It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges that continues to plague the construction and construction supply industries is labor. Whether you’re seeking trained carpenters or an entry-level stocker, the market for reliable employees ready to commit to the industry is tight.
As a company, you’re not just competing for labor with other builders or dealers for staff, but with similar businesses and trades in your area. And that means even small missteps can make all the difference in losing a potentially great candidate.
We checked in with Rikka Brandon, a nationally recognized building industry recruiting and hiring expert and best-selling author, to gather a few easy-to-follow tips that can have an immediate impact on your labor and hiring game.
• Embrace and nurture your brand: Job seekers have an advantage, and that means they get to be picky and choose companies that create a good working environment and culture. Your company’s “talent brand”— the reputation it has in the market—has an impact on whether potential candidates apply for jobs or accept them. Not only do you have to tell the world who you are as a company, you have to show it in how you operate. Spell out your values and live them.
• Write a strong job ad: Your job ad should never be a reiteration or shorter version of a job description. A job ad should be a marketing tool to sell your brand to potential candidates. It should not only include what the job entails, but the “what’s in it for me” factor about why they should want to work for your company.
• Use multiple forms of advertising: You can’t post an ad on Craigslist and call it done. Go where the applicants are: Embrace, and invest in, tools like Indeed and LinkedIn, and boost posts on your company’s social media. And don’t ignore the power of networking—connect with people at local association events, let all of your contacts know about openings, and reach out to talent you’ve met in the past.
• Don’t drag out the hiring process: With tight competition, job candidates aren’t going to wait around for an offer because they likely are getting several. If your hiring process is four weeks long and involves six interviews, your candidate is going to lose interest and look elsewhere. And keep in mind that many candidates are having to take time off from their current job for interviews, so be respectful of their time and even consider video interviews or off-hour meetings when appropriate.
• Ensure your salary and benefits are up to par: With rising inflation, minimum wage salaries are not allowing young workers to keep up. To find loyal, committed employees, you need to pay them accordingly—let’s be honest, most people don’t work simply for pride or love of a company, they need to make money. Do your research on salaries in the area, both within the industry and outside of it, and make sure yours are keeping up.
• Stay flexible: Times have changed, and workers of all ages are seeking a work/life balance—and they’ll move to another company to get it. While many positions in construction and construction supply simply cannot have flexibility beyond a normal in-person 9-5, others can. Allowing workers to go to their children’s soccer games, removing guilt from calling in sick, providing extra PTO, and permitting remote work when it makes sense can go a long way to attracting and keeping staff members.
• Keep tabs on existing staff: Retention is as important as, or more important than, recruiting. Don’t neglect your current team. Conduct surveys and talk to workers about what they like and don’t like about working for your company, hear them out, and make adjustments accordingly. It’s a lot more expensive to find and train a new team member than to make small investments to keep great workers.
• Don’t keep bad managers: The saying goes, people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad managers. As part of surveying your employees, understand the relationships between staff and their supervisors. Are one team’s members leaving in droves? Are you hearing rumors? It may be worth investigating the management style of your supervisors. Include leadership training for your managers just as you provide installation training or sales training.
For more labor and hiring tips, check out Brandon’s blog and follow her on LinkedIn. And be sure to follow Westlake Royal Building Products on LinkedIn for product news and industry and business insights.
Want more industry insights? Subscribe to our enewsletter!Dealers Ramp Up Adoption of Ecommerce, Other Technologies
The construction and LBM industries are notorious for their slow adoption of technology. This includes ecommerce, which has lagged behind the pace of other industries. But the pace of adoption is increasing, driven by several factors, most notably the pandemic, wider acceptance, and demand from the next generation of customers and workers. And, perhaps surprising to some, AI is also playing a role.
According to LBM Journal’s 2023 LBM 100 survey, 40% of dealers offered online sales in 2022, a 9.5% increase over the previous year. Of those, 27.4% of orders were for curbside pickup.
“We’re hearing from almost every dealer we talk to that there is a real awareness that ecommerce is a needed element,” said Mike Berger, managing editor for LBM Journal. “The buying habits not just of consumers but also pros have changed so much since the pandemic started.”
Consumers have gotten used to logging onto not only Amazon but also home improvement retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe’s to compare prices and make purchases; LBM dealers are realizing that they need to ramp up their own ecommerce to keep up.
“Ecommerce is here, it’s only going to increase, and dealers are going to need to make every effort they can to accommodate it,” Berger said. “Younger folks coming into the LBM industry are bringing with them patterns of commerce they’ve already developed. To them, it’s second nature to be able to go to their phone, go to an app, place their order, and be done.”
While ecommerce has lagged, LBM dealers have made strides in other areas of technology. In its 2023 Construction Supply 150 report, Webb Analytics noted that while construction suppliers continue to devote a low percentage of revenue to technology, they’ve made remarkable gains. “Online bill presentation now is common, with online payment capabilities close behind,” the report explained. “The next big trends will involve notification of delivery status and online information about whether a product is in inventory. Both are likely to be features of customer-facing apps for smartphones—another growing trend.”
Dealers have responded to customer demand for easier access to accounts and pricing by making it easier to pay bills or check inventory online, a must-have for building pros who do office work after regular business hours because they’re on the jobsite all day. Online access may also be beneficial for customers for whom English is not their first language.
“Despite spending an average of less than 1% of revenue on technology—far below most other industries—leading dealers have gotten dramatically more techie over the years, especially this decade,” the Construction Supply 150 said. “We’re at the point where more than two-thirds of responding CS150 dealers make it possible for their customers to see purchasing history and bills online, and another quarter of the dealers plan to add that capability. Over half permit online bill payment, and another 30% plan to roll out the feature.”
One reason ecommerce might be slower to adopt is because pricing and supply in the building sector isn’t always black and white. Supply chain challenges, particularly over the past few years, have made it harder to predict what is available, and pricing can be impacted by a number of factors that vary customer by customer.
But, ironically, technology is helping to address those challenges, as well. “The stock issue is gradually improving as dealers get better warehouse systems,” Webb Analytics President Craig Webb said. “The pricing is getting better in part because dealers are getting more sophisticated at being able to categorize customers.”
Webb’s Construction Supply 150 found that 35% of dealers have a warehouse management system, but another 26% want to add it. Delivery notification systems are also on the rise, the study found, with 40% of dealers offering it now; 79% of dealers have dispatch/delivery software, which means notification offerings could rise soon.
For now, Berger said, many customers are using ecommerce for smaller items or one-off items, such as a few extra 2x4s or other missing materials needed to quickly complete a job. Consumers are using it as part of their pricing research, which positions dealers to potentially earn new business if they have an item at an equal or better price as a nearby big box store.
Webb and Berger both point to artificial intelligence (AI) as an important factor for dealers going forward.
“It looks like artificial intelligence’s ability to slice and price could be one of the very first ways AI makes an impact on dealers,” Webb said. “It’s possible to collect tons of information about customer history and purchasing patterns, to scrape the internet for what everyone else is selling for, and to look at commentaries on what’s happening with pricing trends, strikes, forest fires, etc., and make pricing recommendations in the moment for customers. [As a simple example,] it’s an automated way of seeing a winter storm coming and analyzing how many shovels you have.”
Berger said one of the biggest fears he hears from dealers is that adding ecommerce means increasing the amount of staff needed to handle it. But dealers who have found success are reporting the opposite, thanks in part to AI tools that can assist with filling out product descriptions, answering common questions, and more. “With the tools that are available, dealers aren’t having to radically ramp up their hiring.”
Existing and trusted software solutions also are playing a key role in getting dealers up to speed. The industry’s leading software providers offer systems that allow companies to run programs for what they want and need while adding or removing capabilities in the future.
Epicor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, for example, has an option for an integrated ecommerce platform.
ECI announced in July a new ecommerce solution for its Spruce ERP platform. The tools allow dealers to build a professional storefront website and customer portal without the need for coding or web development expertise. “For consumers and tradespeople, this means unlocking the ability to shop online for delivery or in-store pickup, browse products, create accounts, build self-service quotes, pay invoices, and more,” John Maiuri, division president LBMH at ECI, said in an announcement of the launch. “For LBM and hardlines businesses, this means help in avoiding over-stocking since inventory counts, transactions, pricing, invoices, and other information are directly connected between systems.”
It’s clear that more and more LBM dealers are embracing the efficiencies that technology can bring—while recognizing that customers will only continue to expect such conveniences in the future. As technology solutions become more advanced and more user-friendly, there perhaps may be no better time to take the leap.
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