Culture of Advancement

Business partners John Gwaltney and Bryan Miller are looking to make their company, Virtus Family of Companies, VFOC, both bigger and “owner-independent.” That latter phrase means what it sounds like: an organization that can operate without them in the office. The goal, says Bryan Miller, is that “we can be less involved and our team will be exceptional, and it will be rote.”

To most home improvement company owners, singed in putting out the daily fires, that must read like Fantasyland. But it’s not if you’re willing to learn about HR, hiring, retention, and training. So now, at a critical growth stage, they’ve just gone through a “lengthy process of finding people and interviewing them and hiring a recruiter” and brought someone on to manage production. Why not promote somebody inside? “I could wait a year and a half to develop that skill in current staff but that isn’t going to help me grow the company,” Miller says. In other words, sometimes there’s no choice.


Making Opportunities

Promoting someone from inside vs. going outside is not mutually exclusive. Smart companies put the word out inside as well as look around outside for available talent. Every manager will probably sooner or later make the mistake of promoting, from some sense of obligation, a person who isn’t really right for a job only to watch them crash and burn. It happens more in sales than anywhere.

But there’s also the fact that you don’t want good people leaving.

People tend to stay at a company where their skills and talents are recognized and rewarded by advancement. That recognition should be the product not so much of managerial whim as of a system, with training, that shows people a path along which they can advance.

A handful of remodeling and home improvement companies have this down to a science. Neil Kelly Company, based in Portland, Oregon, is the textbook example. Neil Kelly Co. employs two hundred people. Most started in some job other than the one they now have. HR Vice President Julia Spence, for instance, began as a part-time receptionist. She explains that it’s all about making opportunities and training people for them. Neil Kelly offers about fifty different classes, anywhere from an hour to two hours long. It’s not only top management that teaches—owner Tom Kelly does one on company financials—but anybody at Neil Kelly that happens to be good at something. Know building codes? How about spec writing? Maybe you’re good at helping homeowners sort through the myriad of decisions involved in a kitchen remodel? Okay, so teach it. HR organizes the classes and keeps transcripts, Spence says, “so we know what people have taken and what they might want to take.”


Not An Either/Or

Good companies make room for good people to grow. But what if, like VFOC, you’re in a hurry to grow and there’s nobody at the company who can fill a position such as production manager? Then you go outside and hire. Neil Kelly Co., Spence says, advertises a new opening both inside and outside. It’s not an either/or. Plus, if someone inside gets the job, “he knows he competed with the rest of the world to get it.”

In some parts of the country, hiring has gotten so intense that you don’t really have the luxury of deciding whether to hire internally or go outside. When Catherine Honigsberg, General Manager at Maggio Roofing, in Takoma Park, MD, needs someone to work in the office, she contacts a temping agency. Temps know that, in effect, they’re auditioning for a full-time admin job. “I can’t write an ad and put it out there and find someone,” Honigsberg says. When she has, “they’re not competent.” On the other hand, “in production, we always promote from within,” Honigsberg, herself the former production manager, says, because the company’s installation standard is so rigorous. And salespeople? “My only hope is to find someone who’s moving into the area. Or someone young at another company who wants to move up.”


Cross Training

“In order to get to where you need to get to,” says Brian Elias, CEO of Michigan window/roofing company Hansons Windows “you have to have a training program. [Employees are] not going to get there by osmosis.”

Training costs money, even if that money is just time spent.

How Bad Hires Happen

It’s not a good feeling when it’s clear your new employee isn’t going to work out. A hiring mistake is of two types. The first, someone revealed to be completely incompatible with the culture of a company. The second, someone lacking skills and capabilities.

The Apprentice

Who wants to be an electrician? How about a framing carpenter? Raise your hand. If you were standing in front of most high school classes anywhere in the U.S., chances are what you’d see in response to that question would be not so much raised hands as bewildered faces.

Start Spreading The Word

Incentives and the right culture motivate employees to help you solve your recruiting problem. Learn how to setup an Employee Referral program from the industry's best.

Dream Job

Veteran home improvement salespeople call it “a hard way to make an easy living.” Daily rejection. Night and weekend hours. At what point do you let that mediocre performer go? Or should you?

The Game is Talent

It’s not news that installers are hard to find. Everybody’s talking about it. The difficulty in hiring labor points to a bigger problem, which is attracting young people to an industry that’s hardly a career destination.

Baby On Board

Your new hire arrives. How that’s going to work out is mostly up to you. Many home improvement companies hire only when they have to and preparing that new employee for success is an afterthought.

Short And Sweet – Job Fairs

Contractor associations and individual companies turn to job fairs to meet potential employees. While job fairs aren’t new, they’re a recent development in the home improvement industry. Job fairs can telescope the recruiting process into a few hours.

Second Chancers

If you desperately need people but dismiss out of hand the idea of hiring someone with a record, it might be time to take another look. Managing people successfully is about managing the individual.

Wanted: Hungry, Humble, and Smart

If you’re looking for employee installers, hire for attitude and be willing to train. Top replacement contractors discuss their training programs and how it is paying dividends.

Learning To Get By

English-speaking installers may be convenient but in many trades they’re no longer the majority. If you’re in the exterior contracting business, chances are good you’re using crews who don’t speak English.

Second Time Around

Companies once viewed former employees as gone for good once they left the company. Now it’s welcome back with arms wide open.

Reality Check

Every home improvement company is looking for people. So why would they want to work for yours? First off, what do the people you value want from an employer, and do you offer it?

Custom Solutions

It was standing room only in the meeting room at the Baltimore Convention Center last October. The topic: Labor. That is, a shortage of it. Owners are being forced to improvise.

Normal People

Profiling can be a key recruiting piece but it’s up to you to manage them.Larry Closs, owner of Maxhome, in New Orleans, is “totally sold” on profile assessments to avoid mis-hires.

Thank You For Being Here

Culture is king at home improvement companies with long-term employees. Advice from top contractors on how to think long term and create a culture of loyal, engaged employees.

In Sales: People Skills Predict Success

How do you know when that sales rookie is ready to fly solo? This month's column examines when to hand over that $350 lead to a new sales rep and how to predict future sales success.

How Big Are Your Benefits?

Many home improvement companies juggle the need to attract and retain employees with wisely managing expenses and cash flow. This month's column offers insight for finding a balance.

Hard Truths, Soft Costs

Owners often discover what someone’s worth only when they have to hire a replacement. Jim Cory examines the real value of good employees in this month's column.

Recruit Like You Market by Jim Cory

Shane Schuckman is looking for a canvas manager. In the last year and a half, the company he co-owns and manages Renewal by Andersen of Phoenix - has had seven.