The oil boom in northwest North Dakota has businesses around the region scrambling to find workers anywhere they can. In response to the workforce shortage, one company has found a novel solution to staff its Minot store.
Menards officials knew customer service was suffering in Minot because there simply weren't enough employees to meet customer demand. The solution they came up with was holding a recent job fair in Eau Claire, Wis., where the company's corporate headquarters is, to recruit workers who will be flown by company jet to Minot to work for a week at a time before returning back home.
Phil Graef, general manager of Menards in Minot, said this is a simple case of meeting demand with supply in any way possible.
Jesse D. Watson/MDN • Larry Boutilier, hardware manager, has been with Menards since it began in Minot in 1996.
Jesse D. Watson/MDN • Esther Bull, originally from Liberia, worked at the Richfield, Minn., Menards before coming to work at the Minot location as a cashier.
Jesse D. Watson/MDN • Juan Vadell, also known as JP, and originally from Puerto Rico, works in the building materials section.
"For a while here in Minot the boom has been coming and with the flood and everything there's a need for team members out here. And we have the opportunity from our home base ... to hire there and bring the labor with us and supply housing out here for them to make sure we are offering to the community the service that we would expect out of a Menards store, and the things that our community expects out of us," Graef said. "We saw that opportunity so we decided to hire people in Eau Claire and then fly them out to Minot to be able to service the guests in the area."
Menards is looking to hire around 50 workers for the program and split them into two groups that would rotate through the Minot store. One group would leave Eau Claire on Tuesday mornings and return Friday nights, while the second group would leave Friday mornings and return Tuesday nights.
The team members will be paid for their travel time to and from Minot. While in Minot, they will receive free lodging and meal stipends. Graef expects the flights to begin in December once the workers' training is complete in Eau Claire.
"We're currently training a couple people in the Eau Claire area right now at the stores there," Graef said. "Then they'll bring them out here so when they hit the floor to interact with our guests they're ready to go and they can answer the questions for our guests."
Graef noted the Minot Menards also has its own job fair every Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. at the store for anyone local who is interested in learning more about working there. Along with the jobs during normal business hours, he said they also offer overnight jobs and can work around just about any schedule.
Graef said the plan came about because it was the best option they had to get the necessary workers into the Minot store as quickly as possible. With the energy boom and then the Souris River flood of 2011, the need for workers at Menards has never been higher.
"It's just like anything else - it's supply and demand. The demand is high for labor in this area, the supply isn't necessarily meeting that demand so we had to come up with alternative methods," Graef said.
Graef said they've had a great response from workers in Eau Claire for the program and he looks forward to having them come to Minot.
"It's been an overwhelming response," he said. "It's been really good and I think that we're going to be able to fill that team with no real issues whatsoever."
He called the program a completely new adventure for Menards, the first of its kind, but noted the needs and opportunity were there and they wanted to make sure Menards was there for the community of Minot.
"That's a big part of us. We offer a service and if that service isn't any good then guests don't want to shop here. We want to make sure that we offer the best shopping experience, and we've seen that reflected in our guests," Graef said. "They're happy guests that come in, they enjoy that experience coming to Menards and they enjoy saving that big money."
Even though the costs of the flights, lodging and food won't be cheap, Graef said the idea isn't to get ahead in a strictly dollars and cents aspect, but to get ahead by treating the customers who walk through the doors as well as possible.
"We didn't come here when the boom hit, we didn't come here when the flood hit, we've been here since 1996," Graef said. "We've been a part of the community for a long time and we plan to be here long into the future. So our job is to make sure we take care of the guests that shop here."
As of right now, Graef said this plan is a permanent solution to what they consider to be a semi-permanent problem. For the foreseeable future, they will be flying workers into Minot on a regular schedule to meet a demand that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Graef sees this plan as not only a way to help Menards and the community of Minot, but to help employees out and offer them new opportunities, as well. While the plan is to have them fly back and forth on a regular schedule, he said there might be some who decide they like it so much in Minot they'd want to stay for a while.
He certainly knows what that's like.
"I wasn't planning five years ago to stay in Minot, North Dakota forever and my wife and I have talked about retiring here. We just like the community, my kids are in the schools. There's great schools and why not stay in Minot?"