Keeping the Keepers
It ranks as one of the most dreaded phrases for family entertainment center (FEC) owners and operators: “I’m quitting.”
Losing staff can cost a facility dearly when factoring in the amount of time spent recruiting, interviewing, and training (and retraining) staff—and all the stress and anxiety that goes with the aforementioned.
“It’s a business interruption,” says Sheryl Bindelglass, an industry expert and CEO of Sheryl Golf in Martinsville, New Jersey. “When employees stay for several seasons or years, they know your systems, they know your guests. You lose that when you have such a high turnover.”
Bindelglass acknowledges, “Everyone deals with it.”
FECs should resist the knee-jerk reaction of using money as a bandage when bleeding employees, she says. A bump in the hourly wage across the board won’t necessarily keep them around any longer.
“If someone is driven just by money, they will hop over to the next place that gives them an extra dollar,” Bindelglass says. “You can’t afford to do that.”
Check out these better ways to stop the revolving door and keep those star employees on the team longer.
Do the Work Upfront
For Ryan D’Amico, improving retention starts before a staff member is even hired.
“Don’t get desperate and hire quickly,” urges the co-owner and general manager of Laser Bounce, a New York company with two locations. “As much as you can, take your time during the hiring process and pick out those people you think will be the best fit for your business.”
Most FECs “fall apart” with recruiting, often overlooking this important piece, Bindelglass agrees.
“The more you recruit, the more applicants you receive and the more selective you can be,” she says. “Some owners think it’s just a body filling a spot. Every single hire has a direct impact on your guests and business.”
Go Extra With Onboarding
Hiring the top talent only takes managers so far, though. To keep employees from immediately bolting for the door, they need a warm welcome.
“With onboarding,” Bindelglass says, “you must get everyone to feel like they’re part of the team and that they’re special.”
Laser Bounce hires in sets of five to 10 people for maximum efficiency and to help build camaraderie with the new staff, D’Amico says. Employees start with a group orientation to cover the basics, and for the first shift, each rookie shadows a veteran employee. The FEC caps off the onboarding with more in-depth training with the manager.
Bindelglass recommends new employees receive a welcome packet with a T-shirt, swag items, and a card that invites them for a free lunch to meet all their coworkers.
“The more special and personalized you make it for them, the more they will feel like this is family and they don’t want to ever leave,” she says.
Deliver Special Attention
The motivation and momentum should continue well after the glow of an employee’s first day. As part of the welcome packet, the manager should include a “my favorite things” list, Bindelglass says. Include questions that ask about the new employee’s No. 1 ice cream flavor (and topping) and top local restaurant and see if they would rather have tickets to the movies, a concert, or sporting event.
During a summer slump or if one employee needs a quick pick-me-up on a particular day, deliver the go-kart attendant a mint chocolate chip cone with rainbow sprinkles or something else off the list. “They won’t believe it,” she says.
To knock employees out of a rut, Laser Bounce holds regular sales-related contests. For example, the party host who sells the most upgrades and the front-liner who leads in game card upsells earns a perk like a $25 Visa gift card or a free meal.
The FEC also offers an ongoing employee appreciation program. If staff members go above and beyond or receive a recommendation from a customer, they earn chips toward a gift card.
A ride attendant or redemption desk employee often receives the bulk of the attention when it comes to retention efforts, but higher-level FEC staffers shouldn’t be overlooked—especially those new to the position.
“Many people think you can take an awesome front-line person and just make them a supervisor,” Bindelglass says. “You need a training program. You have to teach them. Just because they’re a great employee doesn’t mean they naturally know how to supervise.”
FECs must address more than proper training, too. To keep morale up throughout the year, Laser Bounce gives the managers time off for their birthdays and takes leadership out biannually for team building and bonding. “We just unwind,” D’Amico says. “We don’t talk about the business at all.”
Best Retention Strategies from Sheryl Bindelglass
- Cross-train Staff. Work won’t become as stale if everyone rotates jobs on a regular basis. Plus, it helps in a pinch when short-staffed.
- Huddle Up. Hold a mini pep rally to kick off each day and get everyone synced up. Announce birthdays, career milestones, and any major news for the shift (e.g., a large group will be visiting or a couple of go-karts need repairs).
- Empower Employees. Don’t tie the staff’s hands. Let them make a quick customer service decision even if it’s not listed in the FEC’s policies and procedures manual. For example, when an employee sees an upset child, let her give the boy or girl a free juice box to brighten his or her day.
- Tap into Talents. Sure, an employee may be a great party host, but he also could have fantastic graphic design skills or maybe can juggle. Ask staff about their passions beyond the typical job description and dig into their secret talents. Have them design a poster or entertain guests waiting in line to keep their creativity flowing.
- Frequent Reviews. With many staffers not lasting beyond a year, FECs don’t have to worry about strictly annual reviews. Set 30-, 60-, and 90-day milestones for them to achieve goals.
- Hire Slow, Fire Fast. One employee’s negative attitude can spread quickly, and before long, the FEC has a half-dozen employees grumbling. Address any concerns quickly, and if necessary, let go of the disgruntled staff member with dignity and tact.
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected]