Reflex Believes Flex Workers Can Solve the Retail Labor Shortage
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As the mother of an 18-month-old daughter, Mary Monds was in search of a job that could bring in some extra income without needing to pay for childcare. She applied to several work-from-home jobs she found online, but nothing stuck.
The answer to her problem came from a place she least expected. While selling a couch on a secondhand marketplace for Austin women, she met someone who told her about Reflex, a website where local retailers post open shifts for sales associates.
After a quick Zoom interview with Reflex, Monds found herself working 20 hours a week for a variety of retailers on South Congress Avenue, at The Domain and in Bee Cave. When her husband is on summer break from his job at a local school district, she is able to increase her hours from 20 hours per week to 40 hours per week.
Monds said retailers have offered her to work as a regular employee, but she prefers the flexibility of Reflex, which also submits payments 24 hours after her shift. She just worked her hundredth Reflex shift this past week.
“I love the flexibility,” Monds said. “If I want to have three Saturdays off in a row, I can do that. I can choose my schedule and not feel guilty about not meeting certain expectations.”
It’s no secret that retailers are struggling to fill shifts, as evidenced by the “now hiring” signs adorning nearly every other storefront in the country. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, retail job vacancies in the U.S. increased from 446,000 in April of 2020 to more than 1 million in December of 2021.
Reflex co-founder and CEO Mike Meyers said he firmly believes that the retail labor shortage is not a reflection of people not wanting to work; it’s a reflection of people wanting to work differently.
Meyers said the pandemic accelerated a change in the workplace that made workers value flexibility above all else.
“When we talk about churn in retail, a lot of those workers are leaving retail because they weren’t able to find the flexibility that worked for them,” Meyers said. “Pay plays into it, but it’s not the driving factor.”
Building the business
Meyers said he started thinking about the labor market after a conversation with an Uber driver, who told him that he was trying to earn extra income for his daughter to go to college. The driver told Meyers that he already had a full-time retail job and that he wouldn’t be able to pick up a second retail job because it would require him to commit to 15 or 20 hours per week.
The gig economy has expanded beyond ride-sharing and food delivery to other sectors like nursing and construction, Meyers said. So he posited that a similar model could work for retail. His thesis was validated when he reached out to retailers in the Austin area, several of which have stores across the country.
Reflex currently works with several national brands, including Faherty, a clothing and lifestyle brand. Alan Martin, the company’s vice president of retail, said in a statement that Reflex has helped store managers be nimble in their staffing strategies.
“These days, the store manager must react to footfall pattern changes, in-store web fulfillment and inconsistent stock receiving while still driving in-store activities to create a memorable shopping experience,” Martin said. “Having a modern way to get talent in the door quickly to support these variables has made our business better, for the team and the customer.”
Meyers did not disclose the number of retailers on the Reflex platform, as it is constantly growing, but research suggests these businesses would welcome any solution that helps them staff their storefronts. In a Retail Industry Leaders Association survey, 70 percent of retail executives said they plan to rely more heavily on flexible labor over the next three years.
Meyers does not, however, think of Reflex as part of the gig economy, which has a reputation for using workers in a transactional manner. Meyers said that all of Reflex’s decisions — from features on the platform to how it invests capital — is driven by putting the worker first.
“We believe if we put the worker first and think of this as the flex economy versus the gig economy — where it’s not about a transaction but about a community — and really being able to build a life around flexibility, that’s going to attract the best talent,” he said.
Reflex recently emerged from stealth with $4.5 million in seed funding, which brings its fundraising total to nearly $6 million. The company plans to use the seed funding to expand across Texas this year and enter new cities over the next 18 months.
Reflex also plans to hire across operations, growth and engineering. Meyers said the currently 10-person team plans to grow to 20 or 25 employees by the end of the year.