Understand human experiences. Build better communication.

2018: Builders

Builders, a group of retail hardware stores in Africa, was looking for innovative ways to improve its in-store sales and employee engagement. Customers had flagged communication and customer service as areas that needed improvement, but communication was seen as a marketing function, and there was no mutual understanding between corporate communication, individual communication and operational communication.

The most important communication need was to improve communication flow and to ensure that the employees on the shop floor had the right tools and messages to improve customer service. What’s more, because there were no channels to listen to employees on the shop floor, there was absent agility when it came to solving problems practically.

DevCom was contracted for:

The stated purpose of the research was to lead the way for a new approach to operational communication.

Our implementation

The research took us through two stakeholder analysis processes.

First, we analysed the different departments and identified the roles within each (for both the stores and the regional and head office structures).

We also wanted to understand the emotional and human elements in the environment that go mostly unnoticed.

The insertion of a “Day in the life of” routine and understanding the environments of the employees gave us very good insights into the real challenges in the environment.

This understanding of world view and practicalities, deeper than just counting hits and evaluating channels, aligned with the communication model that informed the research methodology.

Very specific elements from the research informed the pilot project. The pilot project formally established a line communication system in the business for the first time, and the nature of the toolkits, product diagrams, and tools were directly influenced by the research.


Our greatest challenges included scheduling the research, since the retail space couldn’t be closed for research purposes. Internal coordination and sign-off with all the different departments was also a massive effort. Finally, feedback to the participants was never part of previous engagement, nor of other research studies, and at first, we had to motivate strongly for this.

Our impact

The results at the end of the third month of our pilot included changed mindsets among employees, with increased confidence when it came to advising customers, improved customer service, improved product knowledge, and fewer customer complaints.

For one pilot store in Robindale, the store received no customer complaints during the month of June 2018 and reached half its weekly sales target in just three days. The paint department’s sales increased measurably.

Beyond the research

Subsequently, a full line communication system was developed, including the creation of the first ever single business measurement matrix for Builders. The matrix was used to list key indicators for the stores, and interesting themes emerged. Conversations around the matrix also influenced the annual CEO roadshow, as it was clear that the business goals could be better articulated. The process helped to distil the roadshow content to an easy-to-communicate one-pager.

The system also extended to capacity-building with the branch, admin and sales manager in the stores. Through continued support, and data capturing and analysis throughout the development and implementation of the system, integration of business units and consistent communication was achieved.

One of the key business issues the CEO discussed during the Steercom meetings for this project, was the inability of the business to create stickiness with its change projects. The business had several initiatives that introduced changes in the stores, but there were challenges when it came to implementing these consistently in all stores.

Understanding why this happened was a key business success factor.
Implemented and completed by June 2018, the pilot project led to an immediate roll-out of tools into all stores for the rest of 2018. The business acknowledged that this was an always-on business function and did not want to see it as a project. It was also named accordingly: “The Builders Way of Communication”.

Builders team members blowing bubbles during a capacity building session. Our sessions are always user friendly, fun and something to remember.