Skip to main content
rob magazine

Urban Life Solutions has been in growth mode, with revenue up five times over the past four years.Urban Life Solutions

Before he joined Urban Life Solutions, CEO John Bogert admits he didn’t really like snowstorms. “Now I love them,” he quips.

This appreciation for inclement weather is understandable, since Bogert heads up an outdoor service provider. “We plow snow, we cut grass, we do landscape enhancement projects,” he says. “We also have a towing division, and we do street sweepings. Basically, we care for our outdoor world.”

Urban Life Solutions has been in growth mode, with revenue up five times over the past four years. Most of that growth has come through acquisitions, but Bogert says the company has also landed some bigger contracts they’ve been able to take on thanks to backing from a private equity partner.

That growth has come with a challenge, though. With brands operating in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec, the company—which has about 1,000 employees—is hungry for seasonal workers. And they’ve been tougher to come by recently. “We’re finding, especially out West, with the oil fields coming back up, that it’s really hard to get staff,” says Bogert, noting the hiring troubles started last spring. “We had one division that was supposed to have 100 people in it that was short by 30 the first time it snowed, which is huge. It means a lot of overtime for the crews. It means struggling to meet our customer expectations in a timely manner.”

Another complicating factor: Boomers are retiring, and there aren’t enough youngsters to replace them. It’s tough to even get people to show up for interviews, Bogert notes. “We had one week here in Calgary where we had 15 interviews set up, and zero of them showed—and not one of them told us they weren’t going to make it. If we get a 50% show rate, that is a good day.”

To counteract these challenges, Urban Life Solutions has taken a multipronged approach. First, they’ve added a grassroots element to their recruiting by setting up booths at local street festivals to connect with potential employees. Bogert says they’ve hired some 15 people that way. They’ve also reached out to people who work at other seasonal businesses, like golf courses, at the end of their season. “We started hitting golf courses in the late summer to go, ‘When the golf course shuts down, we’ve got something for you to do all winter.’”

Bogert notes another key to getting people to apply for jobs is thinking about it from the potential employee’s point of view. What are the barriers there? “It’s a more honest and holistic approach to thinking about why people aren’t showing up for interviews or why we aren’t getting the applications we need.” To that end, the company has created rally points near the towns where potential employees live so they can get driven to the nearest Urban Life Solutions location, which is usually out of town, for the interview. “New Canadians are a great target segment, but often they don’t have cars to come out to an interview an hour out of Toronto,” says Bogert. This transportation support is something that carries on after they get the job, too. “To make it easier for people to get to work, we set up rally spots closer to town so people don’t have to double commute—commute out to our workplace, and then drive back into town to do the work.”

Urban Life Solutions is also extremely responsive to people who reply to online job ads, since any delay can mean losing a potential employee in a competitive market. “If they apply and you get back to them a week later, they’ve already gone somewhere else,” he says. “You need to respond to them within an hour if you can.”

Once they’re hired, the company offers a retention bonus in the form of an increase in their hourly rate if they stay for the entire season. And they’re committed to helping all employees develop. “We really pitch ourselves as offering a career, not just a job,” Bogert says. “We have a promote-from-within culture, and we work to let our employees know that for a couple years, they’re just going to have to cut grass—but they could then become a foreman and then a supervisor. And you can earn pretty good money working for us, as long as you are willing to invest in yourself while we invest in you.”

All this effort has helped Urban Life Solutions meet 97% its staffing demands. “We’re definitely in a much better spot than we were at the beginning of the season,” Bogert notes. “We never seem to get 100% of the roles filled, but we’re pretty close.”

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.