NEW YORK – Chris Welles isn’t taking chances with holiday staffing. He is paying seasonal employees more than last year and offering sports and theater tickets to persuade people to work at his stores rather than at giants like Amazon.
“We’re in a full-employment economy in the service industry — especially in the Northeast where life is good and finding people to do retail jobs is a challenge,” said Welles, owner of American Rhino, a clothing retailer with a website and stores in Boston and Nantucket.
Welles, who has two open positions, is finding recruiting tougher this year in Boston, where unemployment is under the already-low national rate of 3.7 percent. Welles is paying $15 to $16 an hour for his seasonal hires compared with last year’s $12 to $13. He’s also promised baseball tickets and tickets to the musical “Hamilton” as incentives for current staffers to stay put.
The economy is stronger and fewer people are unemployed than last year, shrinking an already small pool of people available for temporary or part-time work during November and December, prime time for retailers and restaurants. But other small companies also need help because of employee vacations and workloads that don’t slow or that may unexpectedly increase.
All these businesses are competing with big companies including Amazon, Target, Walmart and delivery services that hire thousands of workers for the holidays. About 350,000 people are expected to be hired for the holidays at four companies alone: Amazon, FedEx, Target and UPS. And Amazon has begun paying its seasonal and permanent staffers a minimum $15 an hour.
Human-resources consultants said business owners should get creative in how and where they recruit. Perks like tickets and signing bonuses can help attract people. And owners need to search beyond the obvious places like online job boards and look for people like seniors who might be interested in a few weeks of work. Hiring remote staffers is another option.
Nicholas Kinports is nearly doubling what he paid seasonal staffers last year — workers will earn between $40 and $50 an hour, compared with $20 and $30 in the past. But he’s still had a hard time finding all the workers he needs for his retail websites.
“It has absolutely changed from last year,” says Kinports, who operates Chicago-based Endive.com, a website selling electronics, and TokyoKnives.com, a retailer of Japanese knives. “I don’t have a theory about why — other than employment has gone up significantly and maybe wages are as well.”
Kinports needs to double his staff of 10 for the holidays. Some of his seasonal workers are returnees from past years, and he also asks his staff and people he knows to recommend their friends. When he advertises, it’s on services like Craigslist. But he’s still struggling.
“It’s really tough when you’re in the world of Amazon and giants,” he said.
Small businesses should consider adopting some of the strategies the big companies use, such as giving workers signing bonuses, said Carlos Castelan, managing director of the Navio Group, a human resources consultancy.
“I’m seeing the stakes getting upped,” Castelan says. Among his suggestions: Give seasonal workers the same benefits that regular staffers get, including paid time off and profit-sharing.
Owners should think beyond job websites, said Kate Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works, a company that offers management and other business training. She calls retired people “the No. 1 place I would look.”
“They might be interested in working in a small shop because they’re different — they have a different vibe,” Zabriskie says.
Other possibilities: People who work nights and are willing to work a few hours during the day, and stay-at-home parents who want to pick up some money. Owners may need to structure their work schedules to accommodate seasonal workers who don’t want full-time positions.