Harry & David has no plan to farm out local jobs, firm says

A Harry & David Holdings executive said Wednesday the Medford-based company expects seasonal hiring to be in line with last year — and it has no plans to outsource its local call center as scheduled in Ohio.

Chief Financial Officer Ed Dunlap said the gourmet food and gift giant still tentatively plans to hire a couple of thousand people to work in the call center at the company's Medford headquarters. "We're still in the planning stages and haven't nailed it down yet," Dunlap said. "Our first assumption is that it's going to be unchanged from last year with virtually as many people as last year."

Harry & David announced its intentions to outsource call center activity at its Hopewell campus in Hebron, Ohio. An unidentified third-party operator will handle call center duties. In the past, about 800 workers in Hebron handled overflow activity from the Medford call center during the Christmas rush.

"Those people employed by the third party could be working more of the year because they service other clients," Dunlap said. "Those employees may have the opportunity to work from home, work more and earn more."

He said the call center vendor has inquired about the employee roster at Harry & David's shuttered seasonal call center in Eugene. The vendor has enough clients to operate on economies of scale not available to Harry & David.

"Their operating margin is less," Dunlap said. "We're good at selling gourmet gifts and all they do is run call centers with a degree of proprietary skills and specialization that allow them to operate efficiently and effectively.

Dunlap said outsourcing a variety of functions is part of Harry & David's cost-cutting mode.

"If you look back to changes we made in the spring," he said, "we've begun to outsource various services in order to better manage our expenses. This is a continuation of that. It's a harbinger of what we are doing coming forward, utilizing outside parties."

Dunlap said Harry & David's peach harvest has begun and pear picking is anticipated to begin in early September. He said seasonal hiring during the harvest season also would be similar to last year's totals.

"We did our assessment in mid-June and we're pleased with the quality of the crop," he said. "We're in good shape."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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