activities.
Very much so. When I arrived at the company people thought I had come primarily to organize employee activities, parties and company events. At first they didn’t understand how these matters, such as planning and formulating goals or locating weak points that have room for improvement, had anything to do with me.

But after raising a few brows they came to accept it and in my first year we outlined the areas where training was needed to close gaps. Meanwhile we worked together to set ways of gauging quality work.

You also began to run a performance assessment apparatus.
Yes. It was introduced gradually, of course, because it represented a change in work habits. Last year we began holding assessment talks, which the managers do only with the managers subordinate to them and with their secretaries.

This year we’re now integrating assessment activity for production line workers as well. We faced a real dilemma. It was clear to me that if I were to ask a department manager with 30 employees to provide feedback it wouldn’t work. The solution was constructing a short, focused assessment form for production workers.

What benefits were achieved through the assessment program?
Quite a few. First of all, everyone wants to know what his manager thinks of him. And the manager listens to him. A dialogue is created and expectations are matched. Goals get set together.

Secondly, such an apparatus allows every manager to evaluate the worker’s advancement each year and the degree to which he achieved the goals set.

For me, as human resources manager it helps gauge the potential of every employee and allows me to manager the workers’ mobility within the company. 

Doesn’t a worker who receives a positive assessment expect a raise in salary?
We make a distinction between the assessment and salary raises. At Gibor Sabrina there are no annual salary talks and therefore there is no reason to draw a connection between the two apparatuses.

The assessment system is not yet computerized
No, because we’re just getting started and we don’t yet have a lot of data. When it begins to accumulate we’ll computerize the system.


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