Landscape business owner begs for workers

May 21, 2014 -  By
Lance Forsee, president of Colonial Lawn and Garden, hit the street to "panhandle" for job applicants earlier this month in Washington.

Lance Forsee, president of Colonial Lawn and Garden, hit the street to “panhandle” for job applicants earlier this month in Washington.

Lance Forsee might be the first panhandler to bum a resume off a passerby instead of a buck.

As a new employee recruitment technique, the president of Colonial Lawn and Garden took to the streets begging for folks to apply to job openings at the Yakima, Wash.-based company. He carried a cardboard sign and all.

A little more than a week later, a stack of 200 completed job applications sits in his office.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Forsee said. “We were just trying to stir up interest and get people in the door. Where were these 200 people before this campaign?”

Desperate times call for desperate measures

Fed up with failed attempts to attract candidates through traditional means, such as classified ads, job fairs and a few social media posts, Forsee grabbed a cardboard box out of his garage and had an office administrator write a message on it. “Desperate business owner will give $ + benefits to outstanding workers! Every employee helps! God bless,” it said.

He pulled on an old business suit, and with cardboard sign in hand, strutted down the sidewalk to an intersection in town where an employee snapped a few photos and posted them to Facebook May 7. The whole ordeal took about 30 minutes.

He went out two more days—once for an hour and then for an hour and a half—and each time Forsee had a couple of flyers in hand with the job descriptions and his business card. He’d direct passersby to the office to fill out applications, or some people handed him their resumes on the spot.

By that time his efforts had “gone viral.” ABC News caught on as well as a local news station, which deemed his tactic “reverse panhandling.”

“Ninety nine percent of people get it,” Forsee said. “When I first went out there standing on the street corner with my sign, I saw through the eyes of somebody on the other side of the cardboard. I felt like I was that person.”

Some may say Forsee was as desperate as a panhandler looking to bum a buck.

The perspective

He has six job openings paying $10 to $12 per hour, depending on experience. Plus, he offers health insurance, paid holidays and paid vacation.

“The folks we have are great,” said Forsee of his 25 employees. “We just need more of us. We’re trying to grow, not just survive.”

A 29-year-old company, Colonial Lawn and Garden specializes in maintenance and lawn care for residential clients. It has an annual revenue of more than $2 million.

Forsee’s struggle, like many Green Industry business owners, has been getting people to apply for his company’s jobs, primarily the 20- to 30-year-old demographic. He speculates the younger group is more attracted to technology-driven fields and “shying away from the getting-your-hands-dirty type.” Also, hiring practices have gotten stiffer than when he started out at age 19. Colonial Lawn and Garden requires employees to hold a valid driver’s license and be a legal citizen. Plus, it conducts random drug screenings.

While he’s still prioritizing the applications, Forsee intends to fill his positions by the end of this week. Many of the candidates, he said, seem to be from outside of the Green Industry. But that’s OK.

“We used to hire for the skill,” he said. “Now we hire for the person, not someone who has experience. We’re looking for quality people with work ethic. They can learn the skills necessary to be successful in the Green Industry.”

The panhandling ploy has offered a solution to the hiring obstacle, Forsee said, and added he likely will do it again.

“It’s one of those things that could become cliché, the 15 minutes of fame thing,” Forsee said. “I don’t want to make it cliché, but why not? I would encourage somebody in another community to try it. See what will happen.”

Photo: Colonial Lawn and Garden

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

1 Comment on "Landscape business owner begs for workers"

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  1. Seana Smith says:

    Something to consider. Makes perfect sense. Go back to basics and put yourself out there. Let it go viral!