Appetite for communication Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Abooming economy is normally great for business, but that wasn’t the case for Shield’s Franchise Restaurants LLC in the late 1990s.

Co-founder Paul A. Andoni says the strong economy left the company with a shortage of good applicants for service positions.

“People were doing other things as opposed to the service industry, like factory jobs,” Andoni says. “We had to roll up our sleeves and get more involved as owners and do more of the work ourselves. Also, we encouraged our best people to go above and beyond and, during that time, we compensated the best employees greatly.”

The economy eventually turned downward, and qualified applicants began applying for service positions again. Andoni and his brother, co-founder Peter C. Andoni, employ about 220 workers, and the company had 2005 revenue of $6 million, a $1 million increase from 2003.

Smart Business spoke with Paul Andoni about how to be a good interviewer, grow a company and promote open communication.

Q: What are the keys to growing a company?

You must surround yourself with the most knowledgeable people you can. Even people that know more about the business than you do, or segments of the business.

You shouldn’t feel threatened.

Some people feel threatened by hiring people that may know more, but I think that is what the truly successful people do.

I also believe you have to hire the best people you can and become a good interviewer. Know the difference between someone who is putting on a show for the interview and someone that truly has what it takes to do a good job.

Q: How do you become a good interviewer?

You have to know how to read an individual. Look for certain cues, the way they interact and speak about previous experi

A lot of times people say they have open-door polices, but they aren’t in the building. We constantly communicate with our staff, and they realize we are readily available.

A lot of our employees have embraced that. They view it as a breath of fresh air from that corporate mentality or the corporate atmosphere they might have been exposed to in the past.

Q: What pitfalls should a leader avoid?

Taking your employees for granted. Stop doing what you’ve done to make your employees loyal. Stop talking to them. Stop having that open-door policy or stop showing up to the business as often. Once you lose that loyalty or that feeling that this is a special place to work, then you lose some of the luster and things start to fall apart.

Don’t rest on your success. Always look for ways to forge ahead of the pack. Just because you had a good year doesn’t mean you have to be any less innovative to market your business.

Q: How do you keep yourself ahead of the competition?

Just read what people are doing on the different coasts or the Midwest. Some things will work, some won’t, but at least people see you are trying to offer different things and keep the menu fresh.

We recently came up with a $5 lunch menu because it became obvious the lunch crowd was much harder to attract than it used to be. More and more people are staying in their offices or catering in their lunch. As the business climate has worsened here, more companies are concerned with people leaving and losing productivity for an hour-and-a-half a day.

In addition to that change is the number of restaurants that have opened up around us in the last decade. There are so many more options to people that you really have to go out of your way from a quality of food standpoint and a service standpoint to get your share.

HOW TO REACH: Shield’s Franchise Restaurants LLC, (248) 637-3131 or