Outfitting growth Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Seven years ago, Rick Davis needed to hire a new chief operating officer for DAVACO Inc.

While most leaders look for people with five pages of management experience or multiple graduate degrees from Ivy League schools, this founder and CEO took a different approach. Because his company specializes in retail services including retrofitting stores and high-volume rollouts, retail experience was at the top of Davis’ list.

This was all the more important because Davis himself lacked this experience, so to better relate to his clientele and balance his shortcoming, he needed someone who understood the inner workings of the retail industry. He found just what he was looking for, and today, the majority of his management team at the $115 million company also has retail experience.

Smart Business spoke with Davis about why hiring presents the biggest roadblock to growth.

Hire great people. The biggest challenge we have day in and day out is just finding great people. The biggest inhibitor to growth is hiring. It can be damaging to hire the wrong people. Our widget is our people, so the quality of the people that we have out representing DAVACO is all we have. If we compromise that, we compromise the entire company.

Most of our work is done in an open-store environment. When you have an open store, our customers are not only the managers of that retail chain, it’s also their customers. If we don’t give great customer service, we may not have that customer.

We are only as good as our last job or project for a client. If we are not careful, one employee who is careless can erase years of superior service. If you have employees that are misrepresenting your brand and not meeting the quality standards that you have set for the company, then your business will suffer.

Strength of character is the most important qualification. Skills can be taught, but integrity, ethics, loyalty and high standards are inherent qualities. Hire quality people with good values and integrity that will do what they say they’ll do because I can’t train that. It starts with evaluating the person’s personality, and then we go to great lengths to test for everything from drugs to driving and all the things that you want to make sure that someone has the proper abilities to do.

We go through 20 to 30 candidates to find one. It’s important because of the time and what you have to go through to train them once you put them on board. Hire great people, and go to great lengths to do it.

If you have to rehire them, it’ll cost you, so we spend a lot of money upfront trying to make sure that we hire great people.

Promote from within. Part of the growth process has been that we made an effort to promote from within. We have several employees in our management team that have been with the company since the beginning.

With a business that is growing quickly, you get the opportunity to grow the employees with it.

That really helps you on the growth part. If you’re growing a company at 35 percent a year, year over year, it helps that people can deal with change, and the people that have been within the company and moved up with the company understand that change because they’ve been a part of the company. They understand where we began and how far we’ve come.

Communicate. You can’t drive growth and year-over-year success without change. Successful companies are not static. They are constantly challenging themselves and their employees to evolve. We have encouraged and built a culture within our company to embrace change.

The best way to foster the idea of embracing change is to make sure that you communicate with your employees. There’s so many mediums today to communicate with your people, whether it’s through a Web site, or we have as many as 500 BlackBerry devices throughout our work force that we communicate through daily.

We have quarterly meetings, a quarterly newsletter, and we go, semiannually, off-site. It’s simply to communicate the vision of the company, where we’re headed, where we’ve been and what changes we’re going to make.

We even have a Web site that we use to communicate benefits. We have a DAVACO University for training sessions, and we bring in people to train and communicate through that medium.

The more communication that you can give them, the better. All of that is important because it assures that everyone in the company understands our annual goals and is motivated to be a part of reaching those goals.

Recognize achievements. We’re about people, so we go to great lengths to recognize the superstars in our business.

On a monthly and quarterly basis, we have a companywide meeting within the office, and we have a program where any employee can recognize another employee for going above and beyond. We go through all of those and have a quarterly superstar. At the end of the year, we have an annual super-star — you get to spend a week in Hawaii, and you don’t even have to use your own vacation time to get there.

Recognizing achievements within the company are just as important, if not more important, than monetary rewards. People like to feel as though they’re really appreciated. It’s a good thing.

HOW TO REACH: DAVACO Inc., (877) 732-8226 or www.davacoinc.com