(Note: This story appears in the July 2021 issue of ED Magazine)

At EXPO, two industry veterans detailed what you can, and should do, to find new staff and entertainers in a post-COVID world.

Kelly Skillen may have some shocking advice for you, if you need the reminder. Namely, that the staff and entertainers at your club are “the most important part of (your) organization.”

“They are the face, they are the voice of the club,” said Skillen, who owns and operates KMA Consulting Group and has worked with multiple clubs across several states. “One way to think about it is 90% of the time when a guest has a positive or negative experience and talks about it all over the internet, or tells their friends, it’s based on the interaction with an entertainer or team member—that makes their job more important than our job.”

Skillen was on hand at EXPO, along with Bo Wilhelm — Déjà Vu’s “rock star” responsible for recruiting and hiring managers and staff at Déjà Vu’s clubs nationwide — to discuss finding new staff and entertainers in a post-COVID world for the “Recruit” seminar.

“When people talk about our clubs, they’re really talking about our people,” Skillen added.

Another revelatory piece of advice? The industry is in a rough place recruiting-wise because it was in a rough place before the pandemic.

“We sucked (at recruiting) before,” she said. “The handful of you that actually had a good recruiting system down, I think your job got a little harder. But I think you’re still staffed. I think you still have a show. Most of us that are struggling were struggling before COVID, we just now have a name, we have something to blame it on.”

She then presented a three-prong approach to getting on the path to successful recruiting.

• Master the fundamentals of hiring and recruiting

• Spend more time developing our employees

• Think outside the box

“What I want to do is take a little bit of a deeper dive into the recruiting and hiring 101,” Skillen said. “And then I think Bo is going to go into a little bit more of this macro situation that we’re facing.”

According to Skillen, there are five areas of critical importance when it comes to hiring and recruiting:

  • Club’s website
  • Social media
  • Job boards
  • Digital marketing
  • Word of mouth

For your club’s website, her first piece of advice was to not bury it in page navigation. “Jazz it up, put your now-hiring section on your homepage,” she said. “But make it sound great, like your club is the place to be, because the other thing you have to remember is that your guests see your website. You don’t want to look like you don’t have staff. You don’t want to look like you don’t have a show.”

She talked about this commonplace mistake in recruiting of “catering to the lowest common denominator.”

“We don’t want to cater to the lowest common denominator,” Killen said. “When you talk to prospective staff and entertainers, imagine your dream candidate. Imagine the person that you want to hire, try to sell the job to that person. What do you offer?”

“We sucked (at recruiting) before. Most of us that are struggling were struggling before COVID, we just now have a name, we have something to blame it on.” — Kelly Skillen

If you’re attempting to sell a position or attempting to recruit the “dream candidate,” then Skillen says immediate engagement is paramount, including email screening to avoid a deluge of applicants.

For entertainers, where traditional methods of job inquiries may not translate as well — think Craigslist, indeed, LinkedIn — social media can be a huge boon to your hiring practices.

“Entertainers are online, so they’re going to look at your social media campaigns: Do your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages make your club look fun, like the place to be?” Skillen asked. “People are on different platforms, they’re on different places, so you need to be on all of them. And again, it’s an ad, it’s something that’s going to look just the way you would try to market to a guest. That’s how you’re going to market to an entertainer.”

That includes showing off the venue’s aesthetics, its safe environs and the copious amounts of money to be made. Poor online reviews can be a nail in your coffin as a horrible first impression.

“This is how people meet you — they meet you online now,” Skillen said. “Every time you put an ad out for guests, have the entertainer in the back of your mind.”

She rounded out her word-of-mouth advice with a simple observation: “If word gets out that more money can be made at your club than sitting at home collecting benefits, they’re going to come to work.”

Wilhelm piggybacked off this sentiment asking how many people in the audience were facing staffing roadblocks due to COVID unemployment benefits (i.e. people making more from not working than working). “I’ve got four of my managers right here,” he noted. “The biggest thing we want to look at is, don’t hire desperately, because then you’re just gonna fail. I’d love to have you, but we’re not going to beg for you.”

Wilhelm forecasted that once unemployment benefits run out, a hiring frenzy would ensue. He also talked about how he combs casting calls at job fairs, but there is a trick: hit them on weekends when prospective employees are less likely to be distracted by kids, appointments, etc.

“The biggest mistake in the world is doing a casting call on a Wednesday and you’re wondering why nobody showed up,” he said.

Wilhelm also stressed the value of self-branding, saying he has his personal truck decked out in Déjà Vu stickers so that everyone knows when they see him, “There goes the Déjà Vu guy.” “I’ve picked up entertainers and team members through the White Castle drive-thru,” he added.

But Wilhelm’s preferred method of recruiting at the moment? Referrals from existing team members. When it comes to those referrals, enticement is a mighty tool.

“As far as referrals are concerned, the biggest thing that we do is we have rewards programs,” Wilhelm said. Whether it’s a signing bonus for bringing a new employee or swag for being named employee or entertainer of the month.

“We let them know that it’s amazing working for us,” Wilhelm added. “And they go out there and they do the recruiting for us, (saying) ‘You gotta come work for Bo, he’s unbelievable.’”

That final push you may need to get a candidate in your club? Promote upward mobility. Wilhelm rattled off Déjà Vu success stories of entertainers, servers and others that have assumed infinitely more responsibility, and as such, are secure in their careers.

“I’ve never woken up one day and not wanted to go to work,” he beamed. “You want people to want to be a part of what you got going on.”

“The biggest thing we want to look at is don’t hire desperately, because then you’re just gonna fail. I’d love to have you, but we’re not going to beg for you.” — Bo Wilhelm

One of the questions from the audience centered around employee development. Skillen said proper training programs are composed of multiple pieces, such as a manager-led orientation, policies and procedures, beverage program, etc.

“Don’t just throw somebody on with the person who’s working that night,” Skillen said. “Even if that employee that’s being shadowed is a good employee, they may not be a good trainer. Training is a skill.”

Another possibility would be to invest in actual trainers.

“Training and spending more time trying to develop your staff is going to make recruiting less necessary,” said Skillen, “because you’re not going to have as high a rate of turnover and as much attrition.”

EXPO deal 1