Help Wanted: Hiring Support Staff
VAR grows POS business by attracting and retaining technical employees for help desk support, installations and training.
Where do you find good technical support staff? That's the question POS VAR Richard Adams asked himself when he was ready to expand Business Equipment Consultants, Inc. (BEC). The Denver-based company, owned by Ron Olson, president, and Audrey Borski, vice president, began in 1971 as a Sharp dealership, initially selling electronic calculators. It later added electronic typewriters and cash registers. Adams, vice president of sales and marketing, has been with the company for 13 years. He says it wasn't until 1984 that BEC began concentrating on the hospitality market, selling electronic cash registers (ECRs) and later, PC-based point of sale (POS) systems. Until that time, BEC's annual gross sales had remained flat at between $1.1 and $1.3 million, for several years. "Landing two large restaurant chain accounts, Blimpie and Quizno's, changed all that," says Adams. The number of installations and service calls increased. To take BEC to its next level and support the large chain accounts, Adams had to add technical support staff. Today, the company employs 14 people.
Changing the Cycle
"Every business struggles with the issue of growth," says Adams. "Your company reaches a point where you have to get over the next hurdle." BEC was caught in a cycle. "Our sales of POS systems were up. But, when it came time to do the installations, we'd have to pull the sales staff in to help out," explains Adams. The result was that during busy installation times, no new sales were made. "The only way to break that cycle and keep the salespeople selling was to hire new employees," says Adams.
Audrey Borksi, vice president and director of operations, began her search for technical employees by placing advertisements in the classified sections of local newspapers, under the heading, ‘computers'. While response to the ads was good, Borski was surprised by two things. One, the applicants were often overqualified for BEC's needs and were requesting starting salaries exceeding $40,000. "We weren't looking for network administrators, just technically competent people with computer experience," says Borski. She found the same type of applicants when she posted ‘help wanted' signs at local technical colleges.
Secondly, many of the applicants Borski and Adams interviewed were hired by other companies in a matter of days. "I would call people back in two or three days for a second interview, and they had already committed to another position," Borski explains.
Changing An Approach
Frustrated, Borski decided to try a different approach. She moved the help wanted ads to the ‘restaurant' heading in the classified sections. (See box right). The result was better than expected. "The people who responded to these ads were just the people we were looking for," Adams says. They were bartenders, servers and restaurant managers - all very familiar with the hospitality industry. In addition, they had experience with or a strong interest in computers. Very often, the applicants had used Aloha software (which BEC resells) or similar POS software. "Training time for employees with hospitality software experience is cut in half," explains Adams.
Knowing What To Look For
Although changing the placement of the ads helped, Adams and Borski still had to weed out unqualified applicants, a time-consuming but necessary process. They review all the resumès sent to the office by mail, e-mail and fax. "We look for computer experience first and any hospitality experience second," Borski explains. Qualified applicants are called in for an initial interview.
At that time, Adams asks applicants questions based on what they've listed on their resumes. If, for example, applicants say they know Microsoft Office, Adams asks them specific questions about the Excel spreadsheet and database programs of the software. "Often what they really know is only Microsoft Word," says Adams. Sometimes, he says, it's obvious that applicants have exaggerated on their resumés. One applicant, for example, repeatedly mispronounced Pentium, when describing his computer experience. "He said Penteeum so often, it was almost funny," says Adams.
Adams prefers to ask open- ended questions, rather than questions that will result in a yes or no answer. He also doesn't use one preset list of questions for every applicant. "I want to find out how open someone is, because that person, if hired, will be working with our customers. Our employees need to have good ‘people skills'," Adams explains.
Putting Applicants To The Test
"I may call all the applicants in for a second interview, if they have the skills we're looking for," says Adams. During the second interview, applicants are asked to perform some basic computer functions with BEC's network administrator. Applicants also meet with the system coordinator and the training and installation coordinator.
According to Adams, this puts many applicants out of the running. One applicant said he couldn't find the space bar on the standard computer keyboard he was using. That applicant obviously didn't make the cut, says Adams. "We want someone who feels comfortable with computers and knows the basic hardware terms, how to use a mouse and standard keyboard, as well as basic Windows functions."
The feedback from the BEC employees afterwards is very important, says Adams. "The employees get a feel if someone will ‘fit in' and if they are trainable," he says.
Those who do make the cut are asked back for a third and final interview. Adams admits this is a long process that causes him to lose some potential employees to other positions. However, he says, the process works for BEC. During the third interview, applicants meet informally with Ron Olson, BEC's president. After this process is complete, Adams and Borski make a hiring decision based on all the interviews with the applicants and employee feedback. Once hired, new employees are trained in-house as necessary before answering support calls, conducting training, or installating systems.
Since keeping technical employees may be as difficult as finding and hiring them, BEC offers its full-time employees a full benefit package. Benefits include a 401(k) savings plan, 50% medical coverage, two weeks paid vacation, paid sick days and profit sharing. "This year, full-time employees received a $2,500 bonus in April as a result of our profit sharing program," says Adams. He adds that, in addition to benefits and salary, BEC employees work in a relaxed atmosphere. "If employees need to take time off to care for a sick family member, for example, we help them work that out," says Adams.
Adams says the working environment and rewards have kept employee turnover low. "In the past five years, only two of the company's employees have left," says Adams. One was hired by a competitor; another returned to school.
Making The Most Of Staff
Now that Adams has found a way to attract and keep technical staff, he plans to open a second sales office outside Denver. "It will be a location for our salespeople to demonstrate products, rather than onsite at restaurants," Adams explains. His goal is to generate two to three sales each month through this satellite office. With plans for a second site and a fully trained staff, Adams expects BEC to reach $2.5 million in gross sales for 1998.