In Staffing and Recruiting, Are You a Desert Flower or a Mesquite Tree?

In my many years of following the staffing and recruiting industry, two cliches have come up now and again.

“Two and out or in for a lifetime.”

This term relates to the penchant of staffing and recruiting companies to hire freshly graduated college kids with limited experience and/or no job prespects in their chosen field. Often these young people would learn the ropes well enough to be functionally effective, then leave after a couple of years to hopefully greener pastures.

The high pressure of the job has a little bit to do with it, but it’s my opinion that hiring and training have more. This may explain in part why the staffing and recruiting industry has very high turnover rates among their own staff (studies by the American Staffing Association note that staff turnover rates can reach 70 percent or more). The flip side of course is that a certain percentage of people find the business to be a perfect fit for their own talents and skills and make a lifetime career of it.

But what I really want to talk about today is a second term.

“Desert flower.”

desert_flowerThis second term is a little more obscure. And it’s one I’ve seen applied to those in the recruiting industry in particular. The “desert flower” term implies that the recruiting firm or recruiter is of a type that only blooms when it’s raining orders. That they can’t survive in tough times — perhaps because they are too niche-focused, too small, too connected to one client or just too passive in their approach to recruiting and selling.

That recessions can be tough on recruiters and HR professionals in general is an understatement. In fact, according to recruiting industry author and trainer Steve Finkel, every recession from 1975 on has caused the number of recruiters to drop by 40 percent to 50 percent. In a media-hyped market where the news of mass layoffs of tens of thousands of people by GM, AIG, and other big firms take center-stage, the loss of thousands of recruiters and staffing professionals by ones and tens gets lost, but is no less important to those affected.

But there are those recruiting and staffing survivors out there who’ve been “been there, done that” and continue to prosper. They are not, and never have been, “desert flowers” who wait on the life-giving rain of orders from talent-starved customers.

They are mesquite trees.

If you’re not familiar with these hardy denizens of the desert southwest, know that the mesquite is a tough, fast-growing, drought-resistant hardwood that has proven itself to be particularly well-adapted to survival in tough conditions.

The mesquite tree is known to grow well in desert conditions when hardly anything else will. It can sink a tap root through rock-hard ground nearly 200 feet to get to water. Its pods served pioneers as a food source and its wood is among the best for smoking sweet-tasting barbeque, among other things. Cattle ranchers and farmers throughout the southwest will attest to the fact that the mesquite is one tough hombre, nearly impossible to get rid of.

In short, the mesquite tree is a revenue-producing survivor that never, ever gives up.

By now you’ve picked up on my analogy, and know which you are. If you’re a desert flower, you’ve been waiting for the orders to rain on you. How’s that working for you? I wish you well as you wait.

If you’re a mesquite tree, you’ve been very aggressively going after new business, working your customers to find unmet talent needs, expanding the envelope of your search and placement capabilities, looking for new water sources. If you’re a mesquite tree you are surviving now and setting the stage for your rapid growth when a better climate returns.

So, are you a desert flower or a mesquite tree?


Small Business Marketing in the “New Normal”

A Google search on the term “New Normal” today produced more than a million hits. It’s been in use for a while — going back to the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001.

gm-logoThe term is used widely today, although it applies to the economic tragedy that is still unfolding — such as GM’s new 60% ownership by you and I. That we’re in a vastly different economic world than just a year ago is a massive understatement. The challenge for small businesses is how to prosper in an economy that has fundamentally changed. Here are a few thoughts on how I think small, nimble firms like yours can and should respond to improve their marketing position for profits and growth.

First and foremost, DON’T PANIC!

As volatile as the economy seems, it is still a representative part of the “normal” up and down of business. Yes, times are tougher now for just about everyone (except for some of those in taxpayer funded positions). But it’s important to remember that this down cycle WILL end. The trick is to survive — and position yourself for the growth part of the business cycle.

To that end, you have to very carefully consider the down-stream ramifications of every decision you make if you are forced to make cuts in budget or personnel. Cutting too deeply into the muscle of your knowledge (staff) base can stall innovation, sales and customer relations. Cutting your marketing budget significantly is virtually guaranteed to give away market-share profits to your competitors.

From a marketing perspective, doing the opposite of what your competitors are probably doing (cutting their advertising and marketing budgets to the bone to maintain operations) is actually likely to improve your brand, your position and your profits on the other side of the tunnel.

Second, the value proposition you must have to win a skittish customer with a strangle-hold on their wallet, whether in the B2C or B2B world, has never been more important. The simplistic equation used by buyers that BENEFIT/COST = VALUE has taken on a new and more powerful meaning.

This means that you have to get creative with your product, your placement, your promotion and your pricing. Buyers — those who are feeling enough pain to want to buy or are strategically smart enough — know that they are in control of the purchase. So your value proposition has to offer a convincing and measurable difference from that of your competitor, or you are toast. That does NOT mean you should focus on cutting price to compete. It means that you should give a buyer every possible reason to give you a try without commoditizing your product or service.

Third, your small businesses must rightly focus on the fundamentals of effective business operations. When times were good — say 18 months ago — it was easy to let some efficiencies slide. No more. Not only must you actually cut costs wherever possible, you should consider strategic and tactical investments in business automation, tools, equipment, staff, and yes, marketing that will help improve your long-term competitiveness.

Make your marketing dollars work harder and smarter. Use social networking to get the word out and/or offer special promotions to current and prospective customers. Measure what works and do it again. While some advertising, particularly in print, is difficult to measure, electronic and direct advertising (tried and true direct mail) is absolutely measurable.

Finally, check any negative attitudes you have at the door. Ignore the pundits and the economists and focus on the game — your customers’ and your prospects’ needs. You are in it to win, aren’t you? Keep in mind that advertising and marketing is an investment, not an expense. As such, some of it will pay off and some will not, but it’s the long-term  investor that wins.


Marketing Passion: Gourmet Settings

Just how passionate are you about the product or service you sell?

If you’re the owner or a senior manager of a business, passion is nearly a pre-requisite for success. If you’re not intensely involved in practically every aspect of your business, how can you create and deliver a truly well-differentiated product or service to the marketplace?

Gourmet Settings - Studio Series, Polished

Here’s a little story about simple flatware and passion.

A few years back I was in the market for new flatware. The range of choices is astounding — you can choose from major brands, such as Oneida, Gorham, Reed Barton, or Lenox as well as lesser-known and house brands.

Knowing that good flatware can easily last a lifetime, and being the creative yet analytical type, I did my research and determined that my flatware had to be 18/10 quality. The best stainless steel you can buy for the purpose.

But what manufacturer and what kind of design? The design had to be modern, tasteful, clean and simple — yet just a little out of the ordinary. Imagine my surprise to find something I immediately took a liking to at a big-box retailer. A pattern by Gourmet Settings called “Studio“. The pieces had a quality look and feel to them that reminded me of the clean lines of modern architecture or the best product designs from Apple. It was only later that I found out that GS has won numerous awards for their designs.

So I bought them and was very happy. End of story, no?

Not quite. I realized about a year later that I needed to expand the set. Going online I did not find the style I had purchased, so I contacted their customer service department by email. I was directed to the right product, but was told that it may no longer be available in the 18/10 stainless. You see, I was told, the price of nickle, which adds lustre to the stainless, had jumped dramatically, increasing their manufacturing costs beyond the price points needed to compete effectively. To keep the cost in line with consumer expectations, they had to go to 18/0 stainless.

Understandable, of course. In any business, you are sometimes at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Just like today’s economy. It doesn’t matter if your selling spoons or staffing services or software. You have to adapt.

You also have to persevere with passion.

Here’s a quick excerpt from the email exchange I had with the folks of Gourmet Settings following my first message expressing disappointment with the dropping of the 18/10 stainless.


I agree with you on the 18/10 vs 18/0 – and you are correct  –  it is because of the high worldwide cost of nickel.

Having said that – we do continue to stand behind our flatware patterns- regardless of the steel components – so if you have any problems or concerns – just let us know. I am going to pass on your comments to the company owner – she is always happy to hear feedback from our customers.

Customer Service

GS (next day):

Hi Phil,

Jane forwarded your note to me, appreciate your feedback.

When the price of nickel went from $24,000 a ton to $56,000, working in 18/10 was no longer feasible.

We contacted Roger Hamby, director of CATRA ( to assist us in making the transition to 18/0. We needed assurance that our flatware would not be compromised because of the absence of nickel.

Turns out with the proper production process, we can offer the same quality promise with 18/0 as with 18/10.

You may know that the price of nickel has dropped to approx $10K/ton, making it feasible to bring back 18/10.

In the meantime, hope your gourmet settings flatware adds a dash of joy to your meals.

Warm regards,

Hildy Abrams
Gourmet Settings

Whoa! The president of the firm responds! In fact, when my order arrived soon after, it was accompanied by a personal note of thanks for my feedback from Hildy.

Think about that for a moment. We’re talking about knives, forks and spoons sold at big box retailers nationwide for less than $50 for a setting for four. Yet Hildy took the time to personally respond to my comment, assuring me that they were, indeed, aware of the issue and had taken appropriate measures to address it.

I was blown away by her response, and can see clearly that Hildy is passionate about flatware. Simple, everyday flatware.

Again I ask: Are you passionate enough about the quality of your products or services to respond — personally — to an individual consumer?

Passion gives you a winning edge in any competition. It can be the difference between so-so and exceptional sales. What do you think?


Commentary on marketing, positioning, branding, design, visuals, copywriting, staffing and recruiting, and other stuff that I find interesting.