Up to the Challenge?

PoshTots: Attracting Top Talent

Karen Booth Adams has grown online children's furniture retailer PoshTots to $6 million in sales and now faces the challenge of luring top-shelf software developers to Richmond, Virginia, if she is to reach the next rung on her growth ladder: $10 million. "We need people with large e-commerce company expertise, and there aren't a lot of e-commerce companies here to pull resources from," says Adams, 36, who co-founded the company with Andrea Edmunds, 38, in 2000.

PoshTots' talent challenge is especially pressing because Adams plans to expand into web publishing. "There are lots of content-oriented companies in New York City and other [large] cities," she says. "But there aren't a lot of people with experience in online ad sales and e-content here."

Experts and experienced entrepreneurs agree that PoshTots must look beyond Richmond for its talent, and that the keys to doing so effectively are within the company's grasp. Step one is to decide what it is about PoshTots' culture or history that would make a sought-after programmer want to work there, says Jeffrey Davis, chairman and founder of Needham, Massachusetts-based small-business consulting firm Mage LLC.

"All businesses that grow have a story," Davis says. "The more powerful the story, the more it draws people into the organization, because they feel a kinship between themselves and the organization." PoshTots should use its website to express that culture and lure employees as well as customers, he adds, noting that the website lacks information about what it's like to work there and doesn't have a "Careers" page listing employment opportunities.

Mark LeBlanc, a La Jolla, California, small-business consultant, says Adams should try to think about what type of skilled technologist might be lured to her company from a rival in a bigger tech center. In addition to job-related skills, LeBlanc says she should look for people who have attitudes that could make working in an environment such as Richmond highly attractive. For example, a big-city technologist who grew up in a small town might like the idea of a less expensive, slower-paced lifestyle. "When you're creating ads and postings, home in on the attitudes and environmental triggers," LeBlanc says. "That's how you attract the right people."

In the mirror might be the best place to look for PoshTots' assets, says Steven Pribramsky, managing partner at Key West, Florida, accounting and business consulting firm Pribramsky & Zuelch. While he recommends hiring a professional recruiter, he says that whoever does the recruiting should be tasked only with identifying candidates--the rest should be left to Adams.

That's because, in an entrepreneurial company led by a dynamic CEO such as Adams, the co-founder's personality will inevitably put its stamp on the firm's culture. "Whoever comes to work for PoshTots is coming to work for her," Pribramsky says. "She's probably the best marketing piece in the place."

Adding a career page to PoshTots' site is on Adams' to-do list. She likes the idea of looking for new hires who match big-time skills with small-town origins. "A lot of times, if they are willing to move to Richmond, that is their background," she agrees. As for taking a personal hand in hiring, that's a foregone conclusion, given that Adams began her career as a recruiter: "I do all the final interviews with everybody we hire."

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This article was originally published in the February 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Up to the Challenge?.

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