Season 2: Episode 5 Labor Shortages

Small business is at the heart of the Texas Economy.

I’ve spoken with a number of business owners about surviving the pandemic at this point, both on and off the microphone and one thing that continuously surprises me and makes me feel seen is when I hear a business owner say, “this moment actually feels HARDER than 2020” And I tell you what, I feel that too. Having a shortage of available workforce in the service, hospitality, healthcare and most blue collar jobs – it’s making this recovery feel like a cruel joke and a one-two-punch to us small business owners. There is finally work! We’re getting calls from everywhere! And we are so understaffed that we’re killing ourselves trying to keep up!! We are people dying of thirst who are given a fire hose to drink from! Only without the teams to keep up.

So this week we look into the Labor Shortages that are impacting 5 different industries within Texas. We’ll talk Theme Park staffing with Matt Girocco of Typhoon Texas, Restaurant Staffing with Bob Lee of The Big Texan Steak Ranch, Dog Walker Staffing with Jayce McQuarter of My Dog Butler, Plumbing Staffing with Leif Benavides of Good Leif Pluming, and the state of work for Artists from the perspective of The Laughter League. Each has a different story to tell about how the current state of labor is affecting their ability to get the job done, their sanity, and their bottom line. 

This episode of Emerging Texas Strong is sponsored by Texas Mutual Insurance Company, a leading worker’s comp provider in Texas, and is a production of Earnest Media.  If you are interested in sponsoring a heartful podcast focused on the journey of Texas business owners for a focused market audience email, contact@EmergingTexassStrong.com

Episode 5 Guests:

Leif Benavidez, Good Leif Plumbing

Matt Giocco – Typhoon Texas

Jayce McQuarter, My Dog Butler

Tifany Riley & Dick Monday – The Laughter League

Texas Mutual Insurance Company

EPISODE 5 TRANSCRIPT:

TXMI Commercial: 00:00 Support for the emerging Texas strong podcast comes from Texas mutual insurance company. A workers’ comp provider committed to helping companies build a stronger, safer Texas. On this episode of emerging, Texas, strong

Bob Lee, The Bi…: 00:13 Dealing with people, not showing up for work like it is now was, was a lot more difficult than having to deal with being able to only seat 50% of the restaurant, you know, we could do that, but when people don’t show up for work and you have to make do with people, with long waits and, and things that aren’t as good as what you’d like for them to be at, that hurts, that hurts worse than the pandemic did.

Host, Linsey Li…: 00:37 Welcome back to Emerging Texas Strong, a growing collection of stories, lessons, and advice from small business owners in Texas, working hard to survive this pandemic economy. We follow a collection of businesses and weave their stories together. As we navigate a full season of big picture topics like emotional intelligence at work, the border and the Texas economy and the business of bringing business back to the office. I’ve spoken with a number of business owners about surviving the pandemic at this point, both on and off microphone. And one thing that continuously surprises me, and makes me feel seen, is when I hear another business owner say that this moment actually feels harder than 2020. And I tell you what, I feel it too. Having a shortage of available workforce in the service, hospitality, healthcare, and most blue collar jobs. It’s making this recovery feel like a cruel joke. And it’s just a one-two-punch to us small business owners. There’s finally work. We’re getting calls from everywhere. And we are so understaffed that we are killing ourselves, trying to keep up. We’re people dying of thirst, who are given a fire hose to drink from, only without the teams to keep up. So this week we look into the labor shortages that are impacting five different industries within Texas. We’ll talk theme park staffing with Matt Girocco of Typhoon Texas, restaurant staffing with Bob Lee of The Big Texan Steak Ranch, dog walker staffing with Jayce McQuarter of My Dog Butler, plumbing staffing with Leif Benavidez of Good Life Plumbing and the state of work for artists from the perspective of The Laughter League. Each has a different story to tell about the current state of labor and how it’s affecting their ability to get the job done, their sanity and their bottom line. Our first guest, Jayce McQuarter of My Dog Butler in Austin and Houston made the strategic move to retain his core dog walkers throughout the pandemic. But despite this move and how it’s helped now that businesses back, he’s still seeing a change in the state of hiring in the dog-walking industry.

Jayce McQuarter…: 02:49 Hi, I’m Jason McQuarter with Austin Dog Butler.

Linsey Lindberg…: 02:53 How is staffing right now for you? Because you’ve kept your staff on for the most part. Are you okay with the amount of people you have and attempting to hire right now?

Jayce McQuarter…: 03:03 Yeah. Staffing for us, like I’m sure for a lot of this centers has been incredibly difficult just from every aspect of the number of applications probably has half of what we use to see anytime we put on an application. And one of our strongest recruiting avenues over the years has actually been prospective employees reaching out to us and saying, Hey, I am a dog lover or a cat lover. I go to school part time. I’m looking for an opportunity like this. That’ll get me out and let me be active. Really. Those are the best people over the years that we’ve found are those that self-identify, that they would like to work for a company like ours because of what we can offer them and allowing them and enabling their interaction with animals without having to worry about all the other things, because we, as a business, protect them. I know those other angles. And COVID has really brought about a situation where we don’t have many inbound leads from prospective applicants. Like I mentioned, anytime we post a job ad we get 50% of the response. So I think like a lot of others are seen it’s most likely the basis of just a lot of unemployment money go into a lot of people for a long period of time. And now there’s the, the assessment of, okay, it’s really, really hot outside. I mean, right now in Austin, it’s like a jungle outside. It’s 90 degrees and 75% humidity who really wants to go out and walk dogs. Not many people when they’re assessing, Hey, I’ll make the same amount of money if I stay home. So we are seeing an uptick, which is really, really great. We’ve hired across Austin and Houston. I want to say five or six over the last month and everyone’s been fantastic. And so I think that’s, the flip side is the volume of applicants is down, but we are finding diamonds in the rough of those people. Some of our best hiring in the last three years has gone on the last month,

Linsey Lindberg…: 05:02 Just so that, you know, I am having the worst time hiring as well. I’m about to lose my mind and I’m trying to figure out how not to. For me, I feel like it’s the boomerang effect. It’s like we got smacked the first time with COVID and now we’re getting back smacked with the return to everything, but there’s no, there’s no employees to hire there. You know, nobody wants to work and do the job that we have to do for the amount of money we have. Everybody I don’t want to say is spoiled, but I think they all banked a bunch of money with the really huge amount of unemployment assistance. They’re really happy to maintain that chill lifestyle that they established over the COVID break. And I have people who’ve been lifelong artists who are like, you know what, I think I just want the stability and the, in the corporate paycheck, I tried to hire one of my, my team members back for a bump in salary. And she turned me down and said she wanted no weekends, no nights and three times the money. I was like, Hey, well that is not my job.

Jayce McQuarter…: 06:11 What an employee wants out of their work-life balance. And now it’s, I want three times the money and three times less, the work weekends free nights off. And, uh, you know, maybe many people are able to do that. If they capitalize on sitting at home and learning a new skill during COVID or just this whole remote work, remote learning remote life. And now it looks like that is possible for a lot more people. And so myself as a business owner, yourself, as a business owner, we’re now struggling to go back and find that employee identity makeup that used to fit in our business. And I don’t know if in your business with in-person performance, you can’t really modify it too much to now say, okay, well we’ll, you can be virtual, you’ll be the virtual juggler. And we, of course, can’t dog walk virtually. And so at some point, I think everyone’s going to need to be willing to show back up in person, actually

Linsey Lindberg…: 07:12 Having this conversation with you has already started my brain churning on maybe different ways that I can do things, you know, up until now. I’ve kept all of my performers as 1099 contractors. And what you said about keeping people as hourly employees really shifted my thinking. Like, you know, what would it look like if I took all of the money, I paid them gross over the year. And I pick a handful of people who are my, who are my employees, who are my performing employees. What if I did that already? I’m starting to have plate tectonic shifts in my brain, just from this conversation. So that’s pretty exciting. But number two, I honestly think that in the next six months after we get past new year and all of the stimulus money has burned out of the pockets of the people who are waiting for the next big thing I anticipate next year, not being hard to hire again. I anticipate us being back to where we were of, I see all of the creatives who went and took their boring desk jobs because they wanted the stability and they didn’t, they didn’t want the stress of, of creative work. They’re going to come running and screaming back. They’re going to say, please, can I have my job back? I’m willing to work for less money. I hate toxic corporate culture. I won’t do it. I actually think over the course of the year, we will return to a little bit more normalcy service jobs. I think we’ll see some stability in that next year. (I hope.) Me too,

Host, Linsey Li…: 08:42 In the water park industry where the teenage workforce is in full effect, hiring is a challenge, but not a lot more so than a standard business cycle episode one guest Matt Girocco gives us some insight into staffing at the parks, as well as some information on the J-1 foreign student workers visa, and how the pandemic is affecting that program and the seasonal hiring that goes along with it.

Matt Girocco, T…: 09:06 My name is Matthew Girocco. I work at the Katy Houston park for Typhon Texas. We have a sister park in Pflugerville in Austin. We started out in 2016. A couple of our owners are A&M graduates that decided there was enough family entertainment in the Houston area. And some conversations happened and they decided they wanted to bring a water park here. Houston area families can come and enjoy themselves. And like I’ve had a really good year and it grew the purchases of the park and Austin kind of give that same experience out in that area. And that’s kinda how we got our start. So there’s, there’s kind of two stories here at the park. We interact a little differently, as far as those really young first job people. Those are kind of what we build on as a seasonal business. And I found this year, like I haven’t had too much trouble finding them, reaching them is a little more difficult and we need to be on it and quickly to respond, get them in and kind of like wrapped up in our system and working quickly. If you let them sit for a little bit, or if like things are going a little slow, they’re off somewhere else, or like, don’t respond there. So it’s how you interact with it. That’s really helped. It’s been a challenge, but nothing, I would say, not, not too far out of the norm. And I think we’re doing okay. We probably are looking for a different employee than most.

Linsey Lindberg…: 10:21 I’ve heard a lot of stuff about the teenager labor force and how this is actually a really great year for it because there’s a lot of industries that used to pull from immigrant workers who were on like teenagers who were on visa just to come and work.

Matt Girocco, T…: 10:34 So that’s the J-1 program like for the students, but yeah, that’s been impacted incredibly. Like I know Galveston, the island runs like there’s, you know, at any one time, like there previously like 2000 running around to like make all those businesses go, they use it pretty heavily. And a lot of those, um, avenues have been shut off.

Linsey Lindberg…: 10:54 Have you seen any difference or impact now that Texas cut off unemployment assistance

Matt Girocco, T…: 11:02 For me? I have not. We were hiring before we’re hiring now and I haven’t seen much of a drop-off we’re getting a little like our typical, like our standard in your drop-off is like the summer starts is in swinging like those looking for a summer job. It’s less and less. So we’re in line with where we should be as far as that. And I would say, I didn’t notice anything whether honor assistance or no assistance.

Host, Linsey Li…: 11:24 I asked about staffing issues facing our friends, Dick and Tiffany, the hospital clowns from The Laughter League. They explained why the uncertainty of COVID has forced artists to reevaluate their risk tolerance. And in some cases why COVID was the impetus that finally convinced them that their parents were right; maybe a nine-to-five really was the way to go.

Tiffany Riley &…: 11:44 I’m Tiffany Riley and I’m the co-founder of the laughter league. The laughter league is a 501(c3) nonprofit organization whose is to improve the lives of the families we serve with the transformational power of laughter. Good job, Tiffany Riley. My name is Dick Monday and I am the artistic director of the laughter league. So Tiffany does all the hard work and I get to do the fun stuff. I’m trying to think if during the pandemic, if we’ve, I can tell you lost any, I can tell you employees, Tiffany is going to tell us, I’m going to tell you that just before the pandemic, a couple of our clowns were already starting to get nervous, but just the feeling of what was going on about their finances and about what was happening and where are there going to be issues. And we actually lost a couple before we even hit the pandemic who said, I need a job that is going to pay me full-time wages with benefits. I have to know that I have this security. I cannot, uh, I can’t just, I can’t do this artist thing anymore. And so as much as I miss and one in particular, it was the right decision for, for him because he has health challenges in his family. So he couldn’t have started going back to the hospital with us. And so I think that had happened to a few people. I do need to say that if you’re an artist, you have to be willing to accept the fact that you don’t have a regular paycheck, that you don’t get a pension with a gig economy, but you don’t have benefits. These are all, you know, I think some of the artists that we lost were artists who were under, starting to understand that this life of being an artist may not be the best for them. If, if they don’t feel complete without a benefit package, um, then they probably should look for a full-time job. I mean, this is everything in reality. That is artistry always. Well, that’s what I’m trying to say, that it wasn’t specifically from our situation it’s artists in general, if you, if you were willing to commit to the insecurity of this work, you then, then you’ll be okay with some of these things. But a lot of people aren’t and frankly, I, I mean, my parents tried to talk me out of being an artist for 20 years. So carry on. Okay.

Host, Linsey Li…: 14:24 When we come back from break, we’ll talk with restauranteur Bob Lee, from the Texas panhandle icon, The Big Texan Steak Ranch to find out what it means to run a restaurant with plenty of capacity, plenty of customers, but a disruption in the unskilled labor force, our San Antonio plumber Leif Benavidez who has plenty of customers, limited material, and still can’t find labor to help meet the demand. And, I share a little bit more about my entertainment business hiring woes and ask some bigger questions about the macro-economy and what could happen as an unintended side effect of this labor shortage on a small business owners who are trudging through these months, wondering what it’s all worth. But first a word from our sponsor.

TXMI Commercial: 15:15 Support for this program comes from Texas Mutual Insurance Company, a safety focus workers’ comp provider, supplying information and resources that can help Texas employers stop accidents before they happen more at texasmutual.com.

Host, Linsey Li…: 15:30 And now back to our show. Bob Lee knows his business inside and out. He knows how many bussers and servers to have scheduled for any given day and how many steaks to have ready to greet hungry patrons. But the wrench in his well-oiled machine occurs from staffing shortages. The uncertainty of labor is something that can have a big effect on guests experience. And it’s something Bob Lee has been thinking a lot about.

Bob Lee, The Bi…: 16:00 My name is Bobby Lee and I’m the co-owner of The Big Texan Steak Ranch. My dad opened it in 1960 on Route 66, my brother, Danny and I are the owners, the second generation owners and operators of it. We serve thousands and thousands of people a year. This year we’re on track to do about 500,000 people. It’s in the middle of nowhere in the Texas panhandle, but it’s one of those things that just it’s a phenomenon. It’s a perfect crossroads of the highways going to Dallas, to Denver, to Oklahoma city, to Albuquerque. We’re kind of in the very center of it and catching all the wonderful people want to come through and experience the Texas mystique. That’s what The Big Texan is all about. As I said, with the capacity we have because of the people not showing up for work I hope we don’t hit it too fast. It’s war. Whenever you’re in the service business, you depend on your hourly rate workers, your unskilled labor force to present your product, which is your food and your service and your restaurant in, in a way that you want to done exactly. Lots of training, unfortunately because of the welfare state. If you want call it, if you want to call it unemployment or whatever you want to call it, that people are not coming to work. And it makes it very, very difficul, for not only the owners, but for the other workers, for your guests that come in the front door. And they’re told that they have to wait, you know, an hour 45 minutes to two hours to get a seat. It’s really discouraging. But it’s one of those things that you know, you put your big boy pants on and you get in there because it’s part of owning a restaurant. You know, you don’t have those kinds of excuses or that luxury of it. Those people there they’ve heard about it. And it’s the most important one is the next one that walks in the door. So you have to make sure everything is just like, they want it to be whenever they come in, just like, the way they remembered it and have a big smile on your face with it. And it’s very frustrating dealing with people that don’t show up and having to be in this type of situation that she had to do those people. I’m sorry, you had to wait so long. Let’s take care of you and make it work so challenging, bu it’s part of the business. But dealing with the people not showing up for work like it is now was, was a lot more difficult than having to deal with being able to only seat 50% of your restaurant, uh, you know, we could do that, but when people don’t show up for work and you have to make do with people with long waits and, and things that aren’t as good as what you’d like for them to be… That hurts, that hurts worse than the pandemic did. But like I said, it’s, hopefully we’ll be through it and there’ll be coming back to work, but it’ll just time will tell

Host, Linsey Li…: 18:44 Good Leif Plumbing is enjoying an ongoing boom in residential plumbing that is prevalent across the country. But unskilled labor is an issue in his industry too.

Leif Benavidez,…: 18:54 Hi, I’m Leif Benevidez, I own Good Leif plumbing in San Antonio. We’re strictly a residential service and repair company and we’ve been open for about four years now.

Linsey Lindberg…: 19:04 And so the other part, then that’s, that’s affecting, how is your staffing looking like, are you having any trouble finding people who are ready to work?

Leif Benavidez,…: 19:17 I was blessed, a friend of mine I’ve known for 20 years. He come aboard and is helping us out. But it’s been hard. A good, good, good friend of mine owns a restaurant on the Southeast side of San Antonio. They’re having a hard time finding help. Of course, I’m in the plumbing business. And so I have it, a lot of friends that own plumbing companies and are plumbers and they can’t find any help. They just they’ve begged pleaded. Uh, they’ve put it on the internet, newspaper, uh, Bookface all kinds of stuff and they, they just can’t get any help. No one can get help. It’s hard to find help. Um, again, I don’t know if that’s because of the COVID or because of the extra that’s on the unemployment check. I don’t know. And honestly, I wished I did know, but I don’t know. I know it’s hard to just, it’s hard to find good qualified help.

Linsey Lindberg…: 20:14 So you’re seeing two things where you’re in this boom moment, but you’re seeing the disruption of not being able to get the pieces you need to do the jobs. And you’re seeing the disruption of not having enough skilled laborers to actually do it.

Leif Benavidez,…: 20:28 You know, it’s, it’s like feast or famine right now. I mean, I’ve got a lot of work. A lot of my friends and other industries have a lot of work, but we can’t get help and material. So it’s, it’s, uh, it’s kinda hard to pale out a sink and ship. You know, we’ve got a lot of work in the United States. I know in San Antonio, we’re busy, we’re booming. San Antonio is getting so big. Uh, there’s a neighborhood going up in every, every other, a light. There’s a new neighborhood going up and they’re going to need plumbers. They’re going to need, electricians are going to need, uh, you know, skilled help, but nobody’s applying for jobs or, uh, the contractors are behind schedule because they can’t man, the jobs. So it it’s, it’s scary. It’s like, there’s all this work. And for a company that’s been open 4 years. That’s great. I love that there’s all this work, but no help to do it. That’s scary.

Linsey Lindberg…: 21:33 It’s interesting for me too. I went from having five people on my team to now we’re back to two and we’re going to go up to three, but I have to also ask myself how big do I really want it to be? You know, cause there’s so much money that goes out. Keeping those people employed that you have to bring this much more in, you know, but really where’s the, where’s the return on investment. And at a certain point, my question is, are we going to see the staffing shortage? That’s kind of a national phenomenon happening because there’s so many people who went on unemployment and have had a change of heart and they don’t want to be in the service sectors. They don’t want to have their job. They all want to go back to school and find ways that they can wake up in the morning and do yoga and, you know, have their, the job of their dreams. And I wonder how many of us business owners that have had to stick it out through COVID and are exhausted. How many of us are going to want to pull back and have smaller, smaller footprints rather than try to get back to where we were? Yeah.

Host, Linsey Li…: 22:41 Thank you for joining us on this Episode of Emerging Texas Strong. Let’s take a second and review a few things that might be useful to you from this episode. 1) labor shortage is not an isolated issue and it’s having an effect on industries across the spectrum in our economy. 2) as tempting as it is to simply blame the extended relief payments to the out of work. The truth is identifying the causes of this labor shortage is not something that any of us can do right now. We’ll only be able to look back with hindsight to see where those workers went, why they chose not to return to the industries that they previously been a part of and to tease out the root causes. 3) COVID has most certainly highlighted the downsides of the gig economy and the pandemic has had an impact on the financial security, as well as highlighted the need for workers to have a benefits package attached to their paycheck. 4) not having a solid affects a business owner’s ability to generate a good experience for their newly returned customers. And it throttles the company’s ability to generate the income needed to recover from this pandemic. So remember be kind to everyone in the service industry right now, because they’re the ones who actually showed up. And 5) there may be reactions from this moment that caused business owners to rethink their business models and ask themselves if bigger is necessarily better. I predict changes my friends. And then again, the only thing that’s ever certain is change. If you have enjoyed this podcast or found it useful, please share an episode with a friend. We want to grow Emerging Texas Strong as a free resource for business owners. So send it to someone who could use these lessons to be happier and healthier business owners. Join us next time for Episode 6: The Border and the Texas Economy, where we’ll talk with business owners in border towns here in Texas to find out how the pandemic is affecting them. Podcast, production interviews, edit sound, design, and office snacks for the Emerging Texas Strong podcast are done by Linsey Lindberg. Bios and business information for all guests featured in season two can be found on EmergingTexasStrong.com. Find out how you can work with them and support Texas small business. To share the hope, the journey, the struggles, and the advice. Be sure to follow like rate and subscribe to Emerging Texas Strong on the web so each episode shows up directly in your podcast feed. And if you’re enjoying the show and want to show us some love, leave a five-star review, it’ll totally help more people find us. Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn @emergingtexasstrong or Twitter @TexasStrongPod, where I’ll be posting ways to connect with our guests and gems from episode five mentioned in today’s show. And if you’d like to be interviewed, please reach out contact@emergingtexasstrong.com. Emerging Texas Strong is a production of Earnest Media. If you are interested in sponsoring a heart-full podcast, focused on the journey of Texas business owners for a focus market audience, we’d love that contact@emergingtexasstrong.com. Remember you’ve got a friend somewhere in Texas, who’s rooting for you. I’m your host, Linsey Lindberg. Join us next time for more stories of Texas small business on Emerging Texas Strong.

TXMI Commercial: 26:27 Support for the Emerging Texas Strong podcast comes from Texas Mutual Insurance Company. A workers’ comp provider committed to helping companies build a stronger, safer Texas.

Speaker 4: 26:40 Oh, what a year? What a year.

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