Dealers place premium on RSA retention

employment opportunitiesBy Ken Ryan-ToThe labor shortage is affecting every segment of the US economy, including the flooring industry, where retailers are scrambling to fill vacancies amid continued strong activity. While employment growth accelerated to a 10-month high in June, according to the US Department of Labor, it is not moving fast enough for some carpet dealers.

“We’re having an incredibly difficult time filling employee positions,” said Denise Fike, co-owner of Fike Bros. Carpet One Floor & Home, located in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery, which has multiple locations in the Louisville, Ky., market, agreed, noting, “Every company is struggling right now to staff its locations with the best people possible. The problem is that we all recruit from the limited pool of either someone who already has a job, or the few who are actually looking to get back to work.”

Many entrepreneurs have complained about the additional unemployment benefits received by millions from March, claiming it has discouraged large numbers of people from returning to work. The supplemental aid, which was linked to the American Rescue Plan Act, will expire on September 6, but states can opt-out early. As of now, 26 states have already announced that they will stop providing comprehensive unemployment benefits in the summer, with many states ending payments in June.

The end of the extra unemployment benefit will not immediately solve the labor shortage, experts say. In this market, where employees exercise influence, retaining your best performing employees is just as important as hiring new ones. With so many job openings, experts advise against assuming that your best employees will show up when they can easily jump into the competition, start a new career, or just retire.

For their part, floor sellers do everything they can to keep their top performers. Strategies range from sweetening the pot with extra pay and bonuses to time off, staff lunches and overall appreciation. “We strive to retain our best employees by properly compensating them, listening to their ideas and suggestions, and making them feel valued,” said Ted Gregerson, owner of two retail flooring stores in Anniston, Ala.—Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go by Anniston. “By doing that every day for years, we don’t worry every time there is a tight labor market. But for the past year we’ve been looking for ways to give them more free time, and we’ll continue to look for ways to reduce the number of hours they work. They seem to appreciate that.”

During uncertain times, such as the early days of the COVD-19 pandemic, The Langan Group (dba Carpetland USA) cared for its many employees at nine locations in Iowa and Illinois. For example, although hours were reduced during the height of the pandemic, the company’s support staff were paid as if they worked a full work week. In addition, the retailer paid all employees an additional weekly wage as an incentive to help the employees weather the storm. Most importantly, according to Eric Langan, president/owner, no one was fired. “People are our number 1 asset and I hope what we’ve done over the years has shown that to our employees. I am confident that our history, culture, pay and ability to grow within our company will preserve our best talent.”

Several retailers spoke about the importance of ‘culture’ in building and maintaining a winning team. Owner/operator of three retail brands in Ohio (Barrington Carpet, Carpet Country and Young’s Carpet One), Craig Phillips said he is blessed with what he believes to be the best teams in the industry. “The Carpet Country and Young’s team members have an average length of service of over 15 years. Barrington’s team has been around for just under 10 years on average and it’s only been 10 years because – as we’ve grown – we’ve added many new features. I think it’s a testament to our culture and our realization that without our people we couldn’t have grown as we are today.”

Phillips’ culture and business philosophy is one that offers employees unlimited opportunities for professional growth. “Our compensation packages seem to be where we need to be in our markets,” he said. “We offer a very solid package of benefits, including health care with the company paying most of the costs. Flexible free time is also a key. We never get in the way of our teammates’ needs to provide for the family. I am privileged to say that we have never lost a ‘key employee’ to a competitor or to an employer outside the industry.”

My Flooring America, with multiple locations in Texas, placed great emphasis on developing a corporate culture four years ago. That effort, according to owner Kelby Frederick, led to the creation of a “social contract,” made up of nine principles that govern how each employee works. Prior to each meeting, the social contract is read aloud to reinforce what it stands for. “Developing our management team and implementing a social contract has resulted in the best working environment we have ever had,” explains Frederick. “While we are seeing record employee moves in our industry, we are blessed to retain all of our top performers during the pandemic and recovery. We’re in the midst of an aggressive recruiting campaign and are seeing top performers looking for a place where they feel valued and rewarded for their hard work. We believe there is so much more than financial compensation that drives top performers. Our goal is to provide both strong financial opportunities and a healthy work environment.”

A winning culture, fair wages and quality of life are key elements to retaining quality people, retailers say. So is empowerment, according to Tony Fry, owner of Winnsboro’s Texas-based CarpetsPlus ColorTile. His motto: If you take care of your people, they take care of you. “I’ve had the same employees I’ve had for years — a few for over 35 years,” he told FCNews. “My parents work with me, not for me. That’s a different business philosophy. We are all needed to open the doors and keep them open every day.”

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