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Workers wanted

From Long Island, N.Y., to the Rogue Valley, America's online and catalog retailers have a common concern when it comes to call center staffing — finding enough help.

Jim McCann, CEO of 1-800Flowers.com, and Harry & David CEO Craig Johnson say their marketing staffs have discussed innumerable possibilities in the wake of the New York firm's $142.5 million acquisition of the Medford gourmet food and gift retailer.

"We're struggling to get enough people because our business is growing," McCann said Monday afternoon. "The good news is our business is growing. The challenge, whenever your business is growing, is getting the right people. I've never heard anyone say it's just so easy to get the people you want. Our facilities all around the country are saying the same thing; I don't understand it."

Johnson said Harry & David's hiring will be up this fall, but the company faces a shortage of available labor.

"When it comes to hiring, marketing and having inventory positioned, it's all hands on deck," Johnson said. "It's sort of confusing. We have a high unemployment rate, yet the candidate flow is less. There's more competition in the valley and more challenges this year than historically with folks getting through drug testing and drug screening."

Neither McCann nor Johnson addressed exactly how they would overcome the dearth of talent.

"You go where there's good labor," McCann said. "Where people are reliable and come back to you every holiday season. That's an important ingredient, where people say, 'I can't work year-round, but I can work every holiday at Harry & David and develop a skill set and come back every year, and plan my life around it.' You never want to walk away from those entrenched capabilities."

McCann indicated long-term employment will likely increase.

"Clearly, if your business grows, you have to increase your head count, and our intention here is to grow the business," he said.

Given that 1-800-Flowers has developed its own call-center model over the years, there has been some angst over what it means both on the Harry & David campus and community at large.

Call center operations, McCann said, are a mix of art and science developed over time.

"We've both been at this for a long time," McCann said. "We all have different ideas on how to make it better, how to tune it, how to tweak it, and to meld them together. What Craig and his team have demonstrated is how to do it and how to do it right. It's a lot like seeing sausage being made: You really don't want to. How you ramp up for the holiday period time, how you get people in and trained effectively and how you keep them engaged throughout the year. Let's face it, Craig's people aren't quite as busy at Valentine's Day or Mother's Day as we are, so there are opportunities to share the load and cross-train."

McCann long had his eye on Harry & David and made it clear he expects the company to continue on its upward trajectory.

"The reason why we got more interested this time and the reason we're so excited about merging these companies is that the company has been fixed by a talented management team," McCann said. 

"It's not like it was in the past when we would say, 'Are we up to this task? Are we up to cleaning this whole thing up and righting this ship?' That's already been done and that's what made it palatable for us. The recession punched us in the nose and clearly had an impact on Harry & David. We're both doing much better now."

McCann said the Wall Street response to the deal has been universally positive.

"You've had a good disciplined approach, stuck to your guns, told us what you were going to do, you did what you said you were going to do — this makes all the sense in the world," he said. I don't think I've heard from a Wall Street analyst, banker or investor that said anything other than 'this makes sense.' "

There are plenty of components making Harry & David attractive, he said.

"When you own something called 'Fruit of the Month Club,' who is better at that than Harry & David?" McCann asked. "We've been trying to learn from them for the last 20 years, how we could do it better. Now we get to sit across the same table and have that dialogue face-to-face."

Although it will continue to find alternative revenue streams for spring and summer, Harry & David will rely on holiday revenue to assure its profitability for years to come.

"We've had a lot of discussion about potential strategic growth initiatives that are category related, incremental-customer related, geographically related," Johnson said. "Interestingly enough, as we started to visit with the 1-800 team, they have a lot of expertise and have some momentum in some of these areas. If we start out from ground zero on some of these initiatives, it takes you a while. But because of the expertise and some of the traction 1-800 has, we'll be able to move quickly on the initiatives."

"This is a good thing for the company," he said. "For once, we have an owner that really understands the business — for once, owners and a team of owners really similar to us and how we act."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

1-800-Flowers.com Inc. CEO Jim McCann meets with the media during a visit to Harry & David on Monday.1-800-Flowers.com purchased the Medford firm for $142.5 million in cash in September. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell