Suite Staffing Services has some pretty unique business circumstances. They exclusively provide staffing services for the hospitality industry in the Fort Smith, Arkansas region. Their clients are caterers, restaurants, event organizers, and venues. And their candidates are almost exclusively students. So you might say they serve niche clients in a niche industry with niche candidates in a niche market. Like I said: pretty unique.
As such, Miles Crawford and his team have had to get pretty creative to keep their candidate pool from going dry. This includes partnering with local eateries and universities, being extremely active on social media, and scheduling outside-the-box marketing events like an all-night scavenger hunt. Their efforts are not only novel, but also provide valuable advice if you’re looking to attract young talent.
Staffing Talk: So Miles, you rely pretty heavily on students for your applicant pool, isn’t that right?
CEO Miles Crawford: Yes. The labor pool we look to recruit is generally a student working part time at restaurants.
ST: Do you target them specifically to help them find work, or is it the nature of the niche?
MC: Both. We have a local university and we've had many students come in over the years asking for temporary work that fits with their current class schedule and social life. Their requests sort of helped to more fully form our niche market.
ST: Is that a hard talent pool to keep full, despite being constantly replenished?
MC: It is. The students that work for us are typically only interested in working a few events, and generally they move on due to changes in their schedule or other reasons.
ST: Have you tried different things to keep your temps longer than just a few events?
MC: We have. Depending on the size of the event, we offer a $25 bonus to the employee who gets the best performance review. We give a bonus after they have worked so many events for us as well. And we have some clients who only pay minimum wage, so we stress that if they perform well at these events they will be eligible to work the higher-paying events.
ST: Have you found it hard to market to that demographic?
MC: Definitely. Many of the basic forms of marketing/advertising do not apply. The biggest reason is that colleges do not allow companies to solicit on campus. We can work with career services, but many students who benefit from our type of work do not use career services to find work. It’s the same with career fairs. We’ve done them, but the type of student you’re likely to come across is looking for an internship. Not many of the students in that area are interested in one-day assignments, as many of our events tend to be.
ST: What kinds of things have you done to reach those candidates?
MC: We do a few things to keep the students interacting with our agency. For one, we’re located in Arkansas, where there’s no professional sports teams and only one main university (University of Arkansas-Fayetteville). College football season is very big statewide, so during the season we often have football-related trivia and contests like guess-the-score, where the winner receives a $50 gift card to the establishment to their choice. We do things like this weekly, and it generates good traffic on our Facebook and Twitter pages (where we also advertise the job openings).
ST: Well we first heard about you guys through Facebook because of an all-night, city-wide scavenger hunt you organized as a recruiting event. How did that go? It seemed like a pretty fun idea …
MC: It went well. Everyone who participated really enjoyed themselves. We even had a few teams write personal thank you letters. It did a few things for our agency. First, it helped us reach out further into the community than any paid advertising could have. This gives us a positive image in the community, without having to spend big money on a PR campaign. And second, it created awareness and publicity for our company far better than any paid advertising. We were also able to label it as a community event by keeping it at no cost to all parties involved, and in turn the word spread really well on local media outlets.
ST: I saw you gave away free snowcones to people who RSVP’d via social media …
MC: Yes. That is just a shout-out to the benefits of networking. A friend of mine operates a local snowcone shack, and in return for making his shack a stop during the Scavenger Hunt, which increased his visibility and exposure, he utilized the hunt further to make sure everyone had a chance to try his product (which he will argue is the best snowcone in town).
ST: I remember reading somewhere that some of the profits from the scavenger hunt will go towards the university in some way. What were the details of that, and do you regularly contribute to stuff like that?
MC: Yes. We send occasional donations to the local university, generally to Career Services. We work with them often to help recruit students and spread awareness of our services. We've funded items for their "clothes closet," which helps students make sure they have proper attire for job interviews. We also work to get our student employees discounts to local school bookstores and other establishments that they frequent.
ST: Is social media the primary way you interact/connect with candidates?
MC: It is. We rely very heavily on Facebook and Twitter. They’re actually very helpful, as it is a free means to stay in touch, plus with the age group we cater to, it's the perfect marketplace/network that they are all already active in.
ST: When I was working in restaurants at that age, when one friend would find a good-paying job that seemed pretty cool everyone would flock to it. Does word-of-mouth work in the same way for you?
MC: Absolutely. With the giveaways I mentioned, I like to hand pick someone in a restaurant that we do not have a strong presence in just yet. That giveaway then doubles, more or less, as paid word of mouth within their workplace.
ST: Have you tried fostering relationships with certain restaurants, so you can kind of “borrow their staff” every so often?
MC: We have. We have reached out to area restaurants asking the managers if they had staff that constantly try to pick up extra shifts, and expressed to them the benefit of referring them to our services without having to worry about them looking for another job that could potentially hire them away.
ST: You see a lot of staffing businesses focusing on specific niches or catering their services to certain audiences, but it’s rare to see one do both like this. Does that make your job that much harder?
MC: I would say more tedious, not necessarily harder. We do have to weed out a lot of applicants that are interested in the convenience of the scheduling we allow, but they aren’t qualified waitstaff. And with our clients, if they just wanted the service of a "warm body" they could go to competitors for a lower rate, so the need to keep experienced waitstaff, bartenders, etc. on call kind of goes hand-in-hand with client retention. It's a balance that must be maintained.
ST: What would be your advice to others going after the youth crowd?
MC: Keep it entertaining and interactive. They have enough responsibilities and things to figure out as they are learning and advancing through either their jobs or degree. They will reply more to entertainment that doesn't seem to impose as a responsibility or another item in their already-very-busy agendas. Plus, for that age group, keeping the entertainment free definitely doesn't hurt the draw.