This episode took place at Staffing Industry Analysts’ Executive Forum 2018.

Caitlin Delohery, Editor in Chief of Staffing Hub, interviewed Bill Stoller, Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Express Employment Professionals, about the conference, the hidden job market, and the power of referrals.

Here’s the transcript of the episode.

Staffing Hub: What do you think has driven Express’s success?

Stoller: Well, I certainly think that leadership discipline, as Barry [Asin] talked about this morning, and Bob [Funk] and I have been in the staffing business prior to starting Express, 35 years ago. And we obviously had the vision of wanting to build a company that was as scalable as possible.

But I think certainly one of the big parts is, we’re a franchise organization, and the staffing business is made perfectly in the commercial space, light industrial, office services. For the business to be located in the neighborhood, if you will, of a larger city. And they live there, that’s their livelihood, and that’s been a huge part of our success.

Staffing Hub: So you really tapped into the communities.

Stoller: Right, our franchisees have certainly, you know, whether they lived there prior, which many of them did, and many of them did move to those locations.

Our franchisees have become part of the community and are pillars of their community. 

Staffing Hub: How do you sort of maintain your company culture across so many branches?

Stoller: What has been part of our secret to success, again, I think franchising, but I think we’ve been able to maintain a culture amongst our people, franchisees, that have adopted the culture that Bob and I set to create with Express. Our headquarters people all adopt, you know, our value system, which tends to our culture.

There really can be a purpose in staffing and that is to help people find work, and that’s part of our culture as well. And it just goes all the way throughout the company, and there’s just no thread that is not painted with that kind of a feeling.

Staffing Hub: What would you say are some of those core values that are threaded throughout?

Stoller: Well, it’s certainly integrity, leadership, and doing what’s best and what’s right. It’s taking care of people.

It’s really taking care of people and making sure that we are doing the right thing for them.

So, those are the three pillars that we consider ourselves, but again it still comes down to that purpose statement of helping people find work and helping companies find good people.

Staffing Hub: And maybe this is related, but what would you say inspires your team?

Stoller: Yeah, I would say it’s very much related to really doing the right thing, but helping people find work. I also think it’s exciting for people to be with a growing company.

You win when you grow. You know the old adage: if you don’t grow, you die.

So that’s pretty much I think what everyone in Express buys in with.

Staffing Hub: And on the flip side of that, what would you say are your biggest day to day challenges?

Stoller: Well, there always seems to be a new one every day. But, truly getting everyone to follow our system. You know, it’s tried and true that franchisees offices have been successful, and those that are not successful are the ones that don’t follow the system.

And I think it comes down to the attitude. I think if you look up and use the ABC as one, two, three, and go all the way through the alphabet, if you look at attitude, you will have a score of 100.

And I believe our people simply have that positive attitude, the go-to attitude, the get-it-done attitude.

Staffing Hub: So they see challenges as opportunities for growth. 

Stoller: Exactly, right. And it’s, you have to look at things half-full, not half-empty, but following the system, you tend to have people go off on their own, and they will then come back, because they see other people being successful that are following the system, and who talk about the system.

But we also include all of our people as part of our education program. Because we have franchisees teaching classes, we have corporate people teaching classes, we have our sales team, or sales coaches teaching classes, and it’s just a mixed bag because everybody contributes, and that’s really what you have to have in the end.

Staffing Hub: And what is the, how would you define, loosely, as you’re comfortable, how would you define the system that works, that they shouldn’t deviate from?

Stoller: Well, you know, we obviously have an interview process. You then go through that interview phase, then you obviously have to have a job order, so it’s getting a proper job order, and following that correctly, and all the way through to getting someone placed on a job.

I would say the big part of our system is you have to be proactive and you have to sell. You have to develop relationships.

And if you have somebody that’s managing an office or owns an office that isn’t making contact calls, isn’t making appointments, isn’t networking in the community, you’re not going to succeed.

And then we have our staffing consultants, have to get the references, they have to make those phone calls. They also have to do what’s called ‘most placable candidate’, which is MPC.

When you have a candidate in today’s market, you know the shelf-life is very, very short.

So when you’ve got somebody, you need to call up people that you know and see if they need somebody.

Our whole universe within Express really does start with sales culture, a service culture, and a people culture, all coming together.

Staffing Hub: Because the shelf-life is so short, do you have tools that have helped you, maybe technology, maybe it’s just your education system, but, that have helped you stay ahead of that curve?

Stoller: Well, as I’ve said, if you have sales people out there selling all the time, you’re going to have new openings all the time. But in this type of a market, where you’re so short on supply, which is our people that come and need work, that they shouldn’t go outside the door.

If they qualify and you hire them, and they clear on the background check and references and whatnot, drug tests, etc., then you should be able to find them some sort of work by day’s end.

Staffing Hub: That’s great. And the shorter sales cycle, I’m sure, is part of it, but how do you see the industry changing over the next two to five years?

Stoller: Well, we’ve talked about that in some of the sessions today here at Staffing Industry’s Executive Forum. And, you know, for the most part, I think those in the commercial area of staffing, which is light industrial and office services, you still have to have warehousing, logistics, and artificial intelligence, and robotics isn’t going to take all those jobs.

I think it’s still bright for the light industrial and office services area. Certainly, office services has lost over the years because of the computer, because of smartphones, because a lot of people do their own administrative work, if you will, today.

But, the outlook on the staffing business industry for at least the next two or three years seems to be very bright. And whether we see in ten years – none of us feel that there’s going to be a dramatic shift. Now, there’s change that will take place over those ten years, what those changes will be — probably a lot more technology, probably a lot more consolidation in needs from our customers — so if you’re listening carefully enough to your customer, then you just learn what that is and then you make those adjustments.

Staffing Hub: You mentioned a little bit about this, but, we’ve surveyed tons of staffing firms and they all say that candidate acquisition is their number one stress point. And you guys are obviously doing something right. I’m sure it ties into a lot of what you’ve said, but how do you think that the, either the staffing industry, or recruiters individually need to evolve to sort of get ahead of this  challenge.

Stoller: Well, there’s only so much supply of people available and we are at full employment, but I’ve always believed that there are people – filing for unemployment seems to be a benchmark for the number of unemployed. But I always believe there are people who are not — they leave a job because they know they can go find a job. And so there’s this large layer of people that are constantly turning over because they’re looking for a better opportunity. But that’s all part of it.

The number one source of people for us is referrals from somebody that knows that a candidate is going to do a good job. When you get those referrals, then you need to take care of them. I call that the hidden job market.

Those that are turning but you don’t see them in the unemployment lines and you don’t see them filing for unemployment, along with just getting those referrals from people that get asked, “I’m looking for a job, do you know anyone who’s looking?”

So, those two are the biggest ways and you have to constantly be doing that, and so it really just is all part of the whole program and communicating what your needs are to other people and you’ll get more people coming in.

Staffing Hub: What do you see on the horizon for Express?

Stoller: I mean, I certainly see technology still taking a large role in our industry. Projects will likely take a little more responsibility for us to complete a project, and so they may outsource more of the project as opposed to things that might be done on an hourly basis. So, we’ll have to say, “well, we can get it done for ‘x’ amount of dollars”, and “it takes so much – hours of peoples’ time to do the job,” just like you get an estimate for someone doing landscaping for your home. So I see that kind of project.

I certainly see a lot more upscaling that we need to do. I think education and helping people find out how to get more schooling, more education, even while they’re working, I think that’s very important.

I think the education field is going to become more and more – trade schools, certainly those skills are going to be in demand.

But it still comes down to the soft skills and having the proper soft skills to show someone that, this is the way you’ve got to dress, this is the way you’ve got to interview, this is how to handle yourself. So, I think we have to become much more part of that side of educating people when they do come in.

Staffing Hub: Staffing should be part of a bigger education initiative?

Stoller: Yeah. I think it will be. Now, whether we will be directly involved, but I think there are suppliers out there or educators out there that are actually coming out, because online education is huge.

At our company, we educate our franchisees employees through hundreds and hundreds and maybe thousands and thousands of either webinars or classes they can take online. You know, they read and then answer the question and then you get feedback immediately.

So, you know, I think education will just be an upscaling in terms – like, getting greater skills is probably the biggest thing we’ll be faced with, and we’ll have to meet that challenge.

Staffing Hub: This is my last question and it brings us out a little bit, but just, why do you come to Executive Forums. What brings you here?

Stoller: Well, you know, I came to the very first one and I’ve come to probably, if they’ve had 22 of them, I’ve probably been to 20 of them. The only time I don’t come is when we have a conflict with one of our company meetings, which, ironically, we are next year.

But I really come to kind hear what other people think, and what other people are thinking is going to happen to our industry in ten years.

But it really does also come down to networking. You know, you get a chance to meet your competitors, you get a chance to meet other people, obviously vendors are very important to meet with, and other industry folk.

You have to get updated, you have to stay current, and you also have to look out in the future to create your vision for where you want your company to go, and I think this conference is a perfect forum for that to be done.