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Nov 26, 11:00 AM EST

Holidays start in August for some small businesses


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NEW YORK (AP) -- Chris Mann learned it's better to hire help for the November and December holidays while people in many parts of the U.S. are still wearing shorts and tank tops.

Mann used to wait until the holidays were at hand before hiring. But the brand-new workers peppered managers with questions about products and procedures at his two Woodhouse Day Spas in the Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, areas - just as the managers were trying to help an influx of extra customers.

"It's nearly impossible to train in the busiest time of the year," says Mann, whose spas offer services like massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. Now he hires in August. By mid-November, the holiday staffers are up to speed and the spas run efficiently, he says.

Seasonal hiring isn't as temporary as it used to be for some small businesses. Hiring extra help takes time. And then there's the extra training and supervision. Thin staffing at many small businesses makes the process of assimilating seasonal workers harder than at larger companies. It all adds up to owners taking on holiday season employees as early as summer - or making other advance preparations to get ready for the influx of business near the end of the year.

SEEKING THE RIGHT FIT

David Bolotsky starts hiring in August to be sure he gets seasonal staffers who have a good attitude, work well with others and are willing to commit to a job not likely to lead to year-round employment.

The owner of Uncommon Goods, an online retailer of clothing and home goods, brings in recruiters to screen prospective staffers and try to weed out ones who look like they won't be a good fit. Finding staffers is complicated by the location of his business. Uncommon Goods is based in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and some potentially good staffers would rather work in Manhattan. That makes for a smaller pool of candidates and a longer search process.

"It's a mountain to climb and it's a huge mountain every year," Bolotsky says.

BIG-TIME PLANNING

Some small businesses take on so many seasonal staffers they transform into large companies for a short time. That requires well-organized hiring and training systems.

Vermont Teddy Bear Co., which sells stuffed, toy bears that wear outfits for holidays, graduations and other occasions, has about 135 year-round staffers. This year the Shelburne, Vermont, company expects 1,000 temporary workers to take telephone orders, pack boxes and work in the retail store at its factory, CEO Bill Shouldice says. That's up from 850 last year. Like other smaller companies, Vermont Teddy Bear begins its seasonal hiring in late summer.

The company also gives year-round staffers short-term promotions so they're able to supervise the influx of seasonal workers. And it hires human resources people temporarily to screen prospective employees and make sure they're right for the job.

"You don't want to hire a bunch of people who don't show up, who didn't really understand they're going to be talking to customers or using computers or packing boxes," Shouldice says.

TOO SOON TO TELL

But not every company can hire months in advance. Some owners have to wait until the last minute because they can't predict staffing needs that early. Mohu, a manufacturer of high-definition TV antennas, usually has a surge in orders around the holidays when people buy new TVs. Last year, CEO Mark Buff had to double his staff to 50 from 25 to manufacture, pack and ship the antennas, but the hiring spurt didn't happen until early December.

"We don't know yet about this year," says Buff, whose company is located in Raleigh, North Carolina. "It really depends on the orders."

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