Who Will Do Our Stuff For Us?
As more of our economy is digitized and desk based, American consumers increasingly rely on the manual labor of others to enable our cushy lifestyles. With almost-crippling labor shortages in everything from quick-service restaurants to handyman-style companies that clean, care, repair and renovate, who’s going to actually do this work as the labor pool shrinks even more?
My reporting trip to Outdoor Living Brands’ headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, this week only highlighted how challenging finding quality workers is for employers and franchisees who need to keep the wheels in motion for manual labor-based jobs that are more important than ever in our increasingly service-focused economy.
Based in Richmond—the former capital of the Confederacy and one of the country’s most fascinating cities—Outdoor Living Brands has a stable of five brands. Archadeck, Conserva Irrigation, Mosquito Squad, Renew Crew and Outdoor Lighting Perspectives all rely on manual labor employees to redesign and build patios and deck spaces, renovate lawn sprinkler systems, control mosquitos and other insects, clean and renovate outdoor surfaces, and to light up architectural and landscape features outside homes.
As somebody currently sitting in a beige cubicle, this work sounds fabulous—transforming yards, surrounded by foliage, interacting with excited homeowners, etc. Of course, the grass is always greener, though, and the idea of doing physically intense work isn’t on the radar of many young people entering the labor force.
Without giving away too much good stuff from my upcoming feature on Outdoor Living Brands, its CEO Chris Grandpre went into detail about many of the company’s innovative approaches or temporary fixes for the labor troubles that impact each of its five brands.
The most fascinating was a program with its Archadeck brand where franchisees from northern states—where work tends to slow or shutdown during the snowy months—have shipped employees down to its booming Charlotte, North Carolina, market where they can demo and build throughout the year.
That was the first I’ve heard of a franchise brand implementing such a large-scale labor effort, and something I imagine has been considered out of necessity by brands in several different industries.
The trouble with finding good employees has been a constant for many years in my conversations as a business reporter. It’s heating up in recent years, and I suspect we are at the point where this moves from a secondary concern to more of a front-burner issue, depending on the industry—especially those requiring difficult labor, like yard work, construction and automotive/collision repair.
Our country either needs more kids going into technical and trade-based training or we will need to increasingly rely on immigrants, which is obviously a hotly charged issue in this current era. Unless I’m missing something big, there are no other ways around this issue. If we want our houses cleaned, our aging relatives cared for, our cars serviced and our backyards transformed by experts, there has to be something fueling that employment pipeline.
Please reach out if your business has tried any out-of-the-box thinking to solve your labor issues. It’s crunch time out there, and everybody in franchising may need to pull together and share their best practices.