A version of this article originally appeared in the September issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.
ASHEVILLE, NC (BRAIN) – The dwindling pool of job applicants this summer has created another challenge for an industry that is still navigating a turbulent supply chain. While some in the industry blame rising unemployment benefits for depressing the job market, the reasons there are fewer job applicants – and the increased hardship that hangs on – are as varied as the factors that contribute to supply chain chaos.
Salary, career growth potential, health benefits, COVID-19/Delta variant fears, and work/life balance are factors that give candidates more time before applying for jobs in the industry, retailers and suppliers told BRAIN. Many have said that the lure of the in-store lifestyle that once appealed to employees is no longer as strong as it once was. And the pandemic has given many a chance to reprioritize and consider other career opportunities.
Taylor Essick, whose bike-hauling company Kitzuma Cycling Logistics took on the task of filling vacancies after starting up nearly a year ago, noted a watershed power shift between employee and employer.
“The candidate is more empowered these days to ask for what they need, which is damn cool, if you ask me,” Essick said. “There are challenges for me as an employer, but I’m also encouraged that it seems people are getting paid more fairly these days, and they have more options in terms of what they do. they can search for and what they It’s just a broader market for employees or candidates looking for a job.They can hold their own in the negotiation.
Kitzuma’s workforce – with openings for driver-tech, customer experience and logistics positions – is approaching 30. “We don’t pay anyone less than $16 an hour, but you don’t get the type of response you would get for $20 an hour of work.”
Chad Mihalick, president of Malakye – an online job posting and networking site for businesses and individuals working in the outdoor and lifestyle fields – noted the change.
“Companies in every industry we touch are struggling to find people to fill roles in every department and at every level of experience,” Mihalick said. “We think it’s because people are taking time to figure out what’s good for this next phase of their lives and the increased unemployment benefits are helping buy them time to figure it out.”
Kent International CEO Arnold Kamler said that while his office was not directly affected, the Kent, South Carolina plant experienced labor shortages. But the challenges facing Kent’s wholesale customers have had a bigger impact.
“A lot of our small and medium customers don’t have enough employees, and our large customers lack warehouse staff, which causes a lot of delays in our shipments,” Kamler said.
Are profits to blame?
The labor shortages causing these delays are a growing national problem, which comes down to expanded and more generous unemployment benefits. An Axios Morning Consult poll released in July reported that 1.8 million Americans said they had turned down jobs because of enhanced benefits that began with the March 2020 CARES Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last March, the American Rescue Plan Act extended these benefits until September 6. In July, 26 states cut those extra benefits early in a bid to get people back to work.
But not all observers agree that benefits are at the root of the employee shortage.
“It has nothing to do with unemployment,” retorted Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a New York-based retail consultant. “Good people all have jobs. That’s the problem. And they’re not looking to change right now. There’s a lot of market forces right now, and a lot of bike shops aren’t training, and it depends a lot on the owner. Remember, people leave owners. They don’t leave businesses. If you have high turnover, you have to look and say what training am I doing, and what is the environment I provide. Anyone worth their salt should pay “higher wages”.
“If McDonald’s starts at $15 an hour, your bike shop better be at $20-25 if you really value them. If you really believe in paying them and training them and holding them accountable, then you’ll get it back. If you think of employees as disposable and complain about how hard it is to find people, well, it’s hard to get people to work in retail.”
Lawyer Jim Moss, who represents bike and accessory makers, said the rising cost of daycare to keep people at home should not be overlooked. “On top of that, the number of child care centers that are left has gone down significantly,” Moss said. “A lot of them went bankrupt.”
However, an industry source who did not want to be identified said unemployment benefits are a factor, as is fear of contracting COVID-19.
“If you have a job that pays as much as you earn unemployed, then people don’t want to go to work,” the source said. “Because they can just do that sitting on the couch. People are scared to go back to the office. They’re rethinking their lives, they’re rethinking where they’re spending their time and what’s really important. And it all together has been driving crazy. “
Is throwing money at it enough?
Offering more money would help attract more applicants, but for some smaller retailers, it comes down to markups.
“Companies need to increase their margins because if we do more, we can retain people longer,” said Michael Boone, owner of Magic Cycles in Boone, North Carolina.
And for others, it’s about doing more work themselves to get things done right and in a timely manner. Like Francisco Cornelio, manager and chief mechanic at N+1 Cyclery in Framingham, Massachusetts. He said hiring a mechanic this year has been particularly difficult. He hired one that didn’t work out, and that experience left him frustrated.
“I can’t trust anyone who claims to know bikes anymore,” said Cornelio, whose shop pays $18 to $20 depending on experience. “They end up making me work more hours revising their jobs. … I quit for the rest of the year. We’ll see next year and see who’s responsible enough by then.”
Finding that competent and efficient mechanic continues to be the unicorn that many retailers continue to seek, especially these days. Chris Koos, owner of Vitesse Cycle Shop in Normal, Illinois, since 1979, said his most pressing challenge was finding experienced mechanics and builders.
While demand for services and bicycles is on the rise, at least one bicycle brand, which did not want to be identified, is wary of general wage increases and the expansion of the workforce during the construction boom. bike. “The only thing I would say is that the challenge of increasing compensation and benefits in the midst of growth is not knowing if that growth will continue at the same pace.”
But it doesn’t have to be all about salary. Kill them with kindness, some say. Kat Minks, who with her husband owns two Jonny Rock Bikes outlets in Minnesota, said fostering a family atmosphere can be just as important to keeping staff happy.
“If you’re going to be in the retail business — and I can’t speak for all bike shops — our store is best equipped for quality of life,” said Minks, whose locations are in Bloomington. and Hopkins.
“We are a family ourselves. We understand that. We don’t make our employees work until 10 p.m. The last hours for our stores are 8 p.m. And this year we don’t even do that because that we couldn’t find enough cover so we close at 7pm”
This type of environment is not limited to corporate retail. “We try to treat employees like family,” Kamler of Kent said.
Patrick McGinnis, president of HLC North America, agreed that the work environment is especially critical these days in attracting and retaining employees.
“We can only pay so much because we have obligations to the company and to shareholders, but what we can do is create the best possible environment and really care about your employees the best you can and give their families first,” McGinnis said.
Of course, the days of stores relying strictly on perks, like industry discounts and running the latest high-tech equipment first, won’t be enough to attract applicants. Building a loyal and effective workforce has become more difficult and costly, as one industry employer who did not want to speak out publicly concluded.
“You have to pay more; you have to include more benefits. We had to up our game on benefits and salary, and allow for some flexibility.”
It’s a strategy that has helped Jim Mincher maintain a stable workforce over the past two years. Mincher, owner of Two Wheeler Dealer in Wilmington, North Carolina, hasn’t had a furlough in two years and has even added employees over the past year.
“Pay well and treat employees well, and they stay with you,” said Mincher, who employs 22 people and has been in the industry for 47 years. “Have fun at work, but take it seriously. Keep your customers happy too.”
And when it comes to grooming managers to provide long-term career opportunities, the retail side of the industry is in trouble. “Just being able to try to find a direction to grow our business has been difficult,” Minks said. “We’ve tried a few managers or we’ve had people who we thought could become managers who ended up leaving for a number of reasons. You just have to bring in people who can see the bike industry as an industry that has a ton of potential” was difficult.
Proper training is one of the most important facets of employee success and retention, Phibbs said, adding that owners shouldn’t view previous bike experience as the end of everything. “There are a lot of bad people out there who have good experience. The days of putting an ad and a guy and girl showing up who understood the bike market are probably over. But that doesn’t mean you you can’t hire someone who’s done fashion, or done automobiles, or a million other things, and then train them.”
Mihalick’s company has become more aggressive in its efforts by adding a recruiting team to connect job seekers to positions that match their qualifications. “And it produces results,” he said. “People are getting the carrot put right in front of them.”
Phibbs offers candid advice to retailers looking for good candidates.
“Sitting there and complaining and talking to the media and telling your buddies it sucks to be you isn’t going to get anyone anywhere,” he said. “Because new hires will figure this out faster than anyone. You’re an entrepreneur. Get it.”