How can you keep nearly fully staffed in a very tight job market? A top furniture industry recruiter explains how.
Bill O’Malley said he’s a bootstrapper whose career started in a Levitz warehouse. “I loved moving furniture around. Call me crazy,” he said.
“At 19 years of age, I was running the warehouse, then rose up through the ranks, mostly on the regional operations side, and then upward to the corporate office as vice president of operations.” During his career, he also held leadership positions at Mattress Discounters and Macy’s Logistics and Operations.
Today, O’Malley is the president and founder of Connector Team Recruiting, an affiliate office of the MRINetwork.
The Turnover Tsunami
“About 50 percent of businesses surveyed in 2021 said they were looking for talent. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) first published that information,” he recalled, “calling it a tsunami of turnover.
“We started to notice this same turnover tsunami based on client calls at Connector Team Recruiting early in 2021. Since then, the trend has accelerated. The pandemic has caused a lot of burnout. I recently spoke to a company CEO who normally has 600 people on staff. Right now, he has 150 openings. His company is getting the job done, but it’s not sustainable.
“Clients have told me things like:
- My office manager just left because he wants to see every national park before he dies, so he just gave his notice and walked away from a great job.
- My warehouse manager told me he’s decided to call it quits and retire early. He said I’m done. COVID did me in.”
Ten Thousand a Day
Retention should start
as soon as someone is hired. One of the best ways to achieve this is to make sure
that new employees have an excellent onboarding experience.
“Ten thousand baby boomers are leaving the workforce every day so there are lots more positions available out there, especially for senior managers. But most of the hiring activity is focused on entry-and middle management-level positions. Of these, finding retail sales managers has been particularly challenging. That’s in part because we ask these candidates to work weekends and nights, plus 10 to12 hour days. ‘We’ve reached a breaking point, a client recently told me. ‘We realize that we can’t have two people covering the schedule anymore. We need three, because otherwise, they will never get a weekend off, never.’ Agreeing to work every weekend is a difficult commitment to make for many people, especially those with growing families.
“Other retail segments have started to figure out how to adjust work rotations to make these jobs more attractive. The difference between telling someone they will never have a weekend off and that they will get one weekend a month off or rotate every other weekend is huge.”
O’Malley said that it’s a seller’s market. “Most job seekers in this environment can afford to be selective.
“For that reason, retail furniture companies need to work hard to retain current employees. One way to do this is to have frequent ‘employee stay’ conversations. Invite them out for a cup of coffee or lunch. Ask them what’s going on in their lives and careers. Then make sure that their work lives are as interesting and fulfilling as possible. There are ways to enhance almost any job or at the very least make people feel valued. Turnover is a huge issue so retailers need to connect with their employees at every level.
“Retention should start as soon as someone is hired. One of the best ways to achieve this is to make sure that new employees have an excellent onboarding experience. SHRM wrote that when new hires have a solid experience during their first two weeks of employment, they have a 70 percent chance of making it to the five-year level.”
That doesn’t happen all that often. O’Malley told Furniture World that people often say that they don’t get any meaningful work during those initial two weeks. Either they aren’t assigned anyone to shadow or they end up shadowing someone who doesn’t want anything to do with them.
“Consider quality of life issues,” he advised. “The more retailers can do to stagger schedules to accommodate the family needs of current employees, the better the chance they have of retaining them.
“These are some of the things I’m seeing in the marketplace right now. There are lots of reasons why people are jumping ship and job-hopping. So, review your pay plans. Make sure you’re relevant. Be mindful that the days of paying minimum wage or just above it are way behind us.”
Bill O’Malley pointed out that in a talent-starved market, it’s necessary to work every angle to recruit talented people and take a data-driven approach. It can require a narrower focus, so we find ourselves doing a kind of reverse recruiting. It used to be that as a nationwide recruiter I could find talented people who would move almost anywhere for a good job.” He said those days are long gone. “We’re seeing more people who want to return to their roots, for example, find a job where they grew up or went to school.”
The Younger Generation
“The baby boom generation was dollar-focused, but today, a younger generation of job seekers wants to work for companies that have heart. They hope to be proud of where they work. It’s an admirable quality. A lot of people roll their eyes at millennials. I have found that they are a great generation to work with.”
Furniture World asked if a medium-sized or smaller retailer not located in a popular lifestyle city, like Austin, can compete for young talent with top retailers. “Sometimes bigger isn’t better in terms of what younger candidates are looking for,” he replied. “But, no matter what the size of a company, retailers should expect that these job seekers will do research. That includes checking out what companies do for their communities and the planet as well as checking Glassdoor and customer reviews.
“There are a lot of servant leaders among smaller profile retail companies. Our industry is full of wonderful organizations. Sometimes though, they need to better communicate their strengths to potential hires by taking credit for all the good things they already do.”
Don’t Forget Perennials
“People who are retired but want to get back into the workforce can be very important to furniture retailers. These so-called perennials, make amazing part-timers and sometimes excellent full-time employees.”
Better Engage Candidates
“Artificial Intelligence,” O’Malley observed, “has helped to make platforms like Indeed and Monster much better. When looking to fill entry-level positions though, a good place to start is with your network. Go through your contacts. I have used LinkedIn since 2002 and I’m a big fan. There are 700 million people worldwide on LinkedIn. The platform recently implemented artificial intelligence to match people to jobs.
“My advice for retailers is to reply quickly to job inquiries with a personal touch. When somebody is in job search mode—whether they’re on a coffee break at work or home browsing the career section of your website—they are ready. If you can engage them within 15 minutes you have a much better chance of setting up a successful interview. That’s the number one tip that I can give anybody looking for people right now.
“And while we are on the topic of websites, many furniture retailers don’t have credible or highly visible career sections on their websites. If you don’t have information about why your store is a great place to work or if it takes someone more than three minutes to apply, you are going to lose good candidates. The process must be easy with well-thought-out form fields. If someone doesn’t have a resume, allow them to drop their LinkedIn profile into an applicant tracking system from your website. Another solid retail practice is to invite candidates to visit your operation for a walk-around so that they understand what they’re applying for.”
“I believe that the number of older employees leaving the workplace in the next three to five years will accelerate unless we see a large economic correction. The problem is that there just aren’t enough people to fill positions.
“Whether a retail operation has 50 people or 400,” O’Malley advised, “it’s useful to do what I call succession planning by location. That means taking the time to have personal conversations with people who might be considering retirement. It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable meeting and shouldn’t seem like you are encouraging them to leave. People love to talk about their careers and their plans. If somebody’s thinking about retiring, they are going to bring it up.”
He said that there’s a flip-side benefit to getting this kind of intel. “Younger people looking for jobs want to know about possible career paths. The best talent will not consider going to work for a retailer if they think there’s a possibility of working 10 years without being promoted.
“One of the biggest drivers of turnover right now at retail are junior buyers who are sitting behind, for example, two senior buyers in their early to mid-40s who aren’t going to retire anytime soon. It’s a fairly sure bet that the junior buyers are going to quit if they don’t see any chance to advance.” He advised that it’s often a preventable situation.
“I almost left Levitz Furniture early in my career for that same reason,” O’Malley recalled. ”Luckily a mentor stepped in to help me to see a new path for advancement. It required a move sideways in the organization, but it turned out to be a wonderful move that changed my career for the better.” He suggests that when companies work to identify these situations in advance, they can often find creative ways to intervene to make sure that people who are likely to leave can find their employment to be meaningful.
Keeping the Lights On
Just about every company in the furniture business, regardless of size, is struggling to find good people. Bill O’Malley predicted that the hiring and retention situation is likely to become even more difficult. He believes that whether retailers use a professional recruiter to provide a data-driven approach and take care of all the details or, choose to devote sufficient time resources, a combination of smart recruiting and focused retention are critically important to success.