It's easy to have satisfied employees in boom times. But try keeping their loyalty when sales tank.
Bosses at Lazydays, the largest single-site RV center in the nation, put maintaining the company's family ethos at the top of their recovery plan.
"That is what held us together,'' says CEO John Horton. "Everybody had to sacrifice, and they understood that.''
The recession gouged recreational vehicle sales nationwide. Everyone at Lazydays felt the pain.
Layoffs and attrition shrank the workforce from nearly 700 to 481. Salaries were slashed 5 percent for everyone who wasn't on commission. The 401(k) match evaporated.
Business has bounced back, with 20 consecutive months of meeting sales targets. Survivors remain heartbroken about friends who were laid off, but they say executives steered Lazydays through hard times without mortgaging the company's family atmosphere.
Lazydays moved up significantly in the St. Petersburg Times' Top Places to Work 2011, from No. 10 in the medium-sized business category a year ago to No. 2 among large businesses.
Managers informally polled employees how they felt about the pay cut if it meant avoiding another round of layoffs.
"It makes me think they care about my opinion,'' said Mike Ballard, a service technician with 17 years at the company. He supported the pay cut, which was restored last year — half as a salary increase, half as a bonus.
When managers asked for cost-saving ideas, sales coordinator Deidre Hutchison suggested getting rid of the woman Lazydays paid $300 a month to emcee company meetings. The next month, someone from the training department wielded the microphone.
Employees arranged potluck lunches on their own for years. But when times got tough, Lazydays created a volunteer "spirit committee'' for company events.
It started with deep sea fishing day trips to the east coast. Buses left the company parking lot at 6 a.m. and returned at 6 p.m. to save the expense of hotel rooms. The committee organizes bowling leagues, baseball games, a ''Biggest Winner'' weight loss competition. When 168 employees lost a collective 1,200 pounds, the company donated a pound of food for each pound of fat to a food bank.
On sweltering summer days, volunteers pass out ice pops. Employees pay $1 for breakfast and $2 for lunch at an on-site cafe. Lazydays keeps an RV for employees to use for free at Disney World's Fort Wilderness.
But don't think work takes a back seat.
Employees must attend customer service training meetings each week. Trainers read from customer letters, both good and bad. Sales staffers go to training sessions every day, to hone skills for dealing with customers and learn about new products from manufacturer reps.
"If you're not motivated and don't get along with people, you're not here long,'' said Ballard, the service technician.
Jordan Leonard, an online marketing specialist, said long hours are a given.
"I'm not going to get in trouble if I stop to talk to someone for five minutes,'' she said.
One year into the job, Leonard has an employee reporting to her. Other departments pull her into brainstorming meetings on promoting events and products.
"It's given my bosses a chance to see I can take on other things,'' she said.
Throughout the 126-acre campus — it has a campground for up to 300 RVs, more than 200 service bays and a Cracker Barrel — people talk about Lazydays like a big family.
Hutchinson insists it's no exaggeration.
Her husband, Trevis, died last year after suffering a stroke on a golf course. He was 35 and left her with six kids, now ages 4 to 20.
Employees brought over meals and bought so many groceries that she needed to buy a big freezer to store it. More than 300 Lazydays people attended the funeral, including CEO John Horton.
Then there's Ballard, who lives more than 20 miles away in Apollo Beach and usually is responsible for taking his 7-year-old daughter to school in the morning and picking her up in late afternoon.
Bosses let him work through lunch and shift afternoon jobs to other technicians if he's pressed for time.
"We help each other out a lot,'' Ballard said. "We know each other's problems."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.