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Creative staffing strategies for country businesses

'Once I had defined my (customer service standard) expectations, I knew the quality that I needed to be reflected in staff.'
Tim Marwood, Timboon Fine Ice Cream

Top tips

  • Use staff connections such as family and friends to find people who you can trust
  • Understand your staff's strengths and weaknesses to get the best out of them
  • Foster a personal, inclusive culture where people enjoy work and want to provide the customer service levels you set

Valuing staff diversity in a business

Timboon Fine Ice Cream sells all natural, gluten-free ice cream through selected stockists and 50 community events from mobile vans. Owner and food lover Tim Marwood also set up Timboon Distillery to cater to demand from tourists coming to Timboon on country drives. 

The people who work for Tim are as diverse as the flavours of his ice creams. With a core staff of around 15 people, he highly values the various ages, backgrounds, cultural origins and skills they offer.

Start with the service standard in mind

Establishing a level of customer service standard for your business is a critical benchmark to finding and developing staff.

‘Once I had defined my expectations, I knew the quality that I needed to be reflected in the staff.’

Using this starting point, Timboon's staff share a common goal despite growing organically over the years as the business developed.

Tim now also uses existing staff in new roles because they know the business well.

‘We are working on opening a visitor centre and so will involve current staff into this new project. This then opens up opportunities for other staff to transfer which in turn makes it easier to fill the less complex roles.’

Creatively responses to staffing challenges

With the limitations of a small country town in mind, Tim is creative about finding suitable staff.

For example, he has:

•    helped get farm work for a staffer who wanted to work part-time for him so she had a full time job in the country
•    called on family members for assistance to contain costs
•    offered accommodation to travelers as part of payment
•    used country people who have moved to the city for study to serve in mobile vans when they are in town
•    given young people opportunities to learn the art of scooping when regular service staff are on breaks.

Use word of mouth to find staff

Tim has found that in his small country location, word of mouth works best to find staff.

‘We have a pool of around 16 scoopers who we have recruited mainly through word of mouth such as brothers and sisters or friends.’

Sometimes people find him too, like the current duo of Chef and Maitre de of the distillery that just walked in one day looking for work after a 13 year stint at another restaurant.

‘Out of necessity, I am always conscious of finding people who I think would fit the business in my interactions. I recently experienced excellent customer service myself in a city café and that person is now keen to work with me in the country.’

Invest time in your staff to keep them

Tim says it is important to personally ensure that staff are valued and feel included in a family-orientated culture. He takes a genuine, personal interest in his staff, spends time with them outside of work and appreciates their diversity.

Whether is it watching his apprentice evolve personally and professionally or promoting his distillery cleaner to an ice-cream maker because she showed valuable qualities, Tim encourages all of his staff to be as good as they can be. Even European travellers have returned to work for Tim because he focuses on the positive aspects of their initial short stay.

Finally, Tim says business growth is not just about staff.

‘It is equally important to recognise your own limitations, know what you are best at and set priorities for what you spend your time on. Our tourism success was also a combination of vision, hard work and timing for consumer interest in farm fresh products.'

The result

By having a clear idea of the staff needed and taking a personal interest in his staff, Timboon Fine Ice Cream and Timboon Distillery have now become a part of a gourmet food tourist trail in the region.