Hiring and Retaining Employees in Today's Tight Labor Market, Part 3
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Hiring and Retaining Employees in Today's Tight Labor Market, Part 3

Hiring and Retaining Employees in Today's Tight Labor Market, Part 3

We asked four battle-tested franchisees to weigh in on the state of today’s labor landscape and how they are leveraging technology, flexible scheduling, wages, and benefits to maintain a culture where people want to work for them – and build a bench to prepare for future growth:

  • Fred Punke of Punke Holdings, 30 Supercuts and Cost Cutters in Indiana and Kentucky
  • David R. Blackburn, CEO and COO of Southern Rock Restaurants, the largest franchisee of McAlister’s Deli
  • Joshua Morris, co-founder of Blu Water Brew, with Scooter’s Coffee locations spread across Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas
  • Brian Pyle, CEO of ERC Management, who operates 20 Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers in Colorado and Alabama

This is the last in a 3-part series. Part 1 asked two questions: 1) In what ways did the pandemic make it harder for you to find employees? 2) What are some of the ways you found to keep your employees engaged and committed? Part 2 asked four questions: 1) How did you find employees to replace those you lost? 2) Did you try any employee-retention strategies that simply failed? 3) What are you doing differently today attract and retain employees today compared with 3 years ago? What role has technology played in strengthening your bench?

And now, we complete the series with three final questions.

Do you think the change in the employee landscape is here to stay? 

Fred Punke (Supercuts, Cost Cutters): Yes. Ours is an industry where our employees are licensed by state governments, and the education and licensing system cannot keep up with the growth and demand in our industry.

David R. Blackburn (McAlister’s Deli): I believe that until there is a recession of sorts we are in for a long haul. I estimate that about 40% of the restaurant workforce moved on to other things, but I also estimate that half of those have already returned or will return. We must get used to doing more with fewer people, restructure our production and service model, and try desperately not to lose our identity. Every brand must serve up its promise. Those that do will thrive, and those that don’t will die a slow death.

Joshua Morris (Scooter’s Coffee): Yes and no. I believe Covid has changed how we look at everything for the foreseeable future. However, I believe the employee landscape will start to normalize. People have adapted and feel more comfortable coming back to work. States are beginning to institute more stringent guidelines for assistance. Many businesses that operate with front-line workers have had to adapt with fewer people. We will see more companies start to use more automation and technology as a result of the pandemic, which reduces headcount need. I can see that as an advantage for good operators in QSR to attract labor as people come back into the workforce.

Brian Pyle (Freddy’s): I think you could probably argue both sides of it. Whoever can solve the employee crisis is going to be the winner. For us, it’s let’s make sure we put our best foot forward for every person who comes in our door, show them No. 1, we are a caring company, No. 2, we’re going to give you the training, and No. 3, that even if Freddy’s isn’t going to be your long-term career, the tools and the learning experience that you get from Freddy’s will better prepare you for your next adventure.

What are two “best practices” you rely on for hiring and retaining great employees in 2022?

Punke: Recruiting and engagement through the hiring and onboarding process.

Blackburn: Paying much more and advertising more with a key headline to capture interest. We also are migrating now to an artificial intelligence bot that will help process applicant interest and automatically schedule the interview at the store to help protect the valuable time of our managers. In our test locations, this is working great.

Morris: 1) Tell our story in the interview process and live up to it. 2) Continue to build our culture, grow our store count, and promote from within.

Pyle: Our focus is to be the employer of choice. Everything we do – our processes and the way we do things – is to become the employer of choice. We have a great culture. We build relationships. Our benefits package is very attractive. And as you keep growing with us, there are opportunities for growth, and with growth come different benefit levels and higher pay. Once we become that employer of choice, we can start overcoming some of the hurdles we are currently experiencing.

We try to focus on retaining our great employees through training. Once we get them in, we feel that if we have a dynamic training program, that sets the employee up for success. It also can show the culture we have built within our restaurants, the relationships our teams build with each other, and why they work for Freddy’s. We feel that if we can do all that well, we increase our probability of retaining our employees.

Anything else you recommend when it comes to hiring and retaining employees today?

Blackburn: If you’re not serving a guest, serve someone who is. Our industry must operate with a servant’s heart and treat your team like family. Love them, nurture them, and provide a safe and fun place to work. My first job was in 1979 at a restaurant where the manager made us all feel so important and included. After that experience, nothing else compared, so I quickly migrated back to this industry to dedicate my life to hospitality and deliver on my promise, along with the promise of the brands I have served.

Pyle: It’s the culture, it’s the relationships. We always say that life is short, make sure you have fun as you do what you’re doing. We try to create an environment that’s fun, friendly, and one that when you’re working for Freddy’s you’re going to enjoy. We really strive for that every day.

Published: April 29th, 2022

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