Auckland trades labour hire company Hirestaff made it into the finals of the Westpac Auckland Business Awards in 2020 after just one year in operation, having doubled its staff numbers and returned strong financial results despite COVID lockdowns. As Hirestaff approaches its second birthday, founder Jonny Peters says simple customer care and not shying away from problems is the secret of Hirestaff’s success. Michael Botur found out more.
The business, founded in April 2019, supplies short term and long term staff to the trades, construction, warehouse and logistics sectors in Auckland – a city whose construction sector in 2019 employed over 86,000 people, accounting for 10 per cent of total employment in Auckland, 24000 businesses, and 7% of Auckland’s Gross Domestic Product.
Hirestaff’s awards entry noted great customer and candidate satisfaction plus strong financial outcomes which are the result of Hirestaff bringing an approach to the industry Peters describes as, “Recruitment made simple. We’re no nonsense – recruitment without the fluff.”
“Responding to market opportunity with extra effort to keep businesses and employees satisfied,” has been the theme of the first two years, Peters says.
Picking up the phone and being unafraid to talk to building clients when, for example, a candidate doesn’t show up to work has gone a long way to maintaining strong working relationships, Peters adds.
“It can be so easy to shy away from a problem, like a client waiting on staff. One thing we do is pick up the phone regardless. That’s the thing with builders – they want honesty. Price is lower down the list in terms of importance. There’s so much on top of that.”
It’s an ethos Peters understands – his background is in plumbing, but has also spent years working for a larger labour hire organisation in which he had less time to be personable with clients and candidates.
“We’re not the cheapest. But we pay more than minimum wage on labourers. In a market, with skills shortage, if you want skilled workers you have to pay them well.”
Respectful handling of wages and HR is something Hirestaff prioritises, understanding its massive impact on employee satisfaction. “It sounds simple but every week we pay on time. We want to look after our workers – without them, we wouldn’t have a business,” Peters adds.
Initially starting out in Peters’ living room on Auckland’s North Shore, Hirestaff supplies a variety of businesses with reliable labourers and highly skilled tradespeople – builders, electricians, drivers, warehouse & logistics workers, machinery operators and production line workers. “It might sound pretty standard, but having created nearly $2m turnover in the past year, with a small team, is fairly exceptional.”
Before Auckland’s lockdowns, backpackers were a reliable source of labour, and tended to be highly motivated and dependable. After the lockdown of March 2020, more candidates started coming from the local market. It’s been a market in which occasionally job vacancies paying over $40 per hour are hard to fill.
“Backpackers were keen on any job,” Peters says. “When they left and that dried up it was hard to find Kiwis that wanted to do manual labouring.”
So how did they land on success?
“Close follow-ups as well as genuine care for our employees fulfills Hirestaff’s duty to keep staff safe and happy,” Peters explains. This means simple details such as face-to-face interviews – which not everyone does – regular check-ins, pizza and coffee shouts and giving away vouchers to employees when they’ve done a great job on site.
“Happy employees means more effective performance on building sites and therefore clients who want to do more business.”
When Hirestaff started, the market was highly competitive and the brand had to be built from scratch in an industry which Peters says was “Not known for great customer service.”
“Our growth was initially slow in the first 6 months after which we started increasing our sales calls and candidate interviews, which meant more people being placed into work each week and taking on more new business.”
Peters focused on meeting KPIs and sales performance and made the most of a business coach. He also leaned on his support network to take care of the areas he didn’t have strengths in. Wife Cat, whose background is in marketing, took care of refining Hirestaff’s communications in person, across social media and in emails to cement a good consistent brand.
After two years, 90 key construction clients have led to 450 people placed into jobs since the company’s inception.
Part of the journey to success involved letting go of marketing efforts that didn’t work, and money was saved by, in Peters’ words, “Turning down business that didn’t make financial sense, like big companies trying to screw us down on our margins.”
Building strong relationships has been essential. Efforts such as on-site support, regular emails and texts about health and safety, check-ins on how jobs are progressing and keeping close personal communications going with clients have reaped benefits in terms of employee satisfaction and performance – leading to new and renewed business.
It’s a down-to-earth approach the team are hoping will get them beyond the Auckland Business Awards finals again this year.