Industry experts Kelly Skillen and Bo Wilhelm outline sources and strategies to help you get your club back to full strength and ditch the skeleton crews.
Understandably so, COVID-19 has been paraded around as the scapegoat for many industry’s woes since early 2020. But Kelly Skillen says the virus isn’t solely to blame for some clubs’ problems.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is having a degree of difficulty with staffing,” says Skillen, who owns/operates the KMA Consulting Group, which has worked with clubs across several states. “Pre-COVID when I traveled the country and visited clubs, every club that called me was also having pre-COVID a degree of difficulty with staffing. I feel like COVID has highlighted a lot of the problems the industry was facing anyway, it’s just made them seem more acute. In many ways, the solutions are the same as they were pre-COVID.”
Skillen and Déjà Vu’s Bo Wilhelm—who is responsible for recruiting and hiring managers and staff at Déjà Vu clubs nationwide—will be offering their sage advice at the 2021 EXPO on finding new staff and entertainers as the industry resets from the pandemic.
The seminar will provide guidance for operations of all sizes, regardless of their operating capacity.
As Skillen points out, too many owners/operators have been using COVID as an excuse, a means to explain away any underwhelming issues.
“Whether it’s internally, ‘Well, we don’t have entertainers, we don’t have staff—what can you do? COVID,’ or whether it’s justifying a bad guest experience saying to the guest, ‘What can we do? It’s COVID.’ There is some truth to it at times, and everybody understands it,” says Skillen. “But I think we’ve exhausted our goodwill on that. When the bars first reopened, yeah, there were a lot of people that were happy to just go out to a bar and they were willing to forgive almost anything to be in that bar environment.
“But now, for some of us it’s going on six months later and we’re still saying we can’t give you the entertainment that we are charging you for, we can’t give you the hospitality and the service that we want to, because of COVID,” Skillen continues. “A lot of people are doing long-term damage to their brand by using COVID as a crutch.”
Your people are your face, they’re your voice, they’re the personality, the identity of your club. So in that respect, their job becomes more important than my job or the operator’s job. — EXPO 2021 seminar speaker Kelly Skillen
And while it’s no stretch that a rocky job market has sapped some of the normal talent pool reserved for clubs, there are still workers out there to suit any outfit.
“We have to sell ourselves as a club, as a product, to new people rather than waiting for the same people to come around or taking a passive approach,” Skillen says. “It used to be so easy to get girls, to get staff, and the attitude from a lot of club owners is, ‘If they don’t like it, they can leave. If they want a job, they can come jump through hoops.’ It hasn’t worked that way for some time. We have to sell ourselves to premium talent, to professional staff.”
Or, in Wilhelm’s case, hire talent that has that elusive “following—the man or woman that is the man or woman in town,” he says. “The bottom line as far as we’re concerned, we shoot for a head count. We shoot for a guest average. We break everything down into numbers, so I need somebody that can bring people, that’s the life of the party.
“What I do is try to find a GM and build his or her following compared to what mine was, no matter where it is in the country,” adds Wilhelm. “I’m basically the person they send in to find out the right person for the GM job for Déjà Vu.”
Wilhelm stresses recruiting isn’t for the faint of heart. He lives the job 24 hours a day.
“There is no, ‘Don’t call me.’ There is no, ‘I’m sleeping.’ This job to me comes first and always has for the last 27 years,” says Wilhelm. “That’s what separates me from a lot of directors or recruiters.”
He notes that a lot of clubs, his included, have had to work with skeleton crews because of the exodus of staff and entertainers due to earlier closures. But, he is optimistic that some of those people will come back, especially once their financial aid runs out. Wilhelm realizes the current industrial climate has been induced by a once-in-a-century pandemic, and so he presses how important industry gatherings like the EXPO can be.
“We’ve never been hit by this before, so there’s no preparation for it,” says Wilhelm. “Picking each other’s brains and teams as far as this business is concerned, that’s the reason people need to be (at EXPO). Not one club or one branch, not one of us can do it alone. This is something that none of us have ever seen, and God forbid it happens again, but I believe if it does ever happen again, it’s our job to teach the next generation how to be prepared for it.”
“Picking each other’s brains and teams as far as this business is concerned, that’s the reason people need to be (at EXPO). This is something that none of us have ever seen, and God forbid it happens again, but I believe if it does ever happen again, it’s our job to teach the next generation how to be prepared for it.” — EXPO 2021 seminar speaker Bo Wilhelm
Recruiting and repopulating the clubs with staff is but one step in getting re-established, but Skillen would argue one of the most important. Whatever experience guests have — be it a phenomenal one that encourages repeat business or a dreadful one that inspires a foul internet review — the people you recruit in the initial stages can set up the tone of your club.
“Your people are your face, they’re your voice, they’re the personality, the identity of your club,” says Skillen. “So in that respect, their job becomes more important than my job or the operator’s job. The recruiting seminar is an opportunity to look at not just how to attract new talent, but how to shape them, and how to develop them and how to get them to adequately reflect the identity, heart and soul of your business. It’s just an area that’s overlooked. If you frame it that way, it’s a great way to begin to really improve your operation.”