Building Your Team

– by Alan Donahue

Alan Donahue offers proven strategies for finding, recruiting and retaining great team members. His first piece of advice? Do not rely on luck. Save luck for playing the lottery.

About a year ago my top sales person, Regan, told me, “I’m getting promoted! I’ll be in a new department.” Not long after that one of my other sales people told me she was leaving due to family reasons. Finally, a few months after those two blows Pam, who worked in another showroom, said, “I’m retiring.”

The first two happened relatively close to each other and in the same showroom. My retiree was several months later and worked in a different showroom. Suddenly I found myself short three people – an entire showroom crew in one case! I had to act quickly or risk having understaffed or unstaffed showrooms. 


Be Open to Unconventional Hiring Methods.

One thing I found out immediately was that the job market is difficult, no matter the location of my showroom. My company uses to find new people and it produced mostly lackluster results. I was all for stepping outside the box and trying something that cut down on the number of resumes I was sifting through. 

I followed up on a personal reference and we found Tammie. Shortly after joining the team, Tammie asked if she could post about the other job opening in her showroom on Facebook. I said, “Sure!” That’s how we found and hired Brianna. One showroom was fully staffed again thanks to some unorthodox methods.

The spot for Pam’s showroom proved to be the most difficult position to fill. I was back to shuffling resumes and trying to find somebody that looked like they might be the right fit. We had already hired and lost two people within a matter of months at this particular showroom. Then I found Beth and she came onboard. She was the only new person that came through Indeed.

I have three solid new people now. I know many people in our industry and outside of it that are having a terrible time finding people to hire. How did I get so lucky? My first piece of advice would be not to rely on luck whatsoever. Save luck for playing the lottery.


What to Look For.

Start by taking a critical eye to the resumes. One of the great things about our world today is the ability of people to submit resumes easily through services like Indeed. On the down side, you can find yourself inundated with plowing through one after the other. First do not take too critical of an eye. Several years back I threw a resume out because it had numerous spelling errors. Somebody else put it back in the pile and the person was hired. She was an outstanding showroom sales person; she just was not the best speller. 

On the other side, do not be too lax in your requirements or you’ll be wasting even more time interviewing people who really are not right for the position you are filling. You need to set the parameters for what resumes get put in the interview stack and which ones go in the recycle bin.

I look for two big things. Does the applicant have a habit of changing jobs after a short period of time? Specifically, I’m looking for jobs where they stayed for two years or less and the frequency of that occurrence. I need people who are career minded. The most expensive thing you’ll ever do is train somebody to stay for two years or less.

The other thing I look for is industry experience or related experience. Tammie’s husband used to have a plumbing business. She helped his customers select plumbing fixtures. Beth had worked in a position previously where she was the lead person in a team that did remodel projects. Neither had direct showroom experience but both had related experience. 

This area can have exceptions, too. Brianna came to me with zero plumbing industry experience. However, she exhibited great customer service skills and an eagerness to step into something new. I always remind myself I came into this business back in 1990 when I was 20 years old and had no experience. Honestly, I’m still not sure why they hired me, but I’m glad they did.


Build Your Team with Commitment to Training.

After hiring your new employees, you will be hit with what I think is the most daunting task in building and expanding your team: training. I feel like it takes six months to get a new showroom sales person completely up to speed. In a perfect world all of us would have a dedicated training department that does nothing but train people. The only place I’ve ever witnessed this was at Hansgrohe USA in Atlanta. They have a dedicated training team that trains their employees, sales reps and showroom employees. It was impressive, but it is outside the ability most of us have.

That leaves two other choices. First is the old sink or swim method. My wife told me she learned to swim the day her dad threw her into the lake. Regrettably that is how we handle our new people many times. It risks putting them in a situation where they learn to do things the wrong way, and you have to “un-train” them and retrain them to the right method. 


Build Loyalty by Being a Mentor.

My preferred method is what I call the mentor method. I spend some intense training time with my new employee for at least a week. Then we move into the real mentoring stage where I have them contact me when they need help or have a question. They have my work number, they can message me in our software system, I make sure they have my personal cell phone number and feel welcome to text or call me. If I don’t hear from them, I check in on them to make sure that they are doing okay. I want to build a relationship and build loyalty. I do not want them ever to feel like they are drowning in the deep end of the pool. 

Finally, you must strive to keep your highly trained showroom team. As mentioned above, building loyalty during the mentor stage goes a long way. Even more than a team I want my employees to feel like they are part of a family. They are not just being recruited for a team; they are being adopted by a family. Savanha who works with me in the showroom has been with me for seven years. Prior to that she worked in another of our showrooms and left to attend college. I’m glad I got her back and I want all of my team to be long-term.


Long Term Retention.

When I think of the best way to retain a winning team, I think of a picture I’ve known since my childhood. It’s a photo of General Eisenhower on the eve of the Invasion of Normandy talking to soldiers of the 101st Airborne. That’s frontline leadership to me, and that inspires me. He did not have to make that impromptu visit, but he did because he cared for his team. I will never ask my team to do something I would not do. 

If employees feel valued they will give you more than 100 percent and you will not have to ask – they will want to give their best. Studies show that while employees want to be paid well – the company culture and feeling like an important part of the team rate as high or higher as compensation. This lack of feeling not valued was largely behind the Great Resignation, and why some companies cannot retain good employees.

Be the kind of leader, or a General Eisenhoser, for your team that would make them jump out of airplanes into the crescendo of war. Listen to your employees, love your employees like family and lead your employees by example. Be available when they need to talk and listen. Open communication is key to having good work relationships. After all, most people are at work 40 hours a week, which is more than you see your own family.

Alan Donahue and Savanha Lee

Alan Donahue and Savanha Lee in the Hot Springs showroom

Beth Meisch

Beth Meisch, Memphis, TN showroom

Tammie Hoper

Tammie Hoper, North Little Rock showroom 

Alan Donahue

Nearly 30 years ago Alan Donahue declared to his wife he would “accept any career as long as its not in sales”. That was just prior to his accepting a sales position at Falk Plumbing Supply. Today, Donahue, Falk Plumbing Supply’s showroom manager, loves helping his staff learn to be great sales people by focusing on the customer’s needs instead of the sale.