What's In Store

Belk cuts hours of some store employees, increases hours for others

File photo of Belk at SouthPark mall
File photo of Belk at SouthPark mall mhames@charlotteobserver.com

Belk is shifting the hours of its associates across its 292-store footprint to give more time to customer-facing roles, and less time to back-office functions.

The change is part of an effort to better serve customers, but it’s having some unintended consequences for employees, including affecting their benefits, workers have told the Observer.

The Charlotte-based department store chain calls the move a “reallocation” of hours, rather than a reduction in hours. The change is intended to enhance the shopper experience, since customers will have more access to employees who can answer questions and assist with merchandise.

Fewer hours for some roles means that some employees are being moved into part-time positions, and are thus losing benefits like dental and vision insurance.

One affected Charlotte-area worker said “several others” at her store similarly lost their full-time benefits. The employee asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. A Belk spokesman declined to comment.

Faced by mounting pressure from the growth of e-commerce and automation, retailers nationwide have been working to cut costs – from layoffs at discount chains like Family Dollar to the chain-wide closure of stores like Hhgregg and Bebe.

Belk started as a small shop in Monroe in 1888 and grew into the largest family-owned department store chain in the U.S., with nearly 300 locations dotting 16 southeastern states. The chain sold itself to the private equity firm Sycamore Partners in late 2015 for $3 billion and has undergone a handful of noticeable changes since changing ownership.

Former Hot Topic CEO Lisa Harper took over as CEO of Belk last summer, for instance, marking the first time the retailer was run by someone outside the Belk family.

The company has done a few layoffs, including about 40 corporate workers last year at its headquarters off Tyvola Road. Belk has said it will continue to trim underperforming stores, while also adding or expanding stores in profitable markets, including three new stores in Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland, by the end of 2018.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta