Recession brings unique hiring challenges

The recession has forced many vending and OCS operators to downsize. But whether from a shift in the services provided or a more stable economy with less unemployment, many operators have started hiring again. And with the hiring process comes the challenge of finding good, qualified people, sifting through overwhelming applicants and determining proper compensation. Many operators rely on word of mouth, while others are using employment agencies. And knowing what is needed in an employee, besides basic requirements, is just as important as compensating them fairly.

Qualified employees still a challenge

Finding good quality candidates strongly challenges small, family owned operations which need workers who are multi-talented and committed to the company, instead of just the paycheck.

Mark Legler, owner of V.E.N. Enterprises, a small honor box and vending operation in rural Indiana, finds it staggering how few people in his area have a good driving record, good attendance record or who can be trusted with a lot of cash.

“We can teach everything else they need to know, but if they don’t have these qualities, they are probably not the right person for what we want to do,” said Legler. Rather than put an ad in the paper or online and sift through applicants, Legler looks in his community for those who meet the requirements. If he can’t hire the right candidate, then he won’t hire anyone.

“The people we have now enjoy the relative freedom of working by themselves, traveling around the area, and interacting with people,” said Legler.

He finds if the job doesn’t fit the employee, the pay doesn’t matter. He pays a straight hourly wage because he asks his employees to do many jobs from repairing/moving machines to selling new accounts.

Marni Frank, co-founder of Community Refreshments, Tampa, Fla., doesn’t find high unemployment rates making good, qualified employees easier to come by, even in densely populated Florida. “There are very few people with the mentality to grow with us,” she said. Being a small OCS provider, having dedicated employees is a must.

For Frank, the skills that are more important now than ever are the ability to upsell an account and be knowledge about service. She’d like a driver who can notice a location buying coffee cups from a savings club, for instance, and then communicate to them that Community Refreshments could supply those instead.

Frank pays drivers bonuses on top of their salaries for upselling an account or finding a new account. Her sales force is split, some receiving a similar bonus package and some getting a commission for maintaining the relationship, although this is often viewed as the route driver’s job.

Hiring is the same, but tools differ

Randy Parks, owner and founder of ProStar Services, Inc. in Carrollton, Texas, thinks the economy has led to better candidates and less turnover, but not to an extreme.

“It’s a work-a-day industry,” he said, “so it’s sometimes difficult to find folks with the right work ethic.” He posts jobs online, on Craig’s List, or hires employees from a temporary agency if he doesn’t think the position will be permanent, such as for software projects.

“I used to use newspapers,” said Parks, “but it seems folks we want to hire are all online.”

Outsourcing screening helps

Bob Yeomans, owner of Central Vending in Janesville, Wis., outsourced his recent hires of a full- and part-time route driver because it was easier and convenient.

“I think the pool of capable people is larger than it was,” he said. “That’s a good and bad thing.”

Yeomans found when looking for an applicant on his own, he’d be flooded with resumes. “When you get thousands of applications to weed through, it’s a challenge, if you’re a small business owner,” he said, “even 50 applications is a challenge.”

Yeomans used the employment agency Manpower, in part because he didn’t need the drivers immediately. He gave Manpower his requirements, and two months later he got candidates that met his exact needs. “I’m very happy with who they found,” he said.

A mid-size, Chicago-area operator also outsourced hiring with the help of a professional employer organization (PEO). PEOs provide human resource services to small business clients — paying wages and taxes and assuming responsibility and liability for compliance with myriad state and federal laws and regulations.

“All our employees technically work for them,” said Lee Hartnett, co-owner of Commercial Coffee Service/Food Systems Inc., Bridgeview, Ill. The company made the decision to use a PEO four years ago after being hit with 20 to 30 percent increases in health insurance costs. They’re happy with the switch.

“It controls costs on insurance, relieves us of dealing with workman’s compensation, and allows us access to an extensive HR department,” explained Hartnett. “Employees can even call for counseling,” he added, which is something his company can’t offer on its own.

Even with the help of the PEO, Commercial Coffee Service/Food Systems Inc. still hires most often by word of mouth. Hartnett tried using Career Builder, the online job Website, and after two days he stopped printing the resumes because he had 2,200. At that point, he took a stack and hoped it included the best candidate.

Now the company relies more on existing employee referrals for filling job openings, which has been successful.

Commercial Coffee Service/Food Systems Inc. offers bonuses to employees who recommend someone who is subsequently hired, and then pays a bonus every year the new hire is still with the company. “What you find is people won’t recommend someone for hire who will make them look bad,” said Hartnett. “And they take the extra effort to help the new person with training or whatnot.”

Hire at a moment’s notice?

According to Tom Siciliano, chief operating officer of Huntley, Ill.-based Integrity Associates LLC, most operators struggle to find the best employee because they are reactive instead of proactive. When someone quits or is terminated, there is rush to find a replacement, which leads to an abbreviated job hunt. To counter this, Siciliano suggests keeping a desk drawer full of potential employees.

“You’re always recruiting,” he said about employers who hire the best. “You’re always looking for talent.” Siciliano said operators should be aware of their competition’s best driver, and know when he or she quits. Operators should keep in contact with candidates that would make good employees, taking them out to lunch occasionally so the candidate knows the operator is still interested in hiring them in the future.

Another common misstep Siciliano sees is operators that don’t have a full, detailed job description when hiring. It’s about drilling beyond the basics of a good driving record, reasonable employment attendance, and even service experience, down to the intangibles.

“What we sometimes miss are: work ethic, team building, people skills, communication skills, and advancement potential,” he said. “(For example), will this individual be able to take it to the next level?”

Find the right fit

Tom Britten, president of Zephryhills, Fla.-based Britten Management Services, LLC, has seen operators hire the wrong person simply because they didn’t fully evaluate the job and candidate. He once talked to an operator struggling to keep employees. The most recent hire just stopped coming to work. He was a computer programmer who took the route driver job because he needed it, but didn’t really understand what it would be like to spend 10 hours a day working in a hot truck.

“A big mistake is not considering the rigors of the work compared to what the employee is used to,” said Britten. This needs to be brought up in the interview. “If (they) don’t like to carry three cases of soda up three flights of stairs, then this job isn’t for (them),” he added.

Britten advocates hiring based on the recommendations of current employees. The current employee understands the job and the requirements. “It’s always been a challenge to find a good fit,” said Britten about hiring route drivers.

The tough economy presents all sorts of challenges, but hiring using existing employees as references or outside companies to assist with screening is helping operators find the best employees. Compensating employees well has allowed many operators to keep good employees once they have found them. These are essential components of having a successful vending or OCS operation.


For more information, contact:
Britten Management Services, 813-469-5437,
Integrity Associates LLC,847-669-6723;
Manpower, 414-961-1000;
National Automatic Merchandising Association,312-346-0370,