It is not normal to have a high turnover. I have to say this. If you do have high turnover, you might also be struggling with finding people to backfill your jobs. Because of that, you’re probably not able to meet the needs of your customers because you don’t have enough people to do the work. If this is your case, you’ve got to tune in to this episode. We’ve learned, over time, that the number one thing all leaders can do to improve their employee’s experience is to care for them. Google spent millions of dollars to understand what they could do to improve employee satisfaction and the conclusion was this, “Care for your employees.”
Our guest knows this intuitively. Instead of spending millions of dollars, Rachel Johnson spends her most precious resource, which is time, and sometimes the occasional $40 to show she cares about her team. She is the CEO of Trek Armored Group. In the armored car industry, it’s the big trucks with armed drivers that move cash and goods around safely and securely. I’ll tell you what, this whole industry needs to turn the corner. This is an industry that suffers from 400% to 600% turnover among their hourly workers.
These companies struggle to backfill these openings and this is an industry that has more customer demand than an ability to serve it. However, Rachel has a different story. In a highly competitive job market in Atlanta and a notoriously difficult industry, she has beaten all the odds and has very little turnover. Great customer service is highly profitable and she has peace of mind when it comes to running her business, all due to the care she gives her staff.
Rachel Johnson, welcome to the show. I am so excited to share your story with our audience.
Give us the backstory of your organization.
Previously, I had experience in the armor car industry with another company. We had quite a few employees in multiple locations. I had 42 employees in the location that I’m at now which is central to Atlanta. I worked there for quite a few years and ended up starting my own company at the end of 2019, and expanded from there so here I am.
Tell us about your organization.
Trek Armor Group started in 2019 and we’re a small armor car carrier, not the giant ones like Brink’s or Loomis. We’re mostly metro to Atlanta. We’ll go some outside of the state depending on what’s needed. I run freight as well as your standard cash and transit vehicles, so it’s moving cash and high-value goods.
How many people do you have?
I have some part-time and four full-time and then part-time ebbs and flows depending on what we need. I have multiple people that I’ll utilize part-time.
That’s an unusual thing in this industry to have part-time employees. That’s a good strategy.
For this industry, especially in terms of moving freight. You don’t always have shipments every day. It’s not always consistent. To be able to have people that you can pull from at the last minute, a 1 or 2-day notice is very helpful. I have quite a few people that I can utilize for those types of jobs that we do.You don't always have shipments every day. It's not always consistent. So to have people you can pull within a one or two-day notice is constructive. Click To Tweet
Describe some of the things that you do with your team to help them feel they matter.
My team is a lot smaller than it was at the other company so it’s a lot easier to plan out the little antics that I take care of. When there was a lot larger group, I would try to put everyone’s birthday on a spreadsheet and things like that. That way, you could acknowledge their birthday for that day or that week.
We would have a few birthdays each month. I would go around and have everybody in the vault room sign the card and they would get a $10 to $20 gift card. It wasn’t anything major but it said to them, “We do remember that it’s your birthday. Even though you showed up for work and didn’t take the day off necessarily, it’s still important. It’s your birthday. It’s the day you’re born.”
My background is in social work so I know that things can be forgotten like birthdays, anniversaries, and all those kinds of things. You may not have a huge family presence so it’s nice for someone to acknowledge it and make a point to say, “Happy Birthday.” Even if it’s not a major gift, they’re acknowledging that they think about you and they care enough to make a point to tell you, “Happy Birthday. “
It is amazing how those little small things make such a difference.
It is. Stuff like that and holidays because this industry runs pretty much every day. There are holidays that maybe banks are closed, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t run. There are other industries that are not closed on bank holidays so we service those locations as well like retail and things like that. Because of that, we work 6 days a week, sometimes 7, depending on the contracts. There are holidays where people have to or either the day before a holiday like Thanksgiving or something. Usually, we’re only off two days a year, which are Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Of course, Easter usually, but what we’ll do is I’ll make little gift bags. It’s nice to be off on a holiday but sometimes it’s not possible so I would make little gift bags and take the time in the evening. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Have your kids help you to put together some little gift bags with snacks, chips, and candy bars, and say, “I appreciate you coming into work.”
It did involve me getting up at 4:00 in the morning to show up because routes would leave at 4:45. Your presence being there saying that I care enough to get up, come up there, bring these gift bags that I’ve made, and say, “Thank you for showing up. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being a good employee because nobody gets stoked about working on a holiday.” It made a big difference in the end.
It sounds trivial but it made a huge difference to all my employees. I never had anybody that didn’t want to necessarily be there at the company as a whole. They would tell their friends, “You should come work for my company. It’s a great place.” It helped with hiring and all those things that you have to pay for like Indeed and all these other ads that you need to run and spend thousands of dollars on.
We had to spend a lot less. Of course, the employees that I had wanted their best friends to come. Once they felt they would be successful as well because it made them either look well or not. It made a point to recommend people that were high caliber and helpful in terms of moving forward in the company. It made a big difference.
They’re proud of it. They’re proud to work for you so they want to share that. When we’re proud of something, we want to share it. That’s neat.
I don’t have a problem trying to hire now, but I have to say, “I don’t have all this work yet. You have to wait.” It continues to go even if you aren’t necessarily in that same company and you move somewhere different in the same industry. It will try to follow.
One of the things I’ve noticed as we’ve worked with some of the various armored car companies has been that there’s this mindset around, “I can’t do that. That’s not who we are.” I’m going to speculate a little bit about the kinds of people that are working for you. They’re not people whom you would call fluffy and the kinds of people that are going to maybe naturally gravitate toward doing those pleasant things, but they will like this stuff because they’re human beings and human beings want to know that the work they do matters and they’re cared for. I can’t tell you how many of your peers in the industry have said, “Our guys wouldn’t like that.” They do.
It is a male-dominant industry, specifically staff as well, but that’s not true. I’m not doing anything that someone else can’t do but you also need to have the actual care and consideration behind it. They need to see you show up with the bags. They can’t be like you went by Costco and bought a giant box of chips and dropped it off. It has to be something that you’ve put a little bit of time into yourself because that shows real, true care and concern.
If they know that you care about them, they care about their job and making sure they’re doing their job well. In this industry, you obviously are concerned about theft primarily. It’s one of the biggest issues because you’re carrying cash. I didn’t have a lot of issues with that. They knew that they were cared for.
When someone cares about you, you don’t want to disappoint them. You don’t like to do anything to jeopardize that. I would say that the incidences of things like that occurring were much lower for me because they had that moral compass right there.When someone cares about you, you don't want to disappoint them. You don't want to do anything to jeopardize that. Click To Tweet
A lot of it is based on opportunity and if people think you care and they see you present, it makes a big difference. I’m not doing anything that someone else can’t do. I promise you. It’s not anything special. It’s just that I had little ideas to acknowledge the staff and show that the company as a whole cares about them and that we appreciate the work that they’re doing every single day.
Talk about your program too for the monthly raffle that you do.
A lot of employees are living at sometimes a livable wage depending on what state you’re in. They have a lot of expenses of their own so a lot of them couldn’t put money back into their attire. We provided the shirts and things like that, but we didn’t provide the pants. It’s simple things that you don’t think about. We just started a monthly raffle.
We put everybody’s name in the basket and then every single month, we would pull a name out. They would win whichever they chose like a tactical type belt, a tactical type book bag so they could carry some of their items like lunch or things like that, or a tactical pair of pants. Those things made them feel better. It was not a huge expense. We might spend $30 or $40 a month. That’s nothing.
Everybody was so excited about the raffle. If I waited until the second of the month, I was getting text messages like, “When is the raffle? Did I miss the raffle?” We send a mass email out like, “This is who won this month. Let me know what you chose.” People get excited about it. It’s something so simple and inexpensive but it made such a huge impact. It improved their appearance as well. They didn’t have the money all the time to buy a new belt or a new pair of pants, so it added value across the board.
You look more professional as an organization too.
It’s a win-win for everybody.
I always think that’s so interesting when a company doesn’t provide the uniform or expects the people to pay for it because it’s an extra expense that people don’t necessarily have that money.
With the pants situation, I know this is going to sound strange, but not every pair of pants fits every human. People will say, “Which one do you want?”
In your earlier days of this, as a social worker, this is a little bit more ingrained in you. What was your process for thinking through some of these? How did you come up with some of these ideas?
I feel like inherently as a social worker and as a human, you want to know that someone cares. You want someone to acknowledge that it’s important, at least for me, that it’s your birthday. It’s something simple. Take an extra 5 to 10 minutes to talk to one specific employee. Not about anything they’ve done wrong but ask them how their day was and how was their weekend. It’s simple things like that and then, get to know them a little bit.
I noticed a pattern where the more I did that and interacted specifically one-on-one at times, the more open they seemed to be. A lot of times on route, things will come up quickly and you need someone to go back or go off route to handle an emergency. They were so much more willing to do that. There’s no pushback at all. They’re so much more willing if I took the extra five minutes to talk to them and see how their week was.
It started to build a different type of relationship. It takes a little more of your time, but in the end, it doesn’t really because there’s so much quicker to respond when I need them to do something. That’s how it started to morph. I noticed changes in their efficiency and their willingness to be a team player. There wasn’t so much of a divide. When I’d originally gotten there, there was a huge divide between the vault room staff and the route staff.
It was almost like they were not necessarily against each other but it felt like they were two separate units. That’s not how it is. They work hand in hand. If they’re one whole team, it works so much better. It’s so much more efficient. I started trying to put things in place to make everyone feel like one whole team.
Once I started noticing things like that, it made a big difference. It started morphing and I started thinking of creative things like, “Let me write down everybody’s birthday.” It takes 10 minutes out of my whole day and 3 times a month maybe to say, “Sign this card.” Their vault room is there and I’ll say, “Take this card to the vault room and have them sign it.” Nothing major but it made a big difference. I started piecing things together and I noticed there was some staff that looked like they had been in the same uniform for quite some time and they were starting to deteriorate a little bit.
I understand that financially, not everybody is in the same place. As a social worker, I saw a lot of poverty. I knew that was not an expense they could budget at that time so we came up with this little idea. I was like, “Let’s try a raffle and see.” Everybody could use the help and it’s fun to win. It’s fun to get a little prize once a month. It wasn’t going to cost the company a lot of money, but it was something that made a huge impact for little expense.
For organizations and leaders, instead of doing an exit interview and figuring out why someone left, we recommend a stay interview where you ask them why they stay. In this case, you were almost observing a little bit more about what would make their days better. A methodology around it too is asking people why they stay and what else could be done to improve their environment.
I know in some of the armored car companies, it’s basic things like you can’t roll down a window in these armored cars because if so, you’re now risking the life of the driver and potentially being robbed. How necessary air conditioning is and some of those things, you’ve got to sit in the car now and then think too. Is that something you’ve done?
Will you go on route with them?
Yes. I’ve been on route multiple times because you need to understand what they’re doing every single day, what they’re seeing on a day-to-day basis, and how they’re feeling. There was a company that is no longer existent that was notorious for not having air in their vehicles. It would break all the time. I had a lot of staff try to come from that company to mine because I would never intentionally send someone out with no air. That’s crazy, especially in Georgia. it’s hot here. It’s important to understand whether you need to go on route or not.
You have to go on route. If you’ve never been there, you don’t understand. It’s important to see how the check-in process works because if you understand how it works, you can understand if they come to you and say, “This is an issue. Can we do this instead to help my day go better and to help things run more efficiently?” Because you’ve been there and you understand what they’re talking about, then you can say, “That’s a great idea.” I always encourage my staff, “If you have an idea that would make things run more efficiently and improve accuracy, please let me know. I’m happy to make changes and do things like that.”
My willingness to be open to that also helped because I didn’t do every job every day. If they had ideas, I’d be like, “Bring it to me. Let me know. I’m happy to hear ideas.” It’s crucial that every owner has to go on route. It’s important. You have to understand and you don’t want to be in a van with no air. They even have the window down. It’s hot in Georgia.
I was so sad when I saw that. I read a bunch of Glassdoor reviews in the armored car industry before the speaking engagement back in May 2022 and I couldn’t believe some of the things I read abound what people had gone through. What would be some advice that you would give your fellow peers outside of this conversation? Is there anything else you would like to share with them abound how they could maybe improve their employee experience?
I would suggest that they try something small like the birthday thing or the raffle if they don’t already offer the entire uniform. Even if they do, most of the time, they don’t offer the belt. It’s simple things like that or a clear book bag or a new hat. It makes a big difference. It’s such a small expense. If there’s a holiday coming, have some of your staff help you make gift bags, not just buy the box of chips at Costco.
Put them together in the little brown bag or put some stickers on them or something. Kids love stuff like that. I usually find some children to help. I know it sounds silly but little things like that make a big difference and then show up when they’re giving those bags out. To see your face is huge. At the company I was at, I was managing but I wasn’t the owner and a lot of them didn’t even know what the owner looked like. That’s important. They need to know what you look like. They need to see you and ask them how their day is going or ask them how their weekend went. I promise it only takes a few minutes out of your day but it will have such a huge impact.
That’s wonderful. Rachel, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for sharing some of your amazing tips. We hope that you continue to grow and add more and more staff. Thank you for joining me.
About Rachel Johnson
Rachel Johnson is the founder and CEO of Trek Armored Group, Inc, a small independent armored car company in the metro Atlanta area. With over 10 years of experience in the day to day operations of a small armored car company, she started her own independent company in 2019. Her passion for the significance of the employer/employee relationship was driven by her previous education and experience as a licensed clinical social worker. She has created and implemented specific practices that have allowed her to maintain trained staff even through the most difficult of times of employee retention, loyalty, and workforce resiliency. Currently managing 3 companies as a serial entrepreneur, she believes that truly caring for your employees is always a good return on your investment and will offer more freedom for growth as a company.