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Hire the Right Way: How to Grow Your Business Strategically

With Kyla Dufresne, Susan C. Allen, Misty Akers, and Jami Stigliano

30 minutes

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There reaches a point in every growing business where the business owner has to make a decision: to hire or not to hire? Knowing when to staff up and how many to bring on board is one of the top challenges that first-time business owners experience. Coupled with today’s economic uncertainty, making the right decision can have a profound impact on your business. This panel shared perspectives from business leaders to uncover best practices around hiring.

Additional resources

Kyla Dufresne Founder and CEO, Foxy Box Wax Bars
Susan C. Allen Co-Founder and Chief People Officer, Here We Flo
Misty Akers Co-Owner, The Candle Pour
Jami Stigliano Founder and Franchisor, DivaDance

Emily: We have another incredible panel of speakers coming up, and this topic is really, really something I’m excited for us to dig into. It’s so important for businesses of any size and we really have a diverse group of women to talk about it today. I’m going to hand the mic over to our moderator, Jami. Jami Stigliano has been someone I’ve gotten to know over the past two years and she is an absolute powerhouse. I’m so thrilled for her to lead this conversation. Jami, take it away.

Jami: Can I put absolute powerhouse on my business cards? Is what I would love to know. Okay, great. Thank you so much. I feel like you just gave me a five star Yelp review, so I love to feel it. Well, thank you all so much for tuning in. Hope everyone’s having a great day and learning all kinds of yummy stuff throughout your day. We have a really fun panel of, to Emily’s point, a really diverse group of folks. So I’ll start by introducing myself and then I’ll let the girls introduce themselves before we kick us off.

So as she said, I’m Jami Stigliano. I’m the founder and CEO of DivaDance. We are dance choreography classes for adults. We are a franchise concept. We’re in 34 cities and our mission is to inspire confidence and build community and hopefully we lead to changing folks’ lives and doing that through fun hair toss and booty bumping dance choreography classes. So super excited to be here and a big fan of Yelp and how they’ve helped our business quite a bit. So I’d love to go ahead and introduce our panelists that I’m happy to have with us. So we’ll start first with Misty. Misty from The Candle Pour. Please introduce yourself.

Misty: Hey, I’m Misty Akers from Tampa, Florida. Started a business with my husband called The Candle Pour. It’s a custom candle experience. Basically you create your own fragrance from about a 100 different scents. Our big product is candles, but we do other stuff as well and it’s really all about the customer service and the memories that we create with our customers.

Jami: Ooh, I love that, the memories. Okay, great. So really focus not just on what they get but how they feel. Love that.

Misty: Exactly.

Jami: Okay, Susan, over to you.

Susan: Thanks. Hi everyone. I’m Susan Allen, co-founder and Chief Brand Officer for Here We Flo. We make shamelessly natural care for life’s messiest moments and that’s plant-based products in period care, sexual wellness care and sensitive bladder. And we are based in the UK, although you can clearly hear from my accent I’m American. I grew up in Boston but met my best friend and co-founder studying out here. And we grew the business here, but we’ve been scaling in the US since 2020. And you can find us in retailers like Target, Whole Foods, and regional grocers like H-E-B and Sprouts. Thanks for having me.

Jami: Woo! I can’t wait to learn more about your products and what you’re doing and your mission. So important to all of us, especially during Women’s History Month. Love it. And Kyla, dear friend of mine for years, friend in franchising, Kyla, take it away.

Kyla: Awesome. What an incredible group of ladies here by the way. So honored to be here. My name is Kyla Dufresne. I’m the founder and CEO of Foxy Box Laser and Wax Bars. I’m the only Canadian on the panel as well. I started Foxy Box out of the dining room of my house 11 years ago. We have since grown to 15 locations across Canada and we employ about 200 women across our stores as well. We aim to inspire and empower women to celebrate their uniqueness and rock what they’ve got. So we are in the business of hair removal but really in the business of female empowerment. So happy to be here.

Jami: I love it and I love that so many of us have that shared mission. I’m sure many on the listening end share that as well. Well, we’ll get right into it. Our goal from this panel is to give folks listening some inspiration, but also some really tactical things you can take back into your business now or in the future. We really pushed ourselves to be like, “Okay, that sounds great in philosophy, but what do people need to do?” What’s on their to-do list after this panel?

So we’re talking about hiring. So all of us are business owners, it comes a point where you have to make a decision. Do I do everything myself even though I could, but at what cost? Or is it time to hire? So we’re going to kind of first talk about the hiring and knowing when to hire, when you’ve hit that point, and how to decide who your first hire is. So Misty, I’d love to start with you. You and your husband started this company together and you all probably did everything yourself for a long time. How did you know it was time to hire and who was that?

Misty: We’re seven days a week, so we did start with a small group. I think our original was about five. We really didn’t know. I think initially we were looking for people who loved candles and they had a passion for that as opposed to what the people are really coming for, which is the experience, the customer service. When we get reviews, if you look on a Yelp review, it’s 99% of it is about how they were treated, how they felt, their whole experience with us. And then there’s usually a little blurb at the end of like, “Oh, and I love my candle too.” Our candles are great, but honestly that hour that we’re spending with them is what’s important. So we started to look less for people that had the trade and more for people that really enjoyed spending time with one another, meeting new people, talking to people, getting to know people, and that was really important.

So we did have a transition I would say in the first six months and now because we are trying to grow, we’re trying to hire people to fill our shoes. So I’m a big advocate of hiring somebody that can outperform you and do a better job. I know a lot of people are scared for job security, but that’s the only way that we’re going to successfully grow, is if we find those people that are top-notch A players instead of trying to say like, “Oh, they’re going to follow me and learn from me.” So that’s important for us as well.

Jami: And we’re going to talk about how do you find those top folks? How do you suss those people out? And I think when we talked before, you mentioned that there was really no kind of playbook for your business model because you started a totally brand new concept. But Kyla, as a franchisor, your job is to have that playbook for your franchisees. As franchisors, that’s one thing that they’re expecting from us. So when it comes to hiring, what are some things from that beautiful playbook without giving away all your secrets?

Kyla: Yeah, let me say, I’ll give you all my secrets for sure. One thing I just want to double-click on what Misty said. I love that she said, I always go by the rule hire people that are smarter than you. I surround myself with people, find out what your weaknesses are and then hire that position. So that’s really important from the franchise side of things for our headquarters suite is what are your weaknesses and then hire those out. Some of the things that we teach our franchisees are really be clear with who you want to align yourself with.

So we have three qualities that you have to have to work at a Foxy Box, that’s a positive attitude, empathy and self-responsibility. If you don’t have one of those qualities, you don’t work at Foxy Box. So once you find out what those qualities are, whether that’s professionalism, humor, whatever that is attainable to your business, find out ways to test for those in your trial shifts and really just be clear on who you want to align yourself with. That’s going to make things easier as well if you’re having troubles with staff.

So say someone’s underperforming or you’re not sure on if they’re the right fit, you just go back to those three things. Do they have these three qualities? Well, no, they show up late all the time, so they’re not self-responsible. You’ve got your answer right there. So that makes hiring and firing really easy when you’re clear on who it is that you want to align yourself with. So that’s one of our [inaudible 00:07:39].

Jami: Real quick on that, Kyla by the way, is I love that you guys landed on self-responsibility versus just punctual. That’s so clear. What a good message for folks listening, is not just being like, “Oh, the general term of how they should be,” but you all got very clear about it’s self-responsibility. So I love that.

Kyla: Yeah, awesome. We like that too. Awesome.

Jami: That clarity.

Kyla: So another thing that we do as well, I always tell all of my franchisees to constantly looking for that next hire. So forward-thinking. We’re a seasonal based business, sometimes we’re a wax bar, so summertime is always busy. So now in Spring is the time to really be looking for those hires in training now. Don’t get caught with your pants down, no pun intended, when you’re so busy and you’re short-staffed. You want to really prepare for those times. So we are of the opinion, I always say always constantly be hiring, always be looking for that next rock star. Have someone in your back pocket, especially because there is turnover. People go on vacation or they’re sick or they move or what have you. It’s always better to be proactive and have those staff on board ready to jump in rather than, “I have nobody to go on my schedule now.” So always be looking for that next rockstar.

Jami: Yeah, don’t get too comfortable like, “Oh, we got everybody we need.”

Kyla: Yeah.

Jami: Okay. So you’ve made the decision you got to hire somebody and you’ve allocated the budget. And by the way, we know as small business owners, even bigger business owners, making an investment in your people can be sometimes like, “I can’t afford to hire anybody.” So we know that once you’ve made that decision that you’re going to allocate the resources to it, you want to get the most you can out of your people.

Susan, let’s talk about who to hire, and you have such a great… and tagging on what Kyla said about being very clear about the type of people they want to align with. What’s that interview process for your business?

Susan: Yeah, absolutely. So for us, it was my co-founder and I for the first couple years and we knew we needed to hire when we needed skills that we didn’t have and we didn’t really come from business backgrounds. We met studying business. And so our first two hires were an Ops Director and a general special assistant that could learn everything that my co-founder was doing as CEO. And for me, my previous roles were in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. And so I thought a lot about culture and the importance of trying to build that out. And so we were really intentional about setting the foundation for our culture at Here We Flo, and came up with five key values. Authentic self is the only self, kindness is queen, funny feminist fierce because that’s how we describe our brand voice and what we’re trying to embody, support and speak up and own this shit.

So we have a very supportive culture. We say that we are soft on the person and hard on the problem, but we also really expect excellence. We trust you to handle your own schedule, but then we expect you to get your work done. And so I think having those five values dictate everything from the job ad through to onboarding, through to how we make decisions as a team makes it really clear to everyone what the expectations are and what they need to be doing to contribute to building out our culture.

And so I think the key to really having as much success as possible through a recruitment process is just really transparency, what your expectations are as an employer, what they’re coming into as an employee, and then what you expect from them. And so we try to implement that, but you can’t always get perfect, which is what a probationary period is for. But I think if you do those things and are really clear about what you’re giving to them, what you want from them coming on board, it’s the best that you can do.

Jami: I love that. Again, just really clarifying who’s going to fit and thrive within your community and your team culture and contribute to culture, not just be part of it. So one thing I’ve been hearing a lot about lately is how younger folks coming into the workforce, they have a lot of interview training through tips and things, and that’s been making me really insecure lately. I’m like, “Are you TikToking me right now on this interview or is this really how you are?” So Misty, what are some of your go-to interview questions? How are you really sussing out that fit?

Misty: Yeah, it is hard because you can tell when somebody’s well polished, but it’s hard. My hardest days I think mentally are days that I do interviews because you’re not only trying to listen, but you’re also trying to decipher like, “Did they say that because they know they’re supposed to? Do they really mean it?” One big question I like to ask is, “Where else are you looking?” It’s important for me to know that this is the industry they want to be in. If they’re all over the board or if there’s someone that’s way overqualified for what they’re interviewing with us and they just need money, it’s likely not going to be a long-term relationship unless they’re interested in management, which I will talk to people about that too.

I always like to ask what role they typically play on a team and if they prefer to work individually or with a group. We are very team oriented, but we also have to have people that can work in their own space and do a good job. And then one of the big things I like to ask is, “Just tell me a time in your career that you’ve given an exceptional customer service experience and walk me through that?” And we’ll have some that give me these amazing stories. You know they’re real, they didn’t just make it up, but there’s some that are like, “Oh,” they don’t really have a good answer. And for us, we really want people that are trying to be the best part of somebody’s day when they’re with us and really make a difference in that customer service experience, and that’s really important for us.

Jami: I love that, “Walk me through it,” because then you can only BS that so much. It’s like, “Walk me through what you did?” Kyla, how about you? What are some go-to interview questions either for your corporate team or what you direct your franchise owners to ask to suss that out?

Kyla: I don’t know if I’m the best question person to direct this question. I haven’t actually hired anyone in quite some time. We’ve systemized that for our management team, but maybe we’ll pass the mic to Susan on this one.

Jami: Hey, by the way, that means that you hired a great management.

Kyla: Yeah, I did.

Jami: So you did something really right. You found those folks that aligned with that. So Susan, how about you? Some of your go-to-

Susan:You hired yourself right out of the equation. [inaudible 00:14:22]

Kyla: I don’t know what I do anymore.

Jami: You build an awesome brand and you’re in the people business. So Susan, how about you? Some go-to… How do you suss out some of those core things?

Susan: So I think on the making sure you’re not dealing with someone who’s just a very polished interviewer, we make sure that we have an assessment portion of it and really try to make it a task that’s similar to something that they need to do. And it’s not that we have a particular answer in mind, but it’s to understand how they would think through and approach a problem. And it’s harder to fake the funk on something like that because it’s like, “Take me end-to-end?” Just what Misty was saying, “Walk me through how you would solve this problem?”

And then one of my favorite interview questions that always literally throws everyone for a loop is, “What are some misconceptions that people have about you?” And it always stops someone to make them think and you really can’t BS a question like that, but it’s really revealing about people that you’re talking to and if nothing else, you get to see them thinking in real time so that’s-

Jami: Yeah, you get to see how do they handle a curve ball, right? Yeah. I’ve been asking people like, “Okay, I have your resume here, but what do I need to know about you that’s not on here?” People actually love to talk about that because like, “Well, you would see that I’m really passionate about this thing and that thing and it’s not always reflected on that piece of paper.” So great tactical questions, girls. I love that.

So okay, you have decided you’re going to hire, you have gone through the interviewing process. I agree with you Misty. Interviewing is exhausting, but so important, so important. Okay. So now you’ve got somebody, you’ve put out an offer, they’ve accepted, how are we going to onboard these folks? I know Susan, back to you, you all have a really good training and onboarding process. Tell us more about that?

Susan: So for every new Flo babe, we put together 30, 60, 90 day program for them. And so the first 30 days is really making sure that they meet all the partners that they need to do their job successfully. So that’s both internal team members but also external folks that they need to meet and making sure that we’re transferring the relationship over, make it clear on what their role is and how they’ll be working together. And then the next 30 days is a shadowing system where they have someone from the team who’s doing something similar, something relevant along with them as they start to execute some of the tasks that they’ll be doing and working on their projects.

And then that last 30 days is really them being able to letting them fly and figuring out we’ve given them the tools and the information and the relationships they need so that they can go ahead and start to execute the role on their own. And throughout that process we’re talking about ways that they might want to grow or ways that we can support them. So in the UK, we have something called The Copy Club that’s made up of marketing executives where it’s a learning community. They teach special tracks on social media, different things.

And so we’ve had our marketing babes go through that to help them build out their expertise because we’re always wanting our team members to continue to grow.

Jami: And on that side, obviously you’ve positioned your companies as having a certain culture. So how do you walk the talk? Kyla, tell me a little bit about what is the experience when… How do you create a place people love to work? Especially when from a laser and wax perspective, they could work other places and do that.

Kyla: Yeah, for sure.

Jami: How do you keep people at Foxy Box?

Kyla: Yeah, systemizing your culture I think is so important. I love to speak on this, figuring out what your brand foundation is. Susan, I loved all of your core values, and now implement and execute those in the workplace. We’re the Foxy Box. We call ourselves the Foxy family and we really try and cultivate an environment like that in all of our stores. You spend more time at work than you do at home. So making it an awesome environment for people to work in. We offer incentives for all of our staff, so we give gift card giveaways for the top performers at our stores.

It doesn’t have to mean cash out of your pocket. I know years one and two is the toughest years in business. Cash flow can be tight sometimes, so you don’t need to be offering money to people or going out and buying stuff to offer as incentives. You can go out and meet other businesses and trade gift cards. So I’ll give you a $100 gift card or a $50 whatever for a $50 gift card from your store, and then offer that. Whoever sells the most laser packages this month gets a $50 gift card to this restaurant, and that’s an awesome way to get out into your community as well.

So you’re making those connections with other business owners and then also incentivizing your team. We’re huge with all of our stores also have a box of wine in the office. Birthdays, everyone gets a bottle of wine and a card that everybody signs. Make it like that family feel. Those special little things are important to keeping that positivity up. And also staff parties, getting your team engaged outside of the workplace is super critical for them wanting to stay and be a part of this environment.

Again, cashflow can be tight at the beginning of business. I get that. I owned four stores myself. I think one of my stores is probably so sick of karaoke and pizza in the store, but being sure to have those events to create those bonds and that environment that they’ve got that camaraderie among their team, making it a team.

Jami: One thing I love about Foxy Box that I’ve always thought was so cute is even the roles don’t… they’re not just laser hair removal technician. Tell everybody the fun names you give the folks that work for you?

Kyla: We are [inaudible 00:20:10].

Jami: So great. Just even integrating that culture into their job title, that’s special. That’s really neat. So something for people to listen and think about. Misty, how about you all in terms of culture? What are some things you all are doing to keep your people?

Misty: To piggyback on that, she nailed it as far as just trying to do little contest. We do about five or six philanthropy months a year where we have a candle that’s specific for a certain cause. Typically, they’re local. For example, like breast cancer awareness. So if they’re motivated to sell those, they know 20% is going back to Moffitt, that’s here in Tampa. But really just appreciation. I think a lot of our employees are younger, a lot of them have either other jobs or they’re in school and just making sure that they understand that their personal life and what they have outside of The Candle Pour is important for us for them to not feel overwhelmed and just checking in with them, “How are you doing? Do you need a break?”

We’ve got some employees that they’re at school and they’re taking 15 to 18 hours and they’re with us almost full-time. So just making sure to check in with them personally if they’re going through something just on a personal level. We really try to make sure that they have us as family and it’s not a boss that they’re letting down or they’re going to get fired if something happens. So we just try to really stay connected with them personally. And doing little outings and fun dinners and team parties and stuff is always fun for them too.

Jami: Yeah. I was listening to a podcast this week talking about relationship building with your team and it’s obviously not just about the relationship. It’s what the relationship leads to. It’s trust, it’s buy-in, it’s safety, it is connectedness, it’s productivity, it’s mentoring, it’s all the yummy things that happened because you’ve formed that relationship. One thing my team’s been doing a lot of, it’s just lunch and learns. I’ve been bringing in speakers because I have a mix of teams, I have some virtual girls and I have some folks here in my office and it’s hard to create a culture when you have a dual. I think Susan, you all are half… Some people are in different countries, which is challenging.

And then Kyla, I know you all have your franchisees and they have their folks in their shops, you have company owned shops. So I’d love to just talk about that. Susan, maybe even geographically, how are you building connectedness between your different communities of workers?

Susan: So we actually are work hybrid. So we have one day that on Wednesdays we come into the office, but we have a couple of team members that are based up in northern UK in Liverpool, but we actually scaled the team during COVID. And so we were quite used to doing lots on Zoom. We would have happy hours on Fridays. We had contests where we’d all get together and play among us or Skribblio or just to play games together. Since then, now that the team has grown, so we’re 13. We will be 14 amazing women at the end of April. We started an internal culture club that we call Cozy Club, which stands for Culture on [inaudible 00:23:21]. And it’s their responsibility to put together two events, one virtual and one in person each month.

So I was sharing on the call earlier that we all just went to the Lizzo concert here in London and actually, our UK Sales Manager that’s starting with us next month was able to come and it was just a great introduction for her to meet the team and what we’re about. And the lunch and learn idea is actually fantastic, Jami. We’ve named them BLED Talks like TED Talks, which we make period care. We love a terrible pun at Here We Flo, but it’s a great opportunity for people to find something that they’re an expert in that you wouldn’t know about otherwise.

And so we had one on shopping, getting discounts. So she took us through all the different ways that you can save money and get discounts on shopping. Someone else did on bioplastics, like we’re really big on sustainability. And so she made her own bioplastic and taught us how to do that. And so it’s just a great opportunity to learn more about the team members but also continue to grow and shape the culture together.

Jami: Yeah, I love that. And that speaks to what Misty said is that we know that The Candle Pour is not their only commitment. DivaDance, same thing. I know this is not the only thing that matters to them in their life. So that celebrates that. Okay. Before we go, we have one audience question, but before we do that, listen, we all know sometimes you got to say goodbye to people. So let’s just give the folks just a couple… Misty, what’s one tip that you have when you may have to say goodbye to someone who’s not a fit?

Misty: Yeah, it sounds harsh, but I would say in all fairness to yourself and employees, hire slow, fire fast. Meaning if somebody is not the right fit, give them the opportunity to go somewhere else and find a place that is. I’ve even helped people go when they just know, “This is just not the fit for me. This isn’t the environment, I’m not thriving in it and I want to do good.” So I think if there’s anything that I’ve learned as far as hiring that’s been the go-to for me is not to accept somebody just to fill a seat because you’re going to have problems down the road. And then if somebody is not the right fit, give them an opportunity. It doesn’t mean you just ditch them. Make sure you’ve done everything to give them the tools needed and then make that decision to let them go, and they should not be surprised by any means.

Jami: Yeah, and one thing on that too is I know sometimes the reason we hire people is because we’re really busy and we have a lot of things to do. So we’re so eager to get them in, but giving them a good experience and really creating space to give them that. So Susan, how about you? When you realize it’s not a fit, any personal philosophy on saying goodbye to folks?

Susan: Yeah, I think it’s just what Misty said. The biggest thing is you don’t want it to be a surprise for them. So that’s where the 30, 60, 90 day for us is really clear because you’re checking in, in that first month once a week and once you get to the second and third months, you’re checking in biweekly. And so they know where their performance is and whether it’s meeting up or not. And it is just what you’re saying, I want to help you get to where it is that you should be. This isn’t the right match here.

And so we’re happy to say that we haven’t had any regretted leavers, but it’s never fun to tell someone that it’s time to go. But I think it’s usual a mutual decision because no one likes to be in a role where they’re not feeling like they’re being successful either.

Jami: Totally.

Misty: One thing to add on that-

Jami: Oh yeah.

Misty: Oh, sorry. Just really quickly is in my past life when I was National Sales Director, I learned that having the team, the sales team actually do their own reports, send their numbers, was super helpful because typically if they were underperforming, they already were telling me what they were going to do to improve. And I found that to be so helpful for them. It’s less of a stress for them and knowing that like, “Oh gosh, I know what’s coming,” instead of, “Here is where I know I’m falling and this is what I’m doing to make it up.” And I find that that gives them a little empowerment as well that they appreciate.

Jami: So true. That’s a great idea to just have them put their own numbers out there so they have to face them too, so they can’t hide. I love it. All right, we have one question from the audience we want to throw out there before we wrap up. And Kyla, I’m going to send this to you because I’m sure you’ll have something really yummy to say about this.

“If employees of Foxy Box were asked their favorite thing about working for your business, what do you think that they would say?” Sounds like pizza and karaoke is definitely their favorite.

Kyla: Pizza and karaoke all the time. I think what we definitely hear is that it feels like a family. They love coming to work. The bonds that everybody has together at our stores is palpable. You can feel it. Foxy Box is more than just a service. It’s like an energy. You can feel it when you walk into a store and that comes from all of the staff being so supportive and loving. And it was shocking to me at one of my stores, I had three people that had been an orphan. And so I just found out randomly and I thought that was so cool that they all came in and found their family. So that’s what we hear the most is that it feels like a family coming to work. So that’s what I would say.

Jami: I love it. And if we don’t have time for more, my Yelp friends can give me the orchestra music. But Susan, how about you? What would people say?

Susan: So I think it’s just that everyone feels genuinely cared for at Here We Flo. So as you were saying, Kyla, you don’t have a ton of money in the early years, but we always made it a point to have a 20 pound budget where if someone’s having a hard time, if someone’s ill in their family or they’ve gone through a breakup or are just feeling down that they’re able… Someone in the team will say, “Hey, I’m going to send so-and-so flowers. Oh, I know that they want this book. Can I send it to them?” And it’s those little things that just shows up and reminds you beyond what you do for the company, we really care about them as a family, as you’re saying. And the dedication has been so amazing, especially when startup life, there’s ups and downs that you’re weathering. We’ve scaled through a pandemic and maybe is a recession or not a recession. And we’ve still been able to grow and be successful because of how incredible our team is.

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