Seasonal hiring could prove tricky this year

Gary Rousseau, of the Village of Country Club Hills, is a seasonal worker at Village Cycles in Brownwood. The National Retail Federation is expecting retailers to hire 500,000 to 665,000 season employees.

The holiday hiring season is here, and it might not be a piece of cake.

For almost two years, stores have been under tremendous stresses caused by the pandemic. Even so, the National Retail Federation expects this year's shopping season to be bigger than ever, and that retailers will hire between 500,000 and 665,000 seasonal workers to help out, up from 486,000 in 2020.

However, the nation isn't out of the woods yet when it comes to labor shortages. It's another potential hurdle for retailers who are already facing supply chain issues.

While people may think more about big box stores when they hear about "seasonal hiring," small businesses also need extra hands around this time of year.

The holiday shopping season is always important, and it's even more important in 2021, said Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research at the Florida Chamber Foundation.

It's also important for job numbers, he said.

"Remember that 60% of all net new jobs in Florida are created by businesses of less than 100 employees," Parrish said.

Village Cycles in Brownwood has two seasonal employees who come in annually to lend a hand.

"They're a great help and wonderful to be able to put back in this time of year," said Mark Hall, one of the store's owners.

However, Villages Cycle's high-demand season doesn't match the holidays, not exactly anyway. For them it's more about when snowbirds return.

"We fluctuate in our demand," Hall said. "We've got folks that go away up North and come back, and of course new residents are important as well.”

Having two extra pairs of hands from October to Easter is important for them.

"It's a lot harder if I don't have enough staff," Hall said.

While Hall isn't doing any additional hiring, Lynn Ricciardi, owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes at La Plaza Grande, began her preparations get some extra help at the beginning of November.

"With holidays people do so many more gatherings and they do so much gift giving, and we fall into both of those," Ricciardi said. "When you gather you eat, when you give gifts you give food, and we have wonderful products.”

They could definitely use some extra hands around November and December, she said.

Hiring may be easier said than done though.

"It's difficult hiring for almost any kind of position right now in Florida," Parrish said.

While Florida's numbers have been looking better recently, the last two years or so have had significant highs and lows when it comes to hiring.

The Shoe Biz locations in Lady Lake and Brownwood have never really done seasonal hiring, but, since COVID, they've seen a marked reduction in staff.

Before the pandemic, they had 26 employees between the two stores.

Right now, there's about 14.

In response, they've had to reduce their hours, focusing on when they're busiest.

"We've learned to do a lot more with a lot less," said Brian Rausch, who owns both stores.

They haven't seen anyone come in looking for a job for six months, he said. And, if someone came in to fill out an application, they would have to think twice about it because of payroll and the harder hours needed right now, Rausch said.

Stores are also under extra stress because of supply chain issues, which are unlikely to end any time soon.

"Our challenge is of course not just to keep up with the demand, we always want to offer the best products and services," Hall said, "but the additional challenge is product availability and the ability to track down what's coming in, what's being forecast, when are they coming in. The greatest challenge is getting it. It's happening, we're getting bikes in that we ordered, but they were ordered 10 months ago.”

If people can't get the extra help they need, they will have to turn down orders, or work themselves and their workers even more overtime, Parrish said.

"That's the typical ways that business react," he said. "Longer hours, turning down work. We're seeing that in some of the trades and contracting, those kinds of things.”

Ricciardi wasn't worried though. She hasn't had any hiring issues so far, and, by mid-November, she pulled a few people in.

And there's always Plan B.

"We all work more hours I guess," Ricciardi said.

Specialty Editor Leah Schwarting can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5375, or leah.schwarting@thevillagesmedia.com.