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Finding — and Keeping — the Right Team (Part 1)

Tips for hiring and retaining employees in a tight labor market

CHICAGO — One development that many dry cleaners weren’t prepared for last year was their inability to find labor after the lockdowns eased and society reopened. When the work came back in, there were fewer hands to do it — this has become a pain point for many in the industry. What’s more, with good employees in seemingly short supply, the competition for them has heated up over the past few months.

They Are Out There

“It’s tough because of different factors,” says Jennifer Whitmarsh, a member of The Route Pros, a drycleaning consulting firm. One of Whitmarsh’s roles is to help dry cleaners develop and follow best hiring and retention practices.

“We had COVID, and we had so many people retire last year and the year before,” she says. “Maybe we haven’t trained our staff well enough to go up to the next level. Now, we’re looking to raise others to fill the gaps.”

The fact that the very nature of work has changed for many is also directly affecting the pool of applicants available to dry cleaners.

“More people are seeking remote work and, obviously, there are very few dry cleaners that can offer remote employment,” says Amy Wischmann, who oversees hiring at Benzinger’s Clothing Care, a drycleaning business with five locations and 40 employees in the Buffalo, New York, area. “You’ve got people still nervous to return to the workplace or who just can’t because of child care or other reasons. I think people are seeking different kinds of work now.”

“It’s tight,” Whitmarsh says, “but it’s not impossible. It’s like digging for gold. They are out there, but we just have to be a little more proactive than we used to be.”

Finding Good Fits

Part of this proactivity is increasing the search for new employees from “as needed” to a constant basis.

“If you want to have a team of dedicated employees, you can’t always do what you’ve always done,” Whitmarsh says. “I would strongly urge people to revisit and examine their processes. Even 10 years ago, hiring was easy, so to speak. Now, it’s practically a full-time job trying to hire. But you have to invest that time so you can find these great employees who are going to add to your team and not ultimately waste your time and take you away from the important things you need to do.”

“Cleaners have to stay on top of the hiring process, and I believe they have to have someone who does it every single day,” Wischmann says. “It might take an hour a day, but it has to be a priority.”

The days of newspaper want ads are over, Wischmann believes, and cleaners who want to attract today’s employees need to be where their applicants are.

“It’s important for people in dry cleaning to take the time to learn some kind of online hiring platform, whatever that may be,” she says. “That is the way that most people are seeking work these days. Waiting for people to come in and use a paper application is not what people are currently doing, especially younger people. If you don’t have an online presence, you’re definitely at a disadvantage from the start.”

However, employers who might be intimidated by starting job searches online shouldn’t worry, Wischmann says.

“As long as they have someone at their business who is computer-savvy, it’s not going to be that hard for them,” she says. “Most platforms make it very user-friendly. That’s the business they’re in, so they’re going to make it as easy as possible for both applicants and employers. I think it’s just a matter of someone taking the time to do it.”

Come back Tuesday for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll explore some interviewing strategies to find the right fit for your team.


Picking potential employees from photos

Caption: (Photo: © Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos)

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected].