Hiring Before and After Covid
My story begins just before Covid. As some of you may know, our shop was for sale for a full year prior to Covid. Although we had been having trouble finding good staff, with many false starts - hiring people, training them for months, only for it to fall apart in some way - I could write a whole blog on those disasters. Anyway, during this time, we really wanted to beef up the staffing with great people so that whoever might purchase our business would be set up for success. Now before you say anything about how much we paid and how retail doesn't pay well - these were for full-time jobs, with paid vacation, medical benefits, bonuses and commissions. Our pay was better than all the other retail jobs out there, better than most of our competition and surely better than the supermarket floral departments in our area. Guess who applied? No one. Literally, no one.
By now, Covid had hit and just prior to that, we had parted ways with 2 full time employees that weren't working out. With the early on mess of Covid, we couldn't afford the staff we did have at first, so it was natural to size down our staff and have Kevin and I go back to working 7 days a week. It was survival time and we had no idea how long Covid was going to last. Our main goal was to preserve the jobs of our 3 existing (wonderful) full time employees and make due the best we could. Our full timers were cut back to 20 hours a week (getting unemployment for the other 20 hours) which helped us manage payroll and also make sure that we were socially distancing. Luckily our shop was big enough to do that, so we were all safe. Fast forward a few months and the business was back to jammin' again. Folks needed what we had - gifts that were safely delivered to friends and family, especially being many were missing out on important occasions and holidays. It was time to ask our 3 full timers to come back along with 2 part timers. Wow, that was a long way from the 5- full timers and 4- part timers we had just before Covid. Luckily for us, our staff did come back! There would have been no MMF if they just hung out there on unemployment.
Well, after spending thousands of dollars on Indeed, Zip Recruiter, posting jobs on state unemployment boards and at the colleges, we finally decided to give up. Now we had to think about the business in a different way. We didn't have the staff to take every order or to take every decorating job. Years before we had learned that providing prom and dance flowers really didn't work out for us. It was unprofitable and stressful. When you are having trouble finding and keeping staff, having Prom Moms in the shop yelling at your staff over the color of a rose in a $35 corsage didn't really make sense. Now I had to be smart about weddings too. I realized that now that Covid was over we had to fulfill our commitment to our existing couples to provide their delayed wedding flowers but on much less staff. It made sense to cut off taking any other weddings because I had to wait to see what dates weddings and other events were being rescheduled to. It was a bit of a mess. Then I had a light bulb moment - why take any new weddings at all? The business was for sale, who knew if the new owner even wanted to do weddings and why take a chance on having a deposit for a wedding date that might be a problem in the future. It all made sense and after what we had been through, the staff seemed eager to put weddings behind us, at least for a while.here. I had less designers to create arrangements. I had less drivers to deliver them. Our goal was to make every single order count. Anyone in business knows that average order and how often customers order are 2 of the most important aspects to monitor for running a profitable business.
So now we weren't doing weddings, which was about 10% of our business prior to Covid and now we had raised our prices. Guess what? The number of orders we received did not go down and very few people complained about our pricing. We made up those wedding orders almost immediately.
The other issue we had was during holidays. Anyone in the business knows this is when payroll can go up exponentially. Your order volume goes up, you need extra designers, sales staff and drivers (not to mention vans for them to drive). Well, we had no extra staff to call in. What did we do to manage? About 5 days before the holiday, we let every single call go into our voice mail system. The voicemail was very friendly - "Hi, you've reached Monday Morning Flowers. We are in the shop but assisting other customers. If you would like to place an order for delivery you can visit our website at sendingsmiles . com. If you would like us to call you back, kindly leave your name and number and we'll get back to you very soon". Guess what? Almost everyone ordered off the website! Not only did this free up our staff to work on designs instead of taking calls like "Do you deliver" or "Are you located in Princeton". Those calls took up so much time. Also, because it had been our policy for over 15 years to personally call every single sender to let them know within minutes that their delivery was made, we didn't have to field calls "Were my flowers delivered yet". Orders just popped out of the computer like magic. We processed them, filled them and moved on. No stopping mid design to answer the phone. As messages came in, we could work as a team to batch call them back, usually within 15 minutes. Did we lose some orders? I'm sure we did but it wasn't overly noticeable due to the heavy volume. If I was completely honest, we had almost no negative fallout at all and in the long run, I think it was better than leaving folks hanging on hold for 10 minutes like the big wire services do.
I think it's frustrating to have industry consultants say things like - "Write a better help wanted ad" or "The way to keep staff is to do a better job On-Boarding them". I laugh when the Fed wants to see unemployment rise to get a hold on inflation, but it doesn't. I can tell them why - if someone loses a job or decides to go back to work, some poor little independent business tries to snatch them up!! There is no one to hire - point blank. Just like you see a shortage of truck drivers which is making "driverless" trucks a thing of the future, florists are going to have to figure out how to run profitable business, with less staff. Might that mean lower sales but higher profits? I think that is the only way retail florists will make it through. The last thing I want to see if the number of Retail Florists to fall even lower than it is. I want all my friends to succeed, be happy and run profitable businesses, don't you?
I'm in the process of writing book about the floral industry right now and there will be a chapter on the future of AI and the Florist. I'd love to hear your take on it so feel free to comment. Thanks for reading!!