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Galloping Cows’ Joanne Schmidt (PAUL DARROW FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Galloping Cows’ Joanne Schmidt (PAUL DARROW FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The Challenge

Staff tough to find in shrinking community Add to ...

Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue.

Business is booming at  Galloping Cows Fine Foods, which has been selling specialty jams, jellies and sauces from its home base of Port Hood, N.S., since 1994.

Earlier this year, the company’s products were featured in swag bags at the Oscars – the result of a fortuitous connection with an organizer at the Toronto International Film Festival. Around the same time, the company signed a partnership deal with retail giant Wal-Mart, which plans to begin selling Galloping Cows products online early next year.

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The company, which wouldn’t disclose sales, is on track for a 40-per-cent increase in business this fiscal year, says Galloping Cows founder Joanne Schmidt.

But with increased international attention and new orders to fill, Galloping Cows needs to add more staff. And it’s having trouble finding the employees locally it needs to keep up with its growth.

In 2006, the last year of available figures, the population of Port Hood was 1,402 – and dropping.

“There are, like, no people here. Finding qualified people is a huge issue,” Ms. Schmidt laments. “We normally have about six of us now. We have a few more on contract, or who work seasonally and part-time.”

She  knows exactly who she wants to add to her team, but finding them in the local area is proving tough. During peak periods, the company often needs additional part-time help; Ms. Schmidt is also looking to fill at least one  more permanent position. "We've been running short, basically," she says.

Running short means that large orders can sometimes leave staff scrambling. For example, Ms. Schmidt was once faced with an especially large holiday order. “I would have needed 10 staff people working around the clock in shifts.” Her mother suggested calling up her local prayer group. “Sure enough, we got some of the ladies from the Port Hood prayer line. That was the answer to our HR question that year.”

Clearly, that’s not a real solution. Though she’s offering flexible work hours and a competitive salary, “I don’t have any résumés or anybody I can even consider. We’ve advertised a number of times, and we’ve put word of mouth out. That’s usually most effective around here.”

She suspects that many qualified workers have already found work outside the province. Ideally, Galloping Cows would like to find younger workers interested in staying in the community and growing with the company.

The Challenge: How can Galloping Cows find the staff it needs in an area with a low, and shrinking, local population?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Joyce MacDougall, training co-ordinator at Cape Breton University’s Small Business Development Centre

Perhaps advertising the lifestyle in the Port Hood area would be helpful. It is an area surrounded by beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery. There is a thriving cultural community with live plays, crafts people, photographers, and painters.

The use of social media and the Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Farmers Market networks may bring the job opening(s) to the attention of people who have left the area, or wish to remain and enjoy this great opportunity. Someone with enthusiasm and ideas for new product offerings may help to expand the business even further.

Kirk MacRae, president of RKM Investments and owner of eight Subway franchises around Cape Breton

The Schmidts need two types of employees. The first is a person to help grow the business. Succession planning must be a bit of an issue as the Schmidts have been in business since 1994 and they are located geographically between Cape Breton University and St FX (St. Francis Xavier University), which both have strong business schools. Speak to each school and there is a great opportunity to get someone very motivated and educated to help them grow their business. The carrot is the opportunity to help grow and then take over the business.

The second type of employee is seasonal, really starting in September when school goes back. Show up at a couple of the bigger schools and approach some moms to see if they are interested due to the flexible and part-time work. Another place may be the local farmers markets, where people have a natural love of cooking. Again, the flexible hours and part-time work may fit someone’s schedule.

Also, being in a tourist area, which does not need as many employees after Labour Day, there may be some employees in tourist operations who can leave and continue to work after their summer job is completed.

Bruce Snow, managing partner at Halifax-based Snow Recruit

If you are not getting the results you need from word of mouth, you can increase the effectiveness of this strategy by providing a bit more of an incentive for local citizens to spread the word.

Many companies provide a referral bonus to employees who recommend a new hire, and you could extend such a program to include non-employees as well. The amount of the bonus varies according to the position being filled, but a referral bonus of a few hundred dollars may be adequate to get the good citizens of Port Hood to become your recruitment team.

Some of the common factors that potential returnees will consider when deciding on a move back home will be what the position pays, what the benefits package looks like and what financial support is provided to assist with relocation costs. As a consequence, you may want to offer some relocation assistance for new hires, on the condition that they stay for a minimum of a year, or they pay back the money on a prorated basis.

If you are paying reasonably well for the local marketplace, then you may also want to publicize the rate of pay for this role, to give you an advantage over other employers.

As long as your business is in Port Hood, and continuing to grow, you will likely have recruitment challenges. While there will be always ways to improve upon your recruitment efforts, recruitment will continue to draw upon a disproportionate amount of time from key individuals. As part of our business’s strategic planning, you should be regularly evaluating if the location of your business is limiting your ability to grow and meet its full potential.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Pitch the job and the lifestyle

Emphasize the benefits of living in a small town and the specific virtues of Port Hood. The right employee will need to fit in with both the company and the local community.

Offer a referral bonus

Give an incentive to existing employees and/or members of the community to extend the search.

Reach out to existing networks

The local farmers market community, area universities and larger schools may prove to be rich sources of workers

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