A Sustainable Environment: How to Create an Attractive Setting for Employees

On the one hand, Tom Haynie thinks his way of hiring and retaining employees won’t work for larger companies. On the other hand, he believes some of the same principles probably do apply to both large and small businesses.

Haynie and his wife, Barb, have operated Creekside Garden Center in Fort Collins for 50 years. They are content with the comfortable size of their business, and not looking to grow. Most of their staff have been there for many years, and the need to hire is infrequent.

When they do need to hire, “I just ask people working for me if they know people or I ask people that I know. That works for me because my business is small,” he said. “I bet it would work for some larger businesses, too. If you have 10 employees and you ask them all if they know of anyone who is interested in the job, almost everyone knows somebody.”

Creekside Gardens
Photo courtesy of Creekside Gardens

He also asks his wholesale suppliers, who he has had long-term relationships with, if they know of someone looking for work. Many times, these contacts are the best ones for finding temporary employees, when they are needed seasonally or for specific projects.

Creekside mostly hires older employees and college students who don’t want a full-time, year-round job. The older ones enjoy being in the garden center environment and are looking for quality of life over a higher income. Students like the flexibility of the schedule.

“It’s a nice environment, where they can just have some fun,” he said. “Plus, I don’t hire or keep people who create drama.”

While pay is not as high as in some other industries, paying a competitive wage within the green industry helps attract and retain staff. “Basically I pay a couple dollars more an hour,” he said, adding that businesses with many more employees may find that more difficult to do.

At Creekside, paying competitively doesn’t mean increasing product pricing or cutting back on other expenses, he said. In fact, the percentage of labor costs to sales is much lower than average, because all employees take on various jobs. Money is saved by the efficient use of labor, where no one is ever standing around without a job to do.

Besides making financial sense, he said, “I think if you want to keep your employees and get employees, you can’t bore them to death. If they have a brain, boredom is a key element in losing employees.”

At the same time, he asks employees what they are interested in and what they want to do, and lets them work mostly in those areas of the business. “To be honest, they are interested in everything. They may start out in one area but they often learn about other areas and try diverse things,” he added.

For example, one new hire was really into perennials, but knew nothing about trees or shrubs. When Haynie introduced her at a staff meeting, he explained that she was unfamiliar with trees and shrubs and suggested that others help her with that. Between on-the-job training with co-workers and the owners, she soon became a fan of working in the trees and shrubs area.

Being accessible to employees is just another way that he strives to create a comfortable, pleasant workplace. He is “fairly fluent” in Spanish, which is welcoming to employees whose first language is Spanish.

When it comes right down to it, a positive company culture is what attracts and keeps employees. And, employees with positive attitudes can be trained to do many jobs.

“I never look for anybody just for one specific area or job. I can instantly tell if somebody will work out or not, just by listening to them. It’s not rocket science. I’m not looking for engineers,” he said. “I can train people. You’d be surprised what employees can do. Some of the older women have learned to drive a skidloader. There’s not a limit if you are willing to give people a try and train them.”

Creekside Gardens
Photo courtesy of Creekside Gardens

5 Steps to Staffing Success

  • Find employees through word of mouth: ask people you know – from current employees to customers and wholesalers – to spread the word about your need to hire and often they will have a friend who is right for the position.
  • Hire good attitudes, not just knowledge. Select people whose desire to be in a great work environment outweighs their desire for higher pay.
  • Pay competitive wages.
  • Allow employees to work primarily in areas that interest them most, like in perennials, shrubs or checkout.
  • Create a company culture where employees thrive on doing a variety of tasks, which not only helps keep them motivated but also helps the bottom-line by keeping them engaged rather than having down time.