Toronto’s CFTB connects reliable, temporary hospitality workers with employers, needs more clients
Connect for the Best
5464 Yonge St, Toronto M4Y 1W9
Online connection of pre-qualified workers to employers
Margaret Readings knows just about everything there is to know about the hospitality industry.
Working as a housekeeper in the U.K. before moving to Canada in 1979, she has held just about every position in the hotel business, including assistant director and director of housekeeping, hotel manager, director of procurement, and a slew of others.
Through this work she noticed a major pain point hotel almost all hotel managers struggle against — scheduling shiftwork with temporary staff. So, she started a company, Connect For The Best (CFTB), to solve the problem by allowing hiring managers to quickly locate qualified, fully vetted workers who can handle a range of service positions.
She hired a developer to build a platform and website, CFTB.ca, in 2009. Two years later she left her as director of procurement at Starwood Hotels and started running the business full-time.
The site is already successful on one count — approximately 600 workers in and around Toronto have already signed up and been vetted — but finding new clients to hire these staff remains a challenge. And Readings is in a catch-22. She desperately needs sales staff to expand the business, but can’t afford a new hire until she’s found more clients.
“It’s about getting people to think a little bit differently, and that’s what I struggle with,” says Readings. “When you call people up they’ll say it’s a great idea, and then I don’t hear anything from them.”
The business model does seem to work. Readings has already acquired 20 clients — including such notable businesses as the Westin Harbour Castle, Starwood Hotels, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, plus a number golf courses, banquet halls and non-profit organizations who use the site on a less frequent basis.
According to Readings, her clients use the site for increasing capacity during peak seasons, replacing workers who have called in sick, or finding staff for one-off events.
When creating a profile on CFTB.ca, service industry workers provide a resume and list of references. Their profile isn’t posted publicly until those references are checked, and Readings says only 20 per cent make it through the vetting process — saving HR departments in the hospitality industry valuable time and resources. Workers are then matched up with relevant hiring managers. A feature to let workers indicate their available hours and the distance they’re willing to travel is also in the works.
Unlike temp agencies, which are typically used for hiring additional staff on short notice, Readings does not take a cut of workers’ earnings. She runs the business with the help of one part-time staff member, requiring much less overhead than hospitality industry recruiters, and can therefore provide competitive rates. After a 30-day free trial, clients pay $1.00 or $1.50 per hour for the number of hours they need to fill, depending on the position, or they can get unlimited job postings for $169 a month.
“I did a case study last year at One King West. They used me over the Christmas period instead of using an agency (and) saved about $3,000 in fees. The workers made an extra $9,000,” says Readings.
But she needs to add between 15 and 30 new clients to her existing 20 to hit the break even point, and her effort to bring in new sales staff have so far failed.
“I did hire somebody else that was a complete flop,” she says, adding that she also approached marketing consultancies to help with hiring — but after investing approximately $60,000 of her own cash into the business, they were simply too expensive.
While Readings is confident that her product is a win-win for both employers and employees across the service industry, Ian Dainty, CEO of B2B Business Coach — a Toronto business consultancy — suggests that she should consider narrowing her focus.
“It sounds like she knows the hospital industry well, but she should focus solely on a small part of that, and build her business through a niche market,” says Dainty. “Then, when it gets to a critical mass and she’s making some money on it, she can hire people to expand it into other areas.”
Dainty adds that by becoming an expert in a particular segment of the service industry, Readings can charge more for providing more specialized services.
In the meantime, Readings is optimistic that the upcoming winter blitz on hotels, banquet rooms and bars will give her business the growth spurt it needs to break through her cash and hiring problems.
“Christmas is coming, so cocktail parties and dinners and that sort of thing, that’s when a lot of casual staff are needed,” she says. “The outlook for the next couple of years, especially in 2015 with the Pan American Games coming, I’m incredibly optimistic.”