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The Importance of Introspection in a Tight Marketplace

"I have seen the enemy - and it is us." The quote taken from the Pogo cartoon strip rings true in many areas of our life, and I think of it sometimes when I hear managers tell me they cannot find good candidates to hire. The examples I use below are those specific to route sales representatives, however, the underlying principals apply to all aspects of our industry.

The route sales representative is a key employee in the commercial linen supply and industrial uniform rental segment of our industry. The "RSR" is on the front lines everyday averaging about 25 delivery stops, resolving credit issues and explaining price increases. And since an RSR is the "face" of a company, it is important they make a happy, friendly, and upbeat impression, in a customer's eyes.

You Say - They Say
Recently an owner spoke to me about his company's inability to attract good RSR candidates in spite of providing new air-conditioned trucks and a competitive pay plan. In an effort to discover the "other side" of that coin, I spent a day riding a route with an RSR named Chuck. Throughout the day I picked up soil, rolled out mats, talked with customers, and did a lot of listening.

The truck was indeed air-conditioned, but a side compartment door had a broken hinge, both bumpers were crunched from a year old accident, and the radio cassette player had been broken for several months. The repair requests had evidently gone unheeded. Although Chuck's six-route plant ad a service manager, a route trainer and a relief route manager, surprisingly no one had ridden with him for over six months.

Employees tend to follow the example sets by treating their jobs and appearance with the same amount of importance that they perceive it receives form management. So no doubt, Chuck was not doing his part - his cab was a mess, the windshield had several weeks of bugs and dirt, and his company emblem was falling off his shirt.

Additionally, what was considered a "competitive pay plan" by management, was considered "barely enough to meet his needs" by Chuck who did not even understand the sales commission program.

This example illustrates a lack of communication between management and employees, which exists on two levels. The first level, between the employer and employee on issues such as compensations and the second level on how the company should be represented - internally and externally. This lack of communication not only erodes the employee / employer relationship it taints the "face" of your company in customers eyes and affects your company's ability to attract and retrain candidates. Thus in cases like this; the enemy in essence is us. And prior to looking outside for solutions to hiring and retention challenges, introspection of company policies and an examination of their present employee work base should be considered.
 
Doing It Right
A regional service manager with another company told me that he rode with someone like Chuck recently. He instructed his RSR to pull into a truck wash, then proceeded to help him clean his truck inside and out. When they were all done the RSR agreed that a clean truck did make him feel better about himself and about the job.

I then arranged to conduct an employee survey with four of his company's RSRs. All had been hired as referrals. Afterwards I sat in on a sales meeting while they rolled out an RSR bonus program. Management made sure their RSRs understood the program and even brought in a magician to perform at the meeting.

In both of the previous examples, management actions showed their RSRs they cared about their work environment and that it was important to the company that the RSR not only understood their bonus program - but had a goodtime too.

Through my travels, I have also gained tips from others successful in this area. A service manager with an independent in Pennsylvania told me since customer retention was their company's priority that he hired candidates "for attitude". "As a small company we have to convince the candidates and our employees that we really do care about them. They want discipline and they want good structure, with a lot of management support. We know we have to create a positive atmosphere."

To some, creating that positive atmosphere can be a challenge. A general manager in Alabama commented that his service manager was too numbers driven with his RSRs. Instead of greeting their return in the afternoon with a genuine "how was your day?" he would immediately ask them if they had picked up any new add-on business. Yes, numbers drive the business, but without dedicated company service e representatives working under all adverse conditions, there would be no sales numbers to consider.

So, what comes first - making the job better, or hiring better candidates? And could those "better candidates" be right under your nose, neglected employees, already wearing your uniform? Only when your service department is sending out a consistent positive message to your employees can you, your managers and your RSRs attract and keep the candidates necessary to service your customers.

Whether it is the CEO who sets a positive tone, or the GM who approves a truck repair request, or the service manager who coaches an RSR, take care of your staff and they will take care of you.

Craig Lloyd represents LaundryCareers.com, a management search firm specializing in the industrial / institutional laundry industry.  He holds a degree in Industrial Relations from Rider University and has been a Certified Personnel Consultant since 1979.

 

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Commercial Laundry Cited by OSHA

ELM GROVE, W. Va. — Uwanta Linen Supply, a commercial laundry, was recently cited for 21 health and safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The laundry faces $62,400 in penalties for the violations. Eighteen of the the 21 violations are considered serious by OSHA. The serious violations include failing to properly guard floor holes and failing to provide hepatitis B vaccines to workers who are potentially exposed to blood borne pathogens.