Staffing up a young company takes creativity

Edible Arrangements had three stores in 2002. By August 2006, there were 527, with locations in Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.K., and the Middle East. Currently adding stores at the rate of eight or more a week, the company predicts 1,000 units in early 2007. Staffing up for growth this steep requires some serious hiring: HR, meet ASAP.

"What kind of people are we not hiring?" laughs Tariq Farid, co-founder with his brother, Kamran, of Edible Arrangements. The corporate staff is close to 60 now, up from 20 in the past 18 months.

"When you're in that kind of a growth stage, you're hiring from admins all the way up to VPs," says Farid. "We're searching for about 10 other people right now, at least one or two in every department." Right now the hot jobs at the company are senior franchise personnel, such as head of sales, head of international development, and head of finance.

Then there's legal. "When you grow so quickly, you don't give it much attention," he says. "Then you get to a certain point and you say, 'Whoa, we have to put together a compliance or a legal department, and bring it all in house." That's also under way. So is a big move from its current offices in Hamden, Conn. to a new 34,000 sq. ft. headquarters under in nearby Wallingford, Conn.

How is Farid finding the people he needs? Any way he can. At the senior level, he needs people with franchise experience to fill top positions. "We're looking for those through recruiters and headhunters," he says. Search firms account for about half of the company's hires.

For anyone else (directors, coordinators, or support personnel within corporate), he's using Monster and, as well trying to hire directly though the Edible Arrangements website. "We're also starting to do direct networking, and knocking on some doors where people may be looking to transition," he says. "So a little bit of everything."

Growing so quickly and having to hire rapid-fire is a nice problem to have, says Farid, but it still is a major problem. "If there's a challenge, it's an inside growth challenge, especially being in Connecticut."

Unlike some regional franchise hot spots, central Connecticut is not known as a center for franchise companies. Farid knows that relocating to Wallingford is a bigger risk for a franchise executive than to say, Atlanta, Minneapolis, or Denver.

"If they move to an area where there may not be other franchisors and they're going to relocate a family, you better be a pretty amazing franchise system," says Farid. "If they stay in a center where there are a lot of franchisors, there may be other opportunities within the franchise industry."

At many companies, both franchised and not, senior people will maintain dual residences and commute. "For me that tends to have a certain amount of discomfort, knowing that this person's going to be away from their family. But a lot of people are doing it, and they're doing it very well," says Farid.

"We've had a few people who have relocated. We do not have any remote staff, and we do not have any people working out of their homes. A lot of franchise systems will do that," says Farid. "I've shied away from that. I really want the senior people, or any of my people, to be here, because it creates an environment that benefits everyone. And we've been successful up to now to maintain that."

Early on, his company's size early also worked against hiring seasoned franchise execs. "There's a lot of talent out there. You're a small fish. Their focus is a little higher, and they're looking for a little better than you can offer, so you have to get creative."

Flexible flyers

"What I've found is that certain franchise systems, as they're building, especially in the initial stages, will hold out for the perfect all-around candidate," says Farid. "We have not had the luxury of that, because we could not find people fast enough to fill the positions quickly."

What has worked well at Edible Arrangements is to hire people without franchise experience and train them. "Then have some core people who truly understand how your system works and what the franchising end of it is--and have a great support team of outside companies that support you when it comes to the franchising," he says.

"Be a bit unique, and have a really good program where they learn your system, where you're willing to train, and you're willing to be patient for them to catch up to it a little bit," he says. "We've had to be very creative in house to train and to put people through our processes."

There's no magic success story, he says, and this approach doesn't always work. "Sometimes it was difficult, and a bit challenging for us, because we had a certain style. And some of the people who came into it [with previous franchise experience] were pretty hardcore in the way they operated. We had difficulty in trying to figure out how we would meld the two to adapt them to our system."

So he tried something different. "We went the other way. We said, 'Let's train from within, let's promote from within," he says. "You have to kind of lower your gauge a bit," but with an effective training program the results speak for themselves. In fact, Farid suggests other systems give this approach a look.

"For where we are, that's what saved us in our growth: that we have been able to bring people in, train them, and have certain core people who understand franchising and understand it very well," he says. "The reality is, I don't know what's magical. I'm still looking for people."

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