For small business owners, finding (and retaining) a great team is one of the biggest challenges they’ll face in the first few years. When a single employee makes up such a large part of a company’s workforce, the difference between a star performer and a bad hire makes all the difference. And, considering that 86 per cent of Canadian businesses have less than 20 employees, it’s a challenge that the vast majority of Canadian business owners face.
One such owner is Shawn Cable of Re:Matt, a Calgary small business that saves mattresses from the landfill by recycling their raw materials. Since 2014, the award-winning company has grown from a two-man team to a workforce of seven that disassembles mattresses by hand to harvest the steel, foam, cotton, and wood.
We spoke with Cable about hiring his first employees, rewarding his team on a tight budget, and the challenges of a bad fit in a micro-sized team.
SC: Our first employee other than the two of us [Cable and his operations manager Ian Gregory, shown here] was in December of 2014. He was actually a brother of a friend. We didn’t end up hiring outside of that until the following January.
We started initially trying to solicit some people through the Prospects program [an organization that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment]. They go through a six-week training course on better setting themselves up to be more employable, and then some of the ones that they deemed to be good candidates came in for interviews with us. We found our first few employees that way.
What are you looking for in your employees?
For us, we’re not talking about super-skilled labour. We’re looking for people who are hard workers, who are going to show up, and who aren’t making many excuses for not being consistent. And who generally have a good attitude when they’re here.
Obviously having employees doesn’t stop with recruitment and hiring. What was it like becoming an employer?
I was familiar with it because I was a restaurant general manager for a number of years, so I did a lot of hiring doing that. So, to me, it wasn’t unfamiliar. I credit that experience with being able to manage employees, and conduct interviews, that type of thing.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
We’ve had to be creative in how we can compensate. Part of the big struggle for us has been the government-legislated increase in wages year over year for the last two years, which will continue for another two years. That’s really affecting our business as far as being able to start a new concept when you’re constantly getting increases in your overhead. That’s one of the biggest things that has made a difference to our business in getting started.
So, we’ve offered some other than wage incentives, like transit passes, and we provide lunches every Friday. Stuff that we can use to pay and reward our employees, but don’t make that big of an impact when it comes to labour costs.
How important is hiring for fit at Re:Matt?
We’ve only got a small crew at the moment – we’re seven people. So, one person that ruffles the feathers is not good for chemistry, as far as everybody enjoying their work environment. To have five unhappy people for one that’s ruining it for everybody, to me it doesn’t seem that its worth it. So, we’d probably move on if there was someone being a problem like that.
Do you have any hiring advice for small business owners?
You can tell certain things in an interview, but really the proof is in their work ethic after a couple of weeks or months. You’ll soon be able to recognize if that person is somebody that’s worth keeping around. If they are, try to do what you can to keep them, and if they aren’t, then try to pull the Band-Aid off quickly and move on. Because it costs you a lot of time and money to be keeping somebody around. You can probably get a good feeling right off the bat if they’re someone that should be there or not.
So, trust your gut.
Yeah, I would say. I mean after some time, you get to know people. And you start to see the ins and outs – the ones that are trying to get away with something, or the ones that are looking for a quick paycheque and then are moving on to the next thing. Eventually you start to identify that. And it’s better that you do it rather than them leaving you high and dry.