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(BPT) - School closing for the summer may mark lazy days for kids, but local businesses are bracing for peak season. With unemployment at a 17-year low, and a record 6.6 million job openings reported at the end of March, it’ll be tougher than usual to serve the seasonal boom of customers as the weather warms up. Traditionally, many hourly positions were filled by teens on summer vacation who didn’t have another way to make some spare cash. This source of trusty summer hires is down from 60 to 30 percent, which — coupled with a teeny 3.9 percent unemployment rate — means businesses that rely on heavy summer hiring should expect a smaller-than-usual batch of job seekers.
Record-low unemployment means small teams with new or inexperienced hires handling the summer customer rush — a potential recipe for disaster, with managers filling in more gaps in service than usual. Not to worry! Here are a few tips to help keep things business as usual leading up to this challenging summer season.
Let technology handle paperwork, so you can manage the team
When paperwork’s piling up, it’s impossible to focus on running the team. Using wall calendars and highlighters as a way to manage schedules wastes valuable hours. There are plenty of new technologies, from onboarding to payroll to scheduling, to take the hassle out of all the managerial muck.
"Technology can be the secret weapon of Main Street with easy-to-use systems that automate everything from managing payroll to streamlining sales reports,” said John Waldmann, CEO of Homebase (joinhomebase.com), a top platform for managing the hourly workforce. “For example, Homebase can calculate overtime as you build your schedule and send text reminders to your employees to show up on time."
Attract employees with benefits you can afford
Local and franchise businesses that rely on a minimum-wage workforce have been feeling pressure from increased labor costs. With higher hourly wages tightening already thin margins, businesses must rely on low-cost and high-impact benefits to attract and retain the best employees. A reliable front-of-house team is an essential part of the customer experience, and bad service can override anything you’ve done on the product.
Amy Simmons, founder of Amy's Ice Cream, a local Austin chain, explains: "We want our team members to have just as much fun as our customers. Scoop-tossing tricks and great ice cream aren't only what keep customers coming back, they keep employees excited to be a part of something fun and looking forward to coming in to work."
Building a great employee culture is a relatively inexpensive way to attract team members and keep them engaged. Simple things like providing a team meal or rewarding high-performing (or highly enthusiastic) employees are ways to create a shared sense of value. Amy's takes this even a step further by spending time educating employees on how to read financial statements and run a successful business. Team meals with a side of education are a wonderful way to create value for employees and invest in their futures.
Make and manage schedules that set everyone up for success
Regardless of the season, every scheduled hour matters — every late start or no-show can hit the bottom line. During the summer, high customer volume makes this even tougher. Local business owners should get into the communication flow of the digital native generation that’s running the registers. Give people more control over schedules with mobile tools that simplify shift-swapping and accommodate last-minute summer travel requests.
Communication is key when teams are juggling hourly schedules that are never the same two weeks in a row. Businesses found a significant decrease in missed shifts when using an online platform like Homebase to send out reminders to team members before shifts.
Stay on top this summer
This summer season will be a unique challenge given unemployment, but also a time to shine. The spots featured in tourist maps that help create the culture of our favorite neighborhoods are also the businesses under the most pressure when unemployment is low. Punting on paperwork and focusing on Insta-worthy recipes, displays and experiences will make these local heroes the hot part of their customers’ favorite season, regardless of weather.