Small businesses have hit a major bump on the road to recovery, especially for those in the service and hospitality industries. At long last, there is a revitalization of consumer demand but not enough employees in America’s workplaces to keep shelves stocked, amusement park rides running or restaurant kitchens cooking.

To overcome these challenges, business owners are getting creative in their hiring tactics, with "help wanted" signs morphing into posters and featuring a plethora of perks designed to pique interest among prospective employees. Here, five business leaders share the ways in which they are getting creative to attract and retain new hires.

 The exterior of Montgomery's furniture showroom in Watertown, South Dakota. The building is gray and white, with a smaller wing off to the right and red awnings over the windows.
Montgomery’s has found that referral bonuses as well as rehiring former employees have helped to fill staffing needs in recent months. — Montgomery's

Eric Sinclair, owner & president, Montgomery’s

Who we are: South Dakota’s family-owned destination for furniture, flooring, window coverings and design services, based in Sioux Falls.

Montgomery’s has addressed the competitive workforce environment in a number of ways. We are constantly recruiting due to growth, and at any given time are in need of interior designers, management and executive personnel, drivers, warehouse staff and furniture repair technicians.

We have found two things to be highly effective, the first being an employee referral bonus program where we pay a generous bonus to any employee who refers someone who is hired and stays with us over a period of time. The new employee also receives a bonus, so there is good incentive for both parties. We lifted the referral bonus restrictions from management staff because it is evident the most valuable new hires come from our internal connections.

The second successful recruitment tactic has to do with contacting and rehiring former employees. We’ve hired at least four previous staff members, and they’re excited to be back with us. We also use our social media networks, job-posting sites and have periodically conducted walk-in interviews. Follow Montgomery's on Facebook and Instagram.

 The lake at Camp Kennybrook in Monticello, New York. Across the lake can be see several buildings among pine trees, a blue-and-yellow inflatable water slide and several blue and yellow rowboats next to a wooden dock.
Camp Kennybrook's waiter and waitress program, staffed by older campers, expanded to provide additional responsibility in areas of interest, simultaneously filling employment gaps. — Camp Kennybrook

Howard Landman, owner/director, Camp Kennybrook

Who we are: A traditional overnight summer camp offering athletics, arts and adventure for boys and girls in New York’s Catskill Mountains.

Camp Kennybrook hires approximately 50% of it’s staff from Europe and other countries around the world, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the camping industry was left with a much smaller applicant pool. Every camp in the country was fishing from that same pool, which caused an extreme delay in the hiring process.

One technique that we found very successful in overcoming this issue was to offer our hired staff from the United States and Mexico a referral fee once hired. Another creative direction we took was to implement a more structured program for our 10th- and 11th-grader campers, our waiters and waitresses. They provide extra support in the bunks and at scheduled activity periods when needed. These strategies have allowed us the ability to successfully run our program and we are so ecstatic to be back at our summer home with our second family. Follow Camp Kennybrook on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

 A collage of images arranged behind the Songbird Karaoke logo, which is the word "Songbird" in cursive above the word "Karaoke" in capital letters and a red-and-white bird perched in the tail of the "g" in "Songbird." The six pictures in the collage are (clockwise from top left) the outside of Songird's location, a seating area with a green wall decorated with text defining the word "Forte," an outdoor karaoke setup with a TV screen under a white tent, a karaoke room with a small stage decorated with gold and silver balloons, a close-up on three sets of neon-colored beaded necklaces, and a seating area in a karaoke room decorated with gold and silver balloons and tinsel.
Songbird Karaoke has emphasized the value of good training in its quest to find employees who may lack experience but show the potential to succeed. — Songbird Karaoke

Ronnie Schmeltzer, owner, Songbird Karaoke

Who we are: A Collingswood, NJ-based venue for live karaoke entertainment offered in individual private suites perfect for small groups or larger parties.

When we reopened after the COVID shutdown, we didn’t have enough business to sustain bringing any employees back, so we, as the owners, handled everything. Luckily, we gained enough business to rehire and we were happy to bring some team members back. Our difficulty was then finding additional good people who only need to work a limited amount since we were still not fully up to capacity.

Unfortunately, offering limited hours doesn’t make us their priority so if there are times when we need them but they’re committed somewhere else, we lose out. What has helped us is to focus on less-experienced candidates and concentrate on training them fully. This does have drawbacks but on a positive note, they don’t have to unlearn bad work habits and are focused on doing the job as we request. Follow Songbird Karaoke on Instagram and Facebook.

 An indoor playground for dogs, featuring red-painted tires, a tunnel shaped like a caterpillar and a climbable two-story Playskool playhouse. A leafy tree is painted on the back wall next to a wide set of windows. Dogs of various sizes roam the room; all of them are wear neon green collars.
Pet Play House’s Addie Goings believes that paying more for quality hires to care for their canine charges is the best way to attract and retain good employees. — Pet Play House

Addie Goings, co-owner, Pet Play House

Who we are: Reno, NV-based providers of indoor and outdoor dog enrichment and luxury overnight boarding for nearly 21 years.

COVID hasn’t created an entirely new staffing problem for us, so our hiring and staff retention strategies have been in place for quite a while. I believe paying more than the industry standard gets interest in this type of position in the first place, and it helps keep quality employees on staff. Also, we are always hiring even when we are fully staffed so that we always have at least one extra staff member trained and on board at all times. That way, we have an immediate replacement if someone leaves or needs to be terminated.

COVID has impacted that strategy for us, as lately it's been hard to get that extra staff member hired and trained. As a result, we have to keep poorly performing employees on staff, who normally would have been let go for poor attendance or just generally not doing a proper job. This in turn brings down the morale of my high performing employees who have to pick up the slack and don’t understand why the poorly performing employee still has a job with us. Follow Pet Play House on Instagram and Facebook.

 A longshot of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park on top of a mountain in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The park includes several wooden buildings, a roller coaster and two swinging structures.
Among its many employee-centered programs, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park offers a scholarship opportunity to those working a minimum of 250 hours over the course of 2021. — Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Nancy Heard, general manager, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park & Iron Mountain Hot Springs

Who we are: A mountaintop adventure park in Glenwood Springs, CO, created with two things in mind: community and a love of the outdoors.

The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs team has worked hard to combat the staffing challenges of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. To attract new employees and retain standing employees, we boosted our employee referral program. Through the program, employees can earn up to $100 for each new hire they refer.

On top of that, the parks’ employee scholarship program continues to offer scholarships to full-time students in the fall or spring in any higher education. Students working 250 hours in 2021 can earn $500 to go towards their education with the possibility for more. Additionally, we worked hard to solve the housing issues our team was facing in the area with our year-round living rental options and implemented a $2–3/hour summer bonus. Follow Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Published July 22, 2021