Gas Prices

Q As fuel costs soar, it's getting harder to lure job candidates who would have long commutes. What are some cost-effective strategies to get candidates to accept a position miles from home, when telecommuting isn't an option?

Joseph Nour
Protus, Ottawa, Ontario

This question isn't so much about skyrocketing gas prices as it is about smart recruiting -- and retention -- strategies. Chances are, many of your current employees share your recruits' anxieties. If you haven't discussed the issue with them yet, you should, says Michael Alter, president of payroll firm SurePayroll, based in Glenview, Illinois. Alter has dealt with gas-price panic at his own company and has seen clients wrestle with it. If you don't address the issue with your current workers, he says, you may have as much trouble keeping them as you do attracting new ones.

Both current and prospective employees will tell you that they are feeling the pain of rising fuel costs. It's your task to figure out precisely how much, by finding out the distance your commuters travel. Arming yourself with the numbers will help you determine whether to offer incentives such as gas cards and may help assuage employees' worries. "If it's $1.50 extra per day, forgoing the daily latte can make up the difference," Alter says. "Without somebody helping them to do the math, employees and recruits might make a mountain out of a molehill."

Transportation bonuses, equivalent to yearly gas costs, may be appropriate for high-level employees, says Bob Kustka, CEO of Fusion Factor, a recruitment firm based in Norwell, Massachusetts. But you have several less expensive options as well. You could give out periodic gas cards, either as a spot bonus or whenever extra driving is required; Alter's workers, for example, get one whenever they put in a Saturday shift. You can also help organize office carpools. And if your employees are looking for more fuel-efficient rides, you could contact local car dealers and try to arrange discounts on hybrid vehicles.

Even if telecommuting isn't an option, you could offer flexible schedules. For instance, you could allow employees to work four 10-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days. Or you could meet your employees halfway. When Kustka was a human resources executive at Gillette, he arranged for a shuttle to take workers to the office from the nearest commuter rail station. To keep great employees on staff, Kustka says, "You have to find creative strategies to get them to you."

Partnerships

Q As a growing junk removal company, we would love to become a subcontractor to a company such as Waste Management or the Home Depot. But we don't know how to find and contact the right people. Any ideas?

Omar Soliman
College Hunks Hauling Junk
Washington, D.C.

Whatever company you're targeting, the best way to build the right relationships is through good, old-fashioned networking. Junk removal company 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, works with several real estate firms and property managers across North America. Some of those relationships are built on a franchise level, when a franchisee calls the head of a local brokerage. Others are formed when CEO Brian Scudamore meets relevant executives through his membership in groups such as Young Presidents' Organization and Entrepreneurs' Organization. Occasionally, he even guesses at the e-mail address of an executive he wants to meet and shoots off a note. Says Scudamore: "The right person is usually only one or two phone calls away."

Before you start worrying about how to contact the right people, however, you should make sure you're targeting the right companies. Real estate firms like RE/MAX, which partners with 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, are a good option for you to pursue. Home Depot may not be. Home Depot (NYSE:HD) lays out the welcome mat for subcontractors that install cabinets or build fences (the application is at hdserviceproviders.com). But subcontractors are responsible for disposing of their own debris. Spokesman Stephen Holmes knows of no Home Depots that subcontract with junk removal companies, well muscled or otherwise. That doesn't mean none of them ever will. But there are no established channels for a company like yours trying to break into Home Depot.

You may have more luck with Waste Management. It often refers its customers to trash hauling companies that offer services outside its scope. For example, College Hunks could help people lug items from their houses to their curbs so that Waste Management can haul them to the dump. The garbage hauling giant also has a few subcontracting arrangements, usually with companies that tote small loads. Companies interested in any of these arrangements should check out wm.com for the nearest Waste Management offices.

For more on cheap, creative ways to lure top employees -- and retain the ones you have -- check Michael Alter's Inc.com column on earning employee love at www.inc.com/keyword/aug08.