A new twist on an old chore Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002

Tim Hobart doesn’t believe finding quality employees in a tight labor market requires a complex formula — just a creative one.

He ought to know. This 30-year-old managed to recruit more than 100 employees to fully staff his new BD’s Mongolian Barbecue franchise near Dublin in just six weeks.

A former Pepsi Co. employee who ran three Taco Bell restaurants in Columbus and later took over as recruiting manager in six cities for the fast-food chain, Hobart is far from being wet behind the ears when it comes to inventing lively and innovative ways to run his restaurants and recruit staff.

“I’ve heard lots of horror stories of people needing to recruit, how they get people and how they keep people,” he says. “In this economy, you’ve got to be flexible.”

You’ve also got to draw attention to yourself.

That’s why Hobart, who, with his wife Ronda, owns and operates the BD’s franchise on Sawmill Road, as well as one near Cleveland, wasn’t shy about getting BD’s name out to the public.

Just before Halloween, he got approval through student services at Worthington Kilbourne High School to bring in Mongo Man — a nine-foot tall, inflatable, Mongolian Warrior costume invented by the London-based restaurant chain’s founder, Billy Downs. Managers hired for Hobart’s new Columbus restaurant took turns dressing as Mongo Man and dispersing free merchandise, including T-shirts, water bottles, Frisbees and candy, between classes and during lunch one afternoon.

In just three hours — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Hobart’s marketing stunt piqued the curiosity of more than 100 potential workers. Between 35 and 40 students filled out job applications on the spot and nearly 20 of those were hired for the restaurant’s team.

Recruiting at Thomas Worthington High School, Hobart’s alma mater, netted him four more employees.

Hobart and his managers employed similar tactics at the college level after getting approval through the student activities centers at The Ohio State University, Columbus State Community College and Otterbein College. Along with passing out free merchandise from display areas in the student unions, a portable basketball hoop helped attract the attention of thousands of students.

“We always did something fun like throwing footballs through a tire or shooting hoops to draw attention to us so people would want to stop,” Hobart says. “They would ask, ‘What are you guys doing? What are you about?’ It was a chance for us to create some excitement and talk to people.”

By going to OSU and Columbus State one to two days a week for six weeks, Hobart found about 70 percent of his work force.

Having Mongo Man strolling through the OSU oval, draped in a Buckeye flag, didn’t hurt the restaurant’s exposure. Nor did Hobart’s ability to get Mongo Man involved in the OSU homecoming festivities.

Hobart says he simply noticed a flyer on campus promoting the Oct. 30 parade before the Iowa game and called the phone number. Mongo Man and nine other employees marched in the parade, throwing out candy, footballs and carry-out menus to the early morning crowd.

“For us, it was another way to market and get people to see us,” he says. “You've got to put as many poles in the water as you can and sooner or later you come up with something."

Thanks to being a little zany and a lot persistent in his marketing, Hobart got 115 employees by the time his local franchise opened Dec. 7.

"We didn't sit here, put an ad in the paper and wait for people to come to us,” Hobart says, noting there’s no time to wait for help when you’ve got first-year sales projections of $2.5 million. “We went across this city and found people, looked for personalities and tried to do unique things that showed people this is going to be a fun place to work.”

Hobart’s six-week recruiting campaign cost around $2,000. The biggest expense came from OSU’s Student Union and its $59 per day fee to have a display. Merchandise expenses were estimated at $500.

“We had a plan and we stuck to it,” Hobart says. “We probably did a little more than I thought we would have to do. But each day, we hired four or five people. You just need to keep looking forward.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.