By Ken Ryan-The labor shortage is impacting every segment of the U.S. economy, including the flooring industry where retailers scramble to fill vacancies amid continued strong activity. While employment growth accelerated in June to its highest level in 10 months, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s not coming fast enough for some floor covering dealers.
“We are having an incredibly tough time getting staffing positions filled,” said Denise Fike, co-owner of Fike Bros. Carpet One Floor & Home, located in Selinsgrove, Pa.
Nick Freadreacea, president of The Flooring Gallery, with multiple locations in the Louisville, Ky., market, agreed, noting, “Every business is struggling to staff their locations with the best possible people right now. The issue is that we are all recruiting from the limited pool of either someone who already has a job, or from the few who are actually looking to go back to work.”
Many business owners have bemoaned the additional unemployment benefits that millions of people received beginning in March, claiming it has disincentivized large numbers from returning to the work force. The additional assistance, which was attached to the American Rescue Plan Act, is set to expire Sept. 6, but states can opt out early. As of now, 26 states have already announced that they will stop giving expanded unemployment payments over the summer, with many states ending the payments in June.
The end of extra unemployment benefits won’t immediately solve the labor shortage, experts say. In this market, where workers have leverage, retaining your best performers is equally as important as hiring new ones. Indeed, with so many open positions, experts advise against assuming your best workers will show up when they could easily jump to the competition, start a new career or simply retire.
For their part, flooring retailers are doing everything in their power to keep their top performers. Strategies range from sweetening the pot with extra pay and bonuses to time off, staff lunches and general appreciation. “We strive to keep our best employees by compensating them well, listening to their ideas and suggestions and making them feel valued,” said Ted Gregerson, owner of two retail floor covering stores based in Anniston, Ala.—Ted’s Abbey Carpet & Floor and Floors To Go of Anniston. “By doing that every day for years, we don’t worry every time there is a tight job market. But over the last year, we have looked for ways to give them more time off and will continue to strive to look for ways to lessen the amount 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) made sure to take care of its many employees across nine locations in Iowa and Illinois. For example, even though hours were reduced during the height of the pandemic, the company’s support staff was paid as if they were working a full work week. Additionally, the retailer paid all staff members an additional week’s worth of wages as a stimulus to help employees weather the storm. More importantly, according to Eric Langan, president/owner, no one was laid off. “People are our No. 1 asset, and I hope that what we have done throughout the years has shown that to our staff. I’m confident that our history, culture, compensation and the ability to grow within our company will retain our best talent.”
Several retailers spoke about the importance of “culture” in building and sustaining a winning team. As 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 are the best teams in the business. “Team members at Carpet Country and Young’s have an average tenure of over 15 years. Barrington’s team averages just under 10 years and it’s only 10 years because—as we have grown—we have added many new positions. I think it’s a testament to our culture and our realization that without our people we could not have grown the way we have.”
The culture and business philosophy Phillips espouses is one that offers employees unlimited potential for professional growth. “Our compensation packages seem to be where we need to be in our markets,” he said. “We offer a very solid benefits package, including healthcare that the company pays most of the cost. Flexible time off is also a key. We never get in the way of our teammate’s needs to take care of family. I feel fortunate to say we have never lost a ‘key employee’ to a competitor or to an employer outside the industry.”
My Flooring America, with several locations in Texas, put a huge emphasis on developing a company culture four years ago. That effort, according to Kelby Frederick, owner, led to the creation of a “social contract,” which consists of nine principles that govern how every employee operates. Before every meeting, the social contract is read aloud to reinforce what it stands for. “Developing our management team and implementing a social contract has led to the best work environment we’ve ever had,” Frederick explained. “While we are seeing record employee movement in our industry, we’ve been blessed to keep all of our top performers through the pandemic and recovery. We are in the midst of an aggressive hiring push and are finding that there are top performers looking for a place they feel appreciated 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 along with a healthy work environment.”
A winning culture, fair wages and quality of life are important elements of retaining quality people, retailers say. So is empowerment, according to Tony Fry, owner of Texas-based CarpetsPlus ColorTile of Winnsboro. His motto: If you take care of your people, they will take care of you. “I have the same employees I’ve had for years—a couple of them for more than 35 years,” he told FCNews. “My folks work with me, not for me. That is a different business philosophy. It takes all of us to open the doors and keep them open each day.”