Tsawwassen Mills tackles major recruitment crunch

Mega-mall to operate employee shuttle while retailers pay wages higher than minimum wage

The 1.2-million-square-foot Tsawwassen Mills mall is slated to open October 5 | Ivanhoé Cambridge

Tsawwassen Mills management is taking extraordinary steps to attract workers in time for the 1.2-million-square-foot mall’s October 5 launch, but the mall’s tenants continue to find recruitment a challenge.

The mall announced in a September 20 email to tenants it will operate a daily employee-shuttle service that leaves the mall, which is at the corner of Highway 17 and 52nd Street, every half hour between 8:15 a.m. and 10:15 p.m. Service on Sundays will end two hours earlier.

It will travel to Scott Road SkyTrain station, where it would also leave every half hour. Each trip would take 25 minutes.

Fees for the shuttle, the only one at a Metro Vancouver mall, will be $2 each way or $40 for a monthly pass.

“The shuttle will help fill a gap in the public transit system” Tsawwassen Mills general manager Mark Fenwick told Business in Vancouver.

He said that a yet-to-be-named professional charter bus company would operate two 24-passenger buses on the route to the mall, which is in the low-density southwest corner of Metro Vancouver.

Retail Insider Media owner Craig Patterson said he had never heard of such a shuttle being operated by a shopping mall in Canada but added that it highlights the difficulty tenants are having hiring employees. He commended mall owner Ivanhoé Cambridge for finding the innovative solution.

“We’ve hired zero staff at the moment, unfortunately,” said Joe Dagony, CEO of Yogibo Canada, which manufactures and sells beanbag chairs. “Hiring is a challenge as we don’t get too many emails and applications in Tsawwassen.”

Dagony already operates a store in Coquitlam, and he is opening two new stores in October: one in Tsawwassen and one at Metropolis at Metrotown.

“Metrotown is not a problem for hiring,” he said. “We get tons of resumés. It’s easier for more people to commute with SkyTrain. Burnaby is also a more populated area than Tsawwassen.”

Bass Pro Shop general manager Gerry MacIntyre agreed with Dagony, telling Business in Vancouver that “everyone in the [Tsawwassen Mills] mall is feeling the same anxiety.”

MacIntyre’s task is much bigger than Dagony’s, however, because MacIntyre needs about 400 employees for his 148,000-square-foot outdoor, camping supply and adventure store. Dagony aims to hire eight people by opening day and then to ramp up to 20 workers by the holiday season.

All of the 300 people MacIntyre has hired so far will be paid at least 5% more than minimum wage with most earning much more.

Dagony starts workers at $12 per hour, plus commissions that he said will likely add at least $3 per hour to that wage.

Most of McIntyre’s workers come from Delta, which includes the Tsawwassen and Ladner districts, he added.

“If you’re coming by car from Richmond, you have to pass through the [George Massey] tunnel. Your work schedule will be approximately when there is a single lane going in your direction because three lanes of the tunnel all go in the direction of the rush hour.”

McIntyre expects that only “a few” of his employees will take public transit.

TransLink services the mall with three buses. There’s an express bus that goes between Bridgeport Canada Line station in Richmond and the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, a second bus that goes on a similar route but has more stops and a third bus that is a smaller and travels between central Tsawwassen and the Tsawwassen First Nation lands.

Fenwick told BIV that he also plans to operate a free shuttle that goes between the mall and the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to match ferry arrivals.

“That way people from Victoria and Nanaimo can leave their car on the island, walk on the ferry and take our complimentary shuttle to the mall,” he said.

He said the mall’s 6,000 parking stalls will include 75 handicap spaces, 14 stalls for electric vehicles and 22 for car-share programs, although Fenwick has yet to ink any agreements with car-share companies to provide vehicles. •