A lot can happen in two decades, and a lot certainly has for Founder and Managing Director of Tradestaff New Zealand Kevin Eder.
As a qualified electrician with a background in trades, Kevin recognised an opportunity in the labour recruitment industry, launching New Zealand's premier labour hire company in 1996. After working for a multinational in the nineties that had a single computer the size of a classroom, Kevin was frustrated that companies were primarily focussed on white collar jobs and saw industrial recruitment as a bit of an inconvenience.
"Once you started treating those clients and the temporary staff with respect, […] they stuck with you."
"I saw an opportunity for someone to go out and own that industrial market and be quite proud of it," said Kevin.
Only months down the track, history will show you that he was right.
"Once you started treating those clients and the temporary staff with respect and showing them that they were just as important as anyone else, they stuck with you."
It was this foundation of being 100 per cent focussed on quality and service that enabled Kevin to lead the rapid growth and ongoing success of Tradestaff. But this success story didn't happen quite as you might expect.
Humble beginnings for a household name
Kevin started out as a lone ranger in Canterbury with a strong network and a notebook. He desired to have a small business that would feed his family and provide him with the independence to be his own boss.
Having a multinational company with branches all around the country hadn't even crossed his mind. In fact, there was hardly enough time to think about the future.
"For the first 14 months, it was just myself and my wife with two children under five," said Kevin. "I was doing the payroll, the invoicing, the interviewing, the sales, the banking, the cleaning, you know, it was 100 per cent just me!"
But the formula Kevin put in place worked so well that the business quickly outgrew him.
"I got to the stage where I was running around 100 temps and the wheels were starting to fall off"
Bringing in new consulting staff became necessary in order to keep up with the growing demand. Quickly, interest was sparking across the country, and Tradestaff effectively followed its nose around the country opening branches where there was a large enough population.
"Suddenly one day we had 14 branches", humoured Kevin. " I'd love to be able to tell you I had this amazing business plan which I followed to the letter of the law, but it didn't really work that way."
Tradestaff grew quickly because it was a great idea with a passionate leader driving the business forward.
A dramatically different industry
Its been a dynamic journey for Kevin and the team, as with any company experiencing rapid growth. For instance, facing major cash flow shortages in 1999, he was voluntarily the lowest paid of his seven staff to ensure the business could survive.
"One of the killers of early business is sudden growth," he commented, noting how crazy the journey has been catching up with the ballooning company.
"One of the killers of early business is sudden growth."
But it isn't just the company which has had to adapt. When Tradestaff began, it was in a job market with higher levels of unemployment and an industry just starting it's life. The whole idea of temporary recruitment agencies was very new, meaning that a lot of the early sales were about educating clients on the benefits of temporary recruitment.
"In some of the early meetings I had, a lot of the clients I visited actually thought that I had come up with the idea of temporary labour," said Kevin, "they thought I had invented it!"
While it was challenging and fascinating, it meant that Tradestaff could benefit from the first-mover advantage and gain a stronghold in the industry. But with 9 to 10 per cent of the working population seeking employment, the role of Tradestaff at that time was really more about servicing the temporary staff and working with them to make sure that they actually had some form of employment.
The industrial recruitment industry has made a rather significant u-turn today. With tighter regulations, higher expectations and a largely candidate-short job market. Therefore, nowadays, it is a matter of managing the client base and ensuring that they are best served.
"In some ways, the industry has changed dramatically, but in others, it hasn't at all," mused Kevin. "It is still about placing the right candidate with the right client."
Tradestaff continues to understand the essence of what industrial recruitment is.
Industrial recruitment strained by cuckoo cost-cutters
According to Kevin, the industry is at risk of essentially cannibalising itself if current trends continue. But it will be the smaller agencies that will be impacted the most.
"It seems, at times, to be a race to the bottom in regards to reducing margins."
"So much of the information available in the industry is about how to undercut your competitors."
"If it's all simply about the lowest price, where is the health and safety compliance? Everything has to be a shortcut if you want to be the cheapest."
It's a major concern for Kevin, as he can see the inevitable happening, where someone will fall over in the cut-throat competition, be it through non-compliance or bad service.
"Companies both locally and multinational need to respect the service they provide, the staff they are a supplying, and the role they have to play in business."
It is this unwavering commitment to quality that has enshrined Tradestaff at the forefront of the industrial recruitment industry and ensures that the future for the company looks brighter than ever.
over 4 years ago by Will Percy