Webinar recap: How to hire and retain coachable movers with Kevin Ankenbauer

Last update:
September 15, 2023
min read
How to find and retain moving talent
Kevin Ankenbauer, President and Owner of Ward North American

Kevin Ankenbauer is the President and owner of Ward North American. Kevin’s 38-year career in the moving industry started in the finance department and he eventually purchased the agency in 1994. Ward North American currently has five locations throughout Texas with headquarters in San Antonio. He sat down to chat with Heidi Liou from Supermove about how he approaches the difficult task of hiring and retaining moving talent.

Watch the full conversation with Kevin here.

Q&A with Kevin Ankenbauer

What are your main criteria for hiring movers?

Kevin notes that when it comes to hiring, he trusts his team implicitly. He considers himself the visionary while his team are the real experts when it comes to hiring and developing exemplary employees. They experimented with hiring contractors and full-time employees but eventually decided the team functioned better as employees. He and his leadership team feel they can get to know their team better and focus on hiring people who are looking for a long-term career rather than short-term employment. 

He outlines three tips for hiring folks for the long-term:

1. The demographics of an area play an important role in the approach they take when hiring new team members. For example, if they need to hire at one of their locations with a large population of veterans, they will make the effort to hire as many veterans as they can. 

2. While most companies focus on experience, Kevin prefers to hire inexperienced movers so he can train and develop to his standards. He says it’s easier to train someone to fit into their culture rather than break pre-existing habits.

3. A big part of the training at Ward North American focuses on developing a sense of integrity, heart, and respect. If his HR team doesn’t feel confident that someone fulfills these three qualities, they aren’t invited back to Ward University training.  

What is your main strategy for retaining employees?

Kevin strongly believes in investing in his employees. He says investing heavily in workers has had the biggest impact on employee retention and Ward North American treats their part-time and seasonal employees the same as their full-time workers. 

“We really believe that employee retention includes training as well as health insurance, vacation, sick pay, and holiday pay for everybody. We believe that if we cover these expenses there's more of a sense of belonging than any job. They feel like they're being taken care of and it's hard to walk away from something like that.”

This strategy has worked well for Ward North American. Kevin says everyone on their team benefits from this approach. Plus, a healthy bonus program makes it so workers can earn even more money for their hard work.  

How does technology play a role in employee retention?

Investing in technology that accommodates flexibility in the workplace has helped immensely with employee retention. 

“We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology to develop flexible schedules so our part-timers can work around school, weekends, and other personal affairs. It's a big hit with our younger generation,” says Kevin.

Ward North American is constantly evolving and creating new technology to elevate their people. They encourage their workers to be innovative and share their ideas. 

Using tech to hire & retain movers 

During the interview, Kevin outlines three key ways that Ward North American uses technology to train and retain their movers:

  1. Kevin points out that investing in new equipment like trucks and logistics equipment is a way to show your employees you respect them. And when you treat employees with respect, it’s reciprocated. Providing their employees with modern equipment and good working conditions has contributed to higher employee retention. 
  1. Showing new hires a video of the actual job they’ll be performing can be helpful for setting expectations early on and weeding out people that aren’t right for the moving industry. If a new hire watches the training video and still wants the job, they are immediately more engaged and typically stay at their job longer. 
  1. Using advanced technology can also help avoid major mistakes and safety hazards from workers attempting to use equipment they aren’t trained on. For example, if an operations manager at Ward tries to punch in an employee electronically through the computer system for a job they aren’t trained for, the system will automatically acknowledge this person hasn’t been trained and it won't let them continue. 

The Ward University Training Program

Ward University was created in 1997 after Kevin bought the company in ‘94. He wanted to create a unique training program to help with employee retention.

It's a four-to-five-day classroom training program and every employee at Ward North America must complete the course, regardless of their role. There’s even a written test you have to pass to work for the company. 

“It really doesn't teach them how to pack a box. It teaches them how to care. It's a self-esteem-building classroom module that teaches them how to care because we believe if you can teach an employee how to really care, you've accomplished 75% of the battle. Because if they care, they'll do it right. And so it's just a really unique course.”

How to dress like a professional mover

Since caring is part of Ward North America’s ethos, employees need to care about themselves enough to care about how they present to the customer. Their dress code includes Ward hats, Ward uniforms, no blue jeans, and shirts tucked in. 

“If you don't care how you present yourself to the customer, then chances are you're not going to care how well you do for that customer.”

Dressing for the part is ingrained in the culture because it’s a culture of excellence. If an employee wants to grow and develop a career, they need to adhere to Ward’s professional standards. 

What is the best source to recruit movers?

While they definitely use online recruiters like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, Kevin says his best source for recruiting movers is referrals from existing employees. They have a unique culture where they take really good care of their employees, and so they often recommend friends, families, neighbors, acquaintances, cousins, uncles, and aunts. 

Half of Ward’s new hires come from internal staff referrals, and Kevin admits how much easier the interview process and the cultural training is because they've already been sold on what the job and company are all about. 

What is the normal/average retention rate of a mover? 

Out of 350 core full-time employees, Kevin says about 25% of them have been with the company for 15 years or more. And then 50% of them have been employed for 10 or more years. He attributes this above-average retention to Ward’s culture since they invest so heavily in their people.

Final words

Kevin urges anyone struggling with attracting and retaining employees to define your company philosophy. Ward’s philosophy is; customers first, employees second, and profits third. Kevin swears if you follow this mindset you’ll always make money. And after 38 years of running Ward North America and developing people, he knows a thing or two!

Watch the full conversation here.

Full webinar transcript: How to hire and retain coachable movers with Kevin Ankenbauer

Welcome, everyone, to our first live Q&A of the “Ask the Experts'' series. My name is Heidi Liou and I'm with Supermove. We're on a mission to make moving simple for everyone with moving company CRM software that brings your whole team from sales to dispatch, operations to coordinators, all on one system. 

And today I'm joined by Kevin Ankenbauer and I'm excited to grill him a little about how to hire and retain movers. And a brief bio about Kevin. Kevin has been in the industry for 38 years and is the president and owner of Ward North American. His introduction to the moving industry started in the accounting and finance area, prior to his buying the agency in 1994. They are headquartered in San Antonio, where he's calling from, and operate from five locations in Texas. They have been named agent of the year for northAmerican Van Lines 12 times out of the past 17 years and have won it 10 years in succession. Kevin feels that they couldn't have done it without the team that they've built over the years, from everyone from their movers to drivers to back office staff. 

And we are here today to learn from you, Kevin—learn what the secret sauce is to hiring and retaining quality coachable movers. I've received a handful of questions already, but at any time if anyone wants to submit a question, there's a Q&A at the bottom of your zoom control panel so that is where I'll be managing the questions at the end.

So to kick it off. Kevin, what are your criteria when finding good movers?

Well, first of all, Heidi, thank you for having me. And number two, I'm not sure I would quantify that I'm an expert, but I would tell you we've had some success in the movers' world. 

But finding the criteria, we kind of break it down. One of the most important things is looking at the demographics of what you're looking to hire. That's one of the things. Now I want to make sure I say this: that a lot of my answers is a consortium of all of my company coming together and helping me with a lot of this information, so I think they're the so-called experts and I kind of just a visionary guy where try to take that information and pool it, to put it into play. 

But demographics is one of the areas we look at. We look at an office, we look at the culture of that city. We look at the demographics of that city when it comes to race, gender, strengths, and so forth. So we try to hire to the demographics of that city, to the demographics of that branch. 

So giving an example. If we're looking to hire in our Killeen, Texas office, a huge huge military city. So we try to really look for the veteran employees because they understand the military business and they've moved many times so we try to hire as many veterans as we can in that city.

And that would be the same with San Antonio being a large military location. We go to Dallas, we try to look at the demographics of Dallas. We look for location. We look at the demographics around our branch to make it as easy as possible for those employees to get to work and back. 

So that's extremely important to us, that we make it as easy as possible for the employees to get to work and to get home again.

I think we're a little bit different in the next criteria. We look at employees versus contractors. We are 100% employee driven. We do not have a local contractor in our office. We tried that.  Matter of fact, we tried it just recently again and it was a complete failure. We like to control the processes. We like to control the quality of the employee, the type of employee, and we like to know every employee that's in these houses. 

So just being non-contractor-based puts us in a different perspective, I believe, because what we're seeking more than anything is not just somebody to show up to do work, we're seeking somebody who wants a career. 

We want retention. We want long-term retention. So what we do is we formulate our employee model around retention and do what we can to keep an employee engaged as long as we possibly can, for as many years as we can because that, we believe, reduces costs. So again we're 100 % employee-based, not contractor based 

So if there are movers who are listing that are contractor-based, this might not have a lot of effect for you, but that’s what we do there.

Another criteria in looking for an ideal mover: The first thing we do is we tell them in the interview process, right out of the gate, there's going to be a criminal background and a drug test immediately. So I'm going to tell you that based on what my HR and my management tell me, we eliminate 40% of the applicants just right there. They don't even fill out the application when they know that we're looking at criminal background and drug testing.

We also tell them there's going to be random drug testing going forward. So it's extremely important that we let them know that upfront so we can weed out that perspective immediately.

Another issue is, I thought this is interesting, we don't want to hire for experience. We like to self-develop our moving culture. We like to self-develop our employees to follow our policies, follow our regulations, and follow what we do and how we do it. 

Developing somebody to be what you want them to be, we feel, is way easier than bringing somebody in that has all the expert ways of doing things which is not the way we like to do things. Break those bad habits. So we like to self-develop our staff. We like to start from scratch and put them into the roles of the training that we do. 

And then what do we look for in an employee? We have created an interview process—this is extremely interesting—of questions that develop a sense of feeling of their integrity, especially respect. It is huge. It's a huge training module that we look at. We spend a whole half a day just on respect. And then we look for heart. 

There are so many variables of what people believe respect is, people what they believe integrity is and if you have heart. We see people that have really bad attitudes and say “well I have good integrity” but you don't have heart. 

We look for the people that have all three and understand what we deem as excellence. We look for people that can fill that role, in those four criteria. And if we can't feel comfortable with that, we don't invite them back to the Ward University training. It's just that simple. So they have to meet those criteria.

Yeah, so when I first talked to Kevin, definitely from our conversation, I just walked away thinking, wow he really has a standard of excellence that he wants all of his mover employees to meet. And as a reminder, we are focusing on the mover piece today. We won't be talking about drivers. Maybe that'll be another time because I know it's a hot topic.

But Kevin I'm curious. You are hiring for retention versus I know a lot of moving company owners just have this mindset based on experience that one in five will stay or one in ten will stay in—that it's just a numbers game. You just have to go through the hiring and then just see who sticks. What are your thoughts on that and is it maybe a problem in their training? 

Again, we hire for retention so you've got to invest in retention. That's why we went with the employee model and it works for us extremely well. We really believe that if you're gonna grab a person and you're gonna put them into your company, you have to invest in that person. You have to invest in that in so many different ways, not only just in training but we offer health insurance, vacation, sick pay, and holiday pay for everybody that's a full-time core employee. We separate our business into two divisions. 

We have a full-time core then we have our summer part-time and we've created incentives and benefits even for our part-time help to get them to come back every summer. And the success of that has been enormous. We believe that if we cover their health, the benefits, their sick days, and their holiday pay, then there's more of a sense of belonging than just any job. They feel like they're being taken care of and it's hard to walk away from something like that. And in our industry where a lot of it is contractor driven, we feel that's a huge benefit to us because a contractor is not going to steal an employee away when they're getting all those benefits.

We have great retention of full-time core employees that stay with us for years and years and years. So benefits are one thing. We're very incentive-based. Everyone in our company, all the way to the receptionist, has a bonus program. 

We try to invest in them to get the best out of them by having them incentivized. People don't come into our company and say okay I'm going to make $16 an hour. They can make 20 if they do everything perfectly. 

If they do that—they do it the way we want it done and it's just amazing how much money I look at every year, how much money we pay out in bonuses across the board to the whole entire company. It's huge but it's such a good feeling because they attained excellence at that level. So it's very very incentive based; 100% of our employees are bonuses. 

Another thing we do is invest in technology. We have put together operating platforms. We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology, making our system so easy and so we can develop flexible schedules so our part-timers can work around school and weekends and certain things that they're doing. So it's a big hit with our younger generation this technology so— 

The tech generation.

Oh, they love it. I mean it's just amazing. So we continue to invest in technology which I'm going to be advertising for you. Guys, use Supermove, they're great. 

[Laughs] And Kevin's not even a customer but thanks. 

But I just met you a couple of months ago so we're gonna have to look at the Supermove.

But I'll tell you,  technology has been extremely important for us and then we promote promotions. We want our people to grow within. We constantly are promoting people up and as we grow we're constantly promoting people to new positions. And we promote that all the way from the time they come in under Ward University, we tell them about it.

And then one of the biggest things is that we've trained over 125 agents that have come in and trained under us. They look at our systems, they look at our operating systems and our technology and one of the things that they take away is how we let our employees set operation administrative policies. They have a voice. They have a voice in what we do and it's amazing to me when I sit in a room of packers, loaders, helpers, and warehouse staff, how much they know and you don't. It's just amazing to me and I'm always willing to listen.

I'll give you an example of that really quickly. We had a part-time accounting clerk. She works part-time because she's going to school in accounting and she created our evaluation process of when to invite somebody off the mountain because they're damaging the chemistry of the company. It was amazing that she put—I mean a part-timer changed our whole evaluation program. 

But you just got to be willing to listen to them, you got to be willing to seek their advice and that's very important to me is that our employees have a voice in how we set policy and what that policy needs to be. Because they're the ones setting it, they're the ones going to follow it.

We like to buy them new equipment. We keep new equipment in their hands all the time: trucks and logistics equipment. They respect that. If you respect them, they respect you, and giving them nice equipment is one way that we can show that respect.

Then we have the Ward University and I'll talk a little bit about that, I understand a little bit later. That's some of the things that we try to do in our industry to invite our employees to stay for a long time.

Gotta give them the best. So you're talking about technology. I just want to dig into this a little bit. Do you use tech to manage applicants that you get? Is it for training videos? Can you tell me a little bit more about how you're utilizing tech?

We use technology all the way from payroll to training, to application processes. One of the things that we do in the interview process, I think is really unique. We started this a couple of years ago. We actually show a video of what they'll be doing, the expectations of how we want the house prep, how we pack boxes, and what they'll be doing every day. 

You'd be surprised at how many people in the interview process say, “hmm I'm not sure that's really for me.” So we don't go through a bunch of wasted time and expense telling employees what they think they'll be doing. We actually show them what they'll be doing, how they'll be lifting furniture, taking it into the trailer, padding furniture, warehousing furniture. We show videos of that in the interview process and it really helps retention because if they sign up after the video, that means they're engaged. They really want to be a part of that. 

That's been huge for us and so when we get them through the interview process, moving them to Ward University, they already have a very good idea of what they're going to be trained on and why. So I just believe that technical communication whether it's technology or verbal or whatever, the more communication you can show an employee, the more communication you can show them from a technology standpoint of the expectation—pictures are worth a thousand words. And we just believe that the more information we can put on them as to what it's going to be at Ward North American, the better they have of making it and staying a longer time.

Yeah, it really is setting that expectation. I think that's huge, the communication.

I’ll give you an example of communication technology. I hate to interrupt you, Heidi.

No, go for it.

For example, our operations platform. When we put them through Ward University,

we train them on all this technology, we train them on everything. They go into our system and our technology tells us how we can dispatch them, whether they've been trained in packing, whether they've been trained in vaulting, whether they've been trained in loading, whether they're trained in driving. So if an operations manager tries to punch in an employee electronically through the computer system, the computer system will automatically acknowledge we're trying to punch this person in for a pack job and they have not been trained on packing. It won't let them continue. 

Oh, I see! 

Our system is so dissected to be able to control any weakness of someone trying to punch an employee in for something they're not trained on. That's how level-set we've put this training and our technology that matches it. So we won't put non-trained people in non-trained jobs. It's just how we do it. And the same goes for equipment. The safety director can take our technology and black out a truck because it's not been DOT or it's in the shop or something. So anyway, technology is the lifeblood of what Ward does. 

So you're saying you don't just toss them in there and start moving on day one? 

No, we don't. When I first got in the business 38 years ago, someone said, “Here's Bob. Here's a t-shirt. Go with Joe and he'll show you how to do this.” That doesn't happen at Ward. We upped our game from 38 years ago. We believe our industry is kind of scientific. We believe that there's a science to and it’s about heart and you gotta care and that's what we train people on is those issues 

So you've mentioned Ward University. I'm sure everyone is very curious to learn more. Can you give us a brief background about Ward University? How long is it, what does a normal new hire go through, and what is that onboarding process like?

Ward University was created in the year of 1997. After I bought the company in ‘94, we started. I wanted to up the game a little bit so we created it in ‘97. I had this quality director—he's a genius.  I had this vision of how I wanted to train people and once I got him to buy in, it was pretty unique.

But it's a four-to-five-day training course and it's a classroom only. And every employee of my company has to go through the course, including staff members, accounting, customer service, everybody has to go. It’s a 268-written question exam that they have to pass or you can't be in front of a customer, you can't work at the company. And we pay them to take the course, of course, because they're in our training and it's just really effective.

People ask me about this. We've had a lot of companies come in and witness this course and it's just amazing because it really doesn't teach them how to pad a piece of furniture.

It really doesn't teach them how to pack a box. It teaches them how to care and I always use this example: If you owned a ten thousand dollar dining room table, would you hit the wall with it if it was your table? And probably not because you just spent ten thousand dollars on that dining room. So what we teach our people and our employees is how to care. It's a self-esteem-building classroom module that teaches them how to care because we believe if you can tell and teach an employee how to really care, you've accomplished 75% of the battle.

Because if they care, they'll do it right. And so it's just a really unique course. 

I talk to every class either in front of them or by video and one of the things that I tell them is that I work for them, they don't work for me. I work for them, they work for our customers. And I drill that into them in the first 10 minutes of the class about how they work for the customer and I work for them. I have to provide their paycheck, I have to provide their equipment, their training, and all the resources, so they can go work for my customer. 

You'd be surprised how many people's heads turn when they hear the present CEO tell them that I work for them and if I'm not doing my job I can't expect them to do theirs very well. So that's really interesting how you turn their mindset around when you talk like that. And we explain how we built the company and I try to close with how important they really are, not only to me but to the customer, to the company, and the value that they have to us. I tell them in that course, “do you know that you'll handle more money in one year in value than a bank teller?” That just blows them away. They just can't believe that and that's how important this job is. You may not think it's important because someone may have told you movers are not important. To us, it's extremely important. So it's the communication that you give them. It teaches them really how to care and it also defines the expectation. 

We spend five days, four days—we can do it in four or we can do it in five. When we do it in five, we shrink the day down so we keep the attention span. But when we get into summer when we're doing retraining and more training, then we try to get it done in four. But it defines their expectations and it defines our expectations. It talks about what we expect and what they should deliver. And it talks about what they should expect and what we should deliver for them. And it promotes respect and respect in front of the customer so it's extremely important. 

This training is so important that when we started this in ‘97, we won our first Agent of the Year in 2000 and we won every year for 10 consecutive years. Then I trained some other agents and they're probably listening. The next four agents that we trained beat us at Agent of the Year. We actually trained them on that course. But I was happy for them because that made a lot of difference to me that we’re actually helping the industry which was important to me.

You have mentioned to me before that there is a very strict dress code. I think that this is very interesting because when I think about movers, I can picture movers in my head that have a strict dress code and then I picture other movers who just look like they were walking down the street and they are now moving my stuff so yeah what is your dress code and why is it so important for you to have the standard?

Our philosophy is we believe image is very very important to the customer. And we believe that if you're going to be the part, you got to act the part and if you really—again remember Ward University is about caring, so you've got to care for yourself. If you don't care how you present yourself to the customer, then maybe chances are you're not going to care how well you do for that customer. So it starts with how you look at yourself. When you wake up in the morning, what do you want to look like? Do you want to be a professional? We require Ward hats, we require wool Ward uniforms, no blue jeans, and shirts tucked in. We want them to show up at the customer's house and be their utmost professional. 

We've asked our customers, do you want an employee that's in full uniform with a ponytail with earrings hanging out of their eyebrows? I'm not saying that's bad but there's a place and time for that, and our customers said, “no I don't want that.” We have testimonials from our customers that say that and so we play that in Ward University. We show them that’s what our customer wants and in order to be here and give them what they want, this is the way you have to play the part. 

And so it's extremely important for us to do that. It's surprising because even our own operators, our long-haul fleet adhere to those rules and policies. So it's a culture. It’s a culture of excellence. And I believe that we've had people come in and they say, “How do you get them to do this? How do you get them to not wear blue jeans?” I don't know how to answer that question because it's just never been an option. They're taught from day one, from the time they get here, this is how we are and if you don't want to comply with that, this isn't the place for you. 

And we're nice and we're professional about it, but if you really want to grow and you want company benefits and you want all this good stuff that we have to offer, you want to promote, you want a career, this is the way we have to play the part. And I have no problem getting people to do that.

We have a few questions already. I still want to ask you a few of the questions that we received from the registration so what is the best source for recruitment of both experienced and entry-level movers? And I understand you try to find movers that don't have experience, but what is your best source of recruitment? 

To be fully transparent, our best source—it's amazing—is our staff themselves. We have a unique culture and we take really good care of our staff and our employees. And they recommend friends, families, neighbors, acquaintances, cousins, uncles, and aunts. I mean you wouldn't believe it. I found this out: we're up to over 50% of our recruiting base comes from referrals, from our internal staff. 

That's amazing to me and that tells me that our culture is working. When people will recommend you to come to work where they work because they like it so much. So 50% of our new hires come from our internal staff referrals. And you cannot believe how the interview process and the cultural training are so much easier because they've already been sold on what we do and how we do it and that's why they're there. 

The other 50% is… A year or two ago, we outsourced all of our payroll to a payroll company and they have a really, really unique program where they have embedded applications from people of all different industries. And so we go to our payroll company and say, “hey we need 10 of these in this city,” and they'll go out to their application process and give us. They've already got our criteria, they've already got what our expectations are, what are all the rules and regulations, what our benefits are. And they match those 10 people with applications that are already in their infrastructure, that they've already seeked out through our payroll system. 

And they find the other 40% of our applications. They'll use ZipRecruiter, they'll use Indeed. They go on and get these applications, they have them on file, and then they help us get them in for the interview but the expectations have kind of already been set. So that's been huge for us so again 50% from internal staff, 40% from our payroll company. So with hiring being so hard today, because of the unemployment laws and all of that, this payroll company has really helped us step up a lot this year. So it's been awesome. So that's one of our ways of hiring. 

Our best recruiters are our drivers themselves. We incentivize them to do that. If they bring us a driver that meets the qualification expectations, we bonus them and we incentivize our drivers to bring more drivers and that's just huge for us. In my company we've never been short of drivers so I can say that works .

People are gonna be hitting you up later and be like tell me more about the drivers, how to get drivers. 

I know. I mean right now we've got, I think it was this morning, we had five drivers already filling out applications all from our driver fleet that recommended them. So getting ready for summer. Five drivers are already filling out just from just referrals from our insider drivers that know them. I even had one driver say, “I want to bring this guy but I know he won't make it here, I just know he won't,” and I'm like “well then don't bring him here” and he goes “I'm not gonna” even though he could get an incentivized bonus for bringing him he knows he won't make it here. And they stand behind these drivers so that tells me my culture is working when my drivers recruit drivers that know they will be successful and work. That tells me we're doing something right. 

Definitely. I want to ask Reid's question. Did you see the volume of candidates decline since early 2020?

Do you mean like applications? 

Probably yeah. Did you see fewer applications at the beginning of last year?

We've seen more applications, and less interviews. So our payroll company has even told me that we used to hit about 8 out of 10 and now we're hitting about 5 out of 10, where they have applications on file and then only five show up because five are just filling the application process out so they can keep getting their unemployment check. So we've seen the number of applications increase. We've seen the interviews decrease per application so that ratio has gone down. 

Are you able to give us an idea of the incentive amounts? If you want to skip, just give me the special code. [winks] 

[laughs] No, if you're paying an hourly wage, our incentives run 18% of an hourly rate. So if you're paying someone $10 an hour—I'm just using simple math, no one works for ten anymore—you're paying a $1.80 incentive for every ten dollars.

In your experience, what is the normal retention rate of a mover? Knowing you guys are hiring for retention but I guess just at Ward what is it like?

Thank you for giving me that question in front because I wouldn't have had that data at my hand at my fingertips but 25% of our core full-time employees have been 15 years or longer. 50% of our core employees, now we're talking our full-time staff of which we have about 350 employees full-time. 50% of them have been here for 10 years or longer which is a long time for 50% of your staff so 70–75% of our staff have been here 10 years or longer. 25–30% have been here to 10 and you're always going to have that bottom level because people, they graduate from college, they get married, they move away—there's always some attrition. 

But I was quite shocked that over 50% is 10 years or longer and 25% is over 15 years. So that means that our retention to me according to industry standards is extremely good and we're proud of that. And we have a lot of people retire from the company. We buy them gifts and watches and trophies and we buy a lot of them I can tell you that. So it's just a rewarding experience for me that we're able to keep people that long and they love our company for that many years. And it's hard work and they show up every day and do a great job. 

And that's another thing I had movers ask, “how do you get them to show up every day?” Well, it affects their bonus. They get a bonus to show up every day so if they don't show up they just kiss their bonus goodbye. So you just can't ask people to do things; you have to incentivize them to do it. 

Yeah, you pay them well and you incentivize them. I think that's huge. We all need to be motivated.

And then another interesting statistic is we run the summer help, the summer part-time of which we run about a hundred, and 25% of them end up moving in that core group. Once they've gone through their college or whatever they decide they want to—go into our management training program, they want to go into accounting…  They want to grow and so they say, “Hey, I'd like to grow with your company” and some of them go become drivers or operators. But 20–25% of our part-time staff end up moving into the core staff. And we give them first right of refusal to move in when a core leaves—they can replace up. And some of them are just waiting for that to happen. So when you give certain benefits and I'm going to say 8-10% of an hourly wage to a part-time worker, they come back every summer. They come back every year, they work through Christmas. We work them on weekends. I mean it's just amazing how even our non-core, our part-time staff, how we keep them flush in what we're doing every day. 

They wish they could work more.

Yeah, we always tell every employee from the beginning that we want you to be a better person when you leave. If you ever leave, we want you to be a better person than when you got here. And if you are, we feel successful for you. And we're not mad that you're leaving; we're happy that you're being able to better yourself. And that's just good nature. That's what people like to hear. 

I need to go through Ward Ward University myself.

I have to make sure you pass the test though.

I'm a decent studier so I'm ready for all those questions. Alright, I'm gonna just look at some of the questions from the chat. We only have nine minutes left. Time is flying. Are you pre-screening by phone before an in-person application process? 

No, we're not. We bring them in, we set them down, we show them the video of what they'll be doing, we go through the criminal background, drug testing, and if we can make it through all of that, chances are you got a pretty successful person that's going to show up and come back and go into the training program.

A question from Rick: Kevin, can you share an example of one of your best success stories in developing an employee that moved up in your ranks? 

Oh wow. Yes, I can. There's a guy named—and I'm going to use his name because I'm so damn proud of him—his name is Jason Maciad. Jason Maciad grew up in a very, very poor neighborhood. And he was working washing cars. And I asked him one day—he was really wanting to please me and I asked him one day, “what do you make here?” and he goes “I make eight dollars an hour.” I said, “how would you like to make 10?” Now, this is 20 years ago. And he goes “I'd love to make ten, sir” and I said, “okay you should come see me on Monday morning.” He did. 

He went through Ward University. I put him in the warehouse. He excelled at that. I put him in as a warehouse manager. He excelled at that. I put him in operations. He excelled at that. I moved him to another office that had bigger operations. He excelled at that. I put him in sales and he did sales for about a year and a half. He just did really well at that. And then I made him a general manager of my smallest office. That young man was 20 years old, he had two children, and he wasn't married—I mean he had been recently divorced at 20. And today he's married, he's got a beautiful family, and he's going to be moving up January 1 to our EVP over the whole entire company, running all of the branches. This is the kid that had no future. His mother and father had drug issues. I was told that even at one time he was living out of the back of his car. And today he's going to be probably the second or third man in charge of a company our size. 

So every general manager of my company has started at the bottom of Ward. We've hired a few people from the outside. They didn't make it. They couldn't admire the culture of who we are and what we wanted to accomplish so we try not to hire from the outside. We bring them up, we groom them. They understand our culture, they understand our chemistry, they understand our expectations, and then they deliver it because they went through it. So that is one success story. I could give you a hundred success stories of people that have moved up into our company through promotions.

Yeah, definitely, I can tell that it's leadership that believes in people and gives them the chance to go through these trainings and give them opportunities to really excel. So it's really a sign of good leadership.

I call Jason my third son. I mean that's just how much he’s grasped the chemistry of our company. And now he tells that story to everybody that he's talking to and they see him as a live example. It just goes viral. They see someone like that achieve what he has achieved. He's also gotten a four-year degree since then. He went back to college and got his four-year business management degree also while he's been working. So proud of him.

Wow, that's incredible. A question from Jordan: Back to when you're talking about the payroll company. Jordan's asking, is the payroll company bringing you recruits applicants or is it a temporary employment agency that you use to payroll your employees? 

It's a recruiting applicant position. It's a firm. They do payroll, they do recruiting, they tie them together. So they have these applicants and they zero in on the industries that they're working the payroll for, so they know what applicants would mirror. Like we said, we would rather hire somebody green than hire somebody with experience. So they have no problem feeding these applicants to us because they know we'll be putting them through the training.

All right I'm going to take two more of these questions from the Q&A and then I'm going to wrap it up. A question from Lauren: With hourly employees, how do you keep them retained during the shoulder seasons?

What we do is, we have our peak summer, it's part-time and we have our core. So what we do, and this is something that's really unique, is we guarantee every employee a minimum of 32 hours of pay in the wintertime. So 32 is what we consider our full-time status to get benefits. So they're guaranteed 32 hours in the winter time and, of course, they're getting 40+ hours in the summertime. For some reason, we have the work. I can't explain that, we just always have the work to keep our employees employed. And when they don't, they can use their vacation, they can use… we've even had them in the summer where they call that bench hours and use them in the winter. They can do that. We don't recommend that but if they do bench hours and it's overtime, we will pay them half and take the regular time to the winter. So if they're getting 50 hours, we'll pay them 40 at regular and half pay on the extra 10 and bench the 10 hours for their winter, and a lot of employees like that too. So we make it really flexible for them to make sure that they get their 32 hours all the time and we just find the work we just do. I mean that that's never really been too big of an issue. 

Well, you always need the movers even during the winter.

Yeah, we do office moving, we do all kinds of… we do medical moving, we do hospitals, we do hotels. I mean we just got off-season work and on-season work and we have salespeople selling into those modules to keep those workers. And keep in mind at Ward University, to give you an example, they're trained in everything. So our receptionist could go out and do inventory because they have to pass the test. So part of the module is inventorying so we don't have to look in our group of employees and say, “who can do inventory today because we've got exceptions to take.” Everybody can do it in the door because they’re all trained in the same things.

Derek is asking what is your policy for bringing back former employees. Or do they just never leave so you don't have to bring them back? 

No, they do, they do leave. I mean you're not perfect right and people leave. We've had troubled employees that come in and they don't meet our chemistry and they leave. Our policy at Ward is, whoever had to deal with their exit strategy going out gets to make the decision whether they can come back or not. So if I terminate an employee, I'm the one that gets to say whether he comes back or not. If our CFO terminates an employee, he or she gets to see if they come back or not. If an operations manager of that branch terminates an employee because of bad behavior or whatever, they get to have to say whether that person comes back or not. So to me, if that operation manager doesn't want him back, there's a reason. And we would rather support that operations manager than just because we might be 10 people short, we're not going to override him or her just because of that, because that ruins the culture of chemistry. The chemistry works and we just won't override that.

Yeah, well to wrap up the session that was the last question I'm taking but I'm sure people would be asking questions forever so cutting everyone off. Kevin, I want to say thank you again for your time, your insights, and for sharing your experience, and I hope that everyone is able to walk away with one tidbit of information that they can implement starting this week. Happy Monday.

And so for everyone that's tuned into the session, Supermove is actually offering one free month of our moving software. And once again we have a moving software that brings your whole team onto one system and we want to make it as easy as possible to run your business. So if you are interested, you can sign up for a demo through our website and mention that you attended this live Q&A with Kevin.

Kevin, any last words before we say goodbye? 

One last thing that I will say in being in an employee world, I would say this: define your company philosophy. We've defined ours under one formula. Customers are always first. Employees are always second. And the profit is always third. And if you do that, you'll make money. You'll be very successful with your customers. Your employees will be extremely happy. And you'll make money. I've made money 38 out of 38 years and I just believe that if you help people get what they want, then they help you get what you want. And just the philosophy is put employees in front of profit, or put your people, invest in them, and value them. Because they're the key to having a blessed life.

And that motto even helped you survive covid.

Oh yeah. We had a good year. I mean we ended up having a really good year in COVID. And we took care of every employee and didn't lay off one.

That's incredible. Well, thank you all for attending, and be on the lookout for the next session in May. Thank you again, Kevin, I really, really appreciate your time

Thanks, Heidi. Appreciate you.


Building Your Business


Browse All
First Call Sales Script: Residential Moves
Download this template for first call sales script for every single customer on residential moves.
3 Most Common Objections Moving Companies Face
Top 3 objections for moving companies and how to handle these conversations.