[Podcast] Best of FDE | Michele Massaro – COO at Abacus: Strategies for Growth and Leadership in Staffing

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Show notes

This week Kortney Harmon, is diving into the “Best of FDE” series with an impactful conversation featuring Michele Massaro, the Chief Operating Officer at Abacus Corporation. In this episode, we explore a wide range of topics including creative scheduling solutions to engage an underutilized workforce, the distinction between survival and scaling mindsets in business, and the critical factors for growing a staffing company. Michele shares her expertise on staying relevant to customers, retaining core talent, and the significance of technological transformation.

We’ll also touch on the importance of maintaining personal relationships with clients, the evolving landscape of talent acquisition, and the unique challenges posed by the current labor market. Whether it’s adapting to changing state legislation, managing overhead costs, or leveraging direct hire initiatives, this episode is packed with actionable strategies to help your staffing business thrive.

Follow Michele Massaro on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michele-massaro-51ba686/
Follow Crelate on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/crelate/


Kortney Harmon [00:00:00]:
Welcome to the full desk experience, your ultimate resource for insights and expertise in the staffing and recruiting industry. I’m your host, Kortney Harmon and I am thrilled to introduce our special best of episodes series. In this curated collection, we’re revisiting the most impactful and thought provoking conversations from our archives. Whether you’re a seasoned listener or new to our community, these episodes offered invaluable knowledge and inspiration for professionals in the talent industry. Join us on this journey through the full desk experience. Greatest hits every episode promises to deliver actionable advice, fresh perspectives and the latest trends and staffing and recruiting. Get ready to rediscover or experience for the first time the conversations that have made a lasting impact on our listeners and the industry at large. Tune in weekly as we unlock treasures from our podcast vault and bring them to you, our valued audience.

Kortney Harmon [00:01:00]:
Enjoy. Hi, I’m Kortney Harmon, director of industry relations at Crelate. This is the industry spotlight, a series of the full desk Experience, a Crelate original podcast. In this series, we will talk with top leaders and influencers who are shaping the talent industry, shining a light on popular trends, the latest news and the stories that laid the groundwork for their success. Welcome back to another episode of the full Desk Experience. Industry Spotlight welcome back to another episode of the full Desk experience industry Spotlight. I’m your host, Kortney Harmon and today we’re shining the spotlight on Michelle Massaro, chief operating officer at Abacus Corporation, a leading organization in the staff augmentation solutions arena. With over 30 years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry, Michelle really brings a wealth of knowledge and innovation and perspective.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:00]:
As COO of Abacus, she oversees strategy and operations for a 75 plus, nearly 80 year old organization. And Michelle has really, truly guided through rapid change market conditions, evolving their service offerings and focusing on sustainable workforce solutions for clients. Prior to her current role, Michelle served as chief strategy officer and vice president. Before joining over 16 years ago, Michelle really gained key insights into the industry as vice president of Caliper. Is that correct?

Michele Massaro [00:02:35]:
That is correct. Yep, yep.

Kortney Harmon [00:02:36]:
Amazing. So in our conversation today, Michelle is going to share her approach to leadership during challenging times, shifting markets and decisions now with what they’re experiencing, strategies for scaling, and what the future of our industry might look like. So with decades of experience under her belt, Michelle has a unique viewpoint on the past, present and future of staffing and recruiting. So I’m looking forward to sharing her with you and really providing inspiring information and discussion about the perspective through disruptive change and putting people first. So please join me in welcoming Michelle to the full desk experience. So thank you so much for joining us, Michelle, give our listeners a deep dive into you, and we’ll go through your organization next.

Michele Massaro [00:03:24]:
Okay. Well, it’s great to see you again, Kortney. It was kind of fun meeting you back at ASA. Right. So that’s how we met this staffing world convention. That was really cool. So, yeah, I’ve been in staffing for over 30 years, and we have a new hire program that we set up with our new staff members. They talk about how you get into staffing, right.

Michele Massaro [00:03:41]:
So I think many people don’t say, I’m gonna join the staffing industry. I think you kind of find your way into it, and I found my way into it. I was a job seeker 30 years ago, and I know I shared that story with you. I was looking for a job, had just relocated out. I was living, born and raised in Philadelphia, moved down to Virginia, and was looking for a job. And, you know, back then, it was before Internet, and, you know, you found a job through the classified section of the newspaper. Right. So I went into the newspaper, went through, was looking for a job.

Michele Massaro [00:04:11]:
I had done payroll with a company in Philadelphia. So I was looking under the p’s, right? That’s where you started. Nothing under payroll, but I saw something under personnel. Assistant thought, well, it’s got to be related to something with people. So I called the number. It was a staffing company, temporary help company, as it was known at the time, called, and I was told that the position was filled, and the person hung up on me. And so I was kind of fascinated by that. I’m like, well, if you’re a staffing company or temporary help company, wouldn’t you need people like me to call in and look for a job? So I went down to that company and walked in and asked why they didn’t consider, you know, inviting me in, right, to apply for a job at that time.

Michele Massaro [00:04:49]:
And I was told the position was filled. We had a little conversation. Her boss overheard the discussion, and I got a job. And that was the front desk coordinator and staffing company 32 years ago. So that’s how I got started and have recognized and touched just about every role, from being a recruiter and staffing coordinator to developing sales and business, new business, to even really the back office. Right. Learning a lot about the financial and workers comp and risk and safety and all of that. So kind of taking all that experience.

Michele Massaro [00:05:18]:
I was with Caliper for about 15 years, and then I came over here to Abacus, and it’s not abascus or abacus. It is abacuse.

Kortney Harmon [00:05:29]:
Thank you for the clarification.

Michele Massaro [00:05:31]:
It is. I mean, I said, don’t ask me why, but that’s what we’re very proud of, that we are. We’ll be 80 net celebrate our 80th year in continuous operation in 2024. Same family has owned us, which has been pretty impressive and cool. Fourth generation coming up. So that’s been very interesting to see that dynamic. And I’ve always worked for family owned businesses, and I just can’t imagine being in a different environment. You know, I appreciate certainly a lot of the colleagues I’ve met over the years that work for larger, you know, corporate organizations, global organizations.

Michele Massaro [00:06:04]:
But I think there’s nothing that replaces the kind of freedom and flexibility of a family owned company. So that’s who I am. And again, started, as you mentioned, in sales and as a strategic client’s relationship or strategic relationship manager, which essentially sales and business development heavily leaned on my operations experience, too, when I came to the company, because at that point we were basically a mid atlantic regional staffing provider and quickly ramped and we ramped in an interesting time. You talk about the economy today. So I came here in 2008. 2008 was not the best time in the economy, but we were able to, and I cried a lot to our leadership and ownership at the time was be very flexible and be very aggressive to go out there and try to pursue different markets that while the economy was not great, there were certain industries that were still needed people. Right. So we were able to kind of jump into them and grew very quickly.

Michele Massaro [00:07:00]:
And in the 16 years, we’ve grown from just mid Atlantic to considered a national staffing provider. And we’re in 23 states today in about 40 markets, so have grown considerably, and that’s kind of who we are and who I am.

Kortney Harmon [00:07:14]:
How many offices in the 23 states today?

Michele Massaro [00:07:17]:
I think we have like 32 operations across the states. 23 states? Yeah. Some multiple brick and mortar operations, some that are kind of recruiting hubs where we might work with a shared, at a shared client location. So it’s a little bit of both. But staff members we have, we put out about 27,000 w two s a year and have about 200 staff members. Yeah.

Kortney Harmon [00:07:40]:
That’s amazing. Talk to me about the industries that you serve. I know that’s very vast, but talk to me about what specifically you serve and what audience you speak to.

Michele Massaro [00:07:48]:
Yeah. So abacus has done a little bit of everything, right. So we were kind of known as that general staffing, kind of redefine ourselves as we need to, as we talk about pivoting. Right. Quickly started heavily in the light industrial space. Did a lot of work with e commerce customers, but before even e commerce, just the warehousing and distribution world. Right. Did a lot of things.

Michele Massaro [00:08:08]:
In fact, we were way back in the day, our chairman, he had worked with FiLA, the shoe company from Italy, to bring the Fila distribution centers here to Baltimore. So he got involved in that. And at that time, we were just really providing security. And, you know, it’s like, well, if we’re staffing for security, why can’t we staff for warehouse workers? So we started staffing in that warehouse environment. Got really kind of a reputation for that, but we also do a lot of work in the public sector space. We have contracts with different municipalities, some statewide contracts, too. And those contracts have us recruiting kind of across classifications. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:08:42]:
We do everything from an administrative to some skilled positions, maintenance technicians to even accounting and finance positions. So that’s kind of really taken us all over the place. And then probably about, I guess about ten years ago, we got into the medical staffing arena with some public sector opportunities and then really heated up during COVID we had a lot of business, not only clinical business, but also non clinical support business for the COVID initiatives that were out there. So it’s kind of how we’ve support. And still today, light industrial and manufacturing is growing for us as well.

Kortney Harmon [00:09:20]:
I’d love to hear that. And I’m sure we’re going to get into probably a little bit deeper into the discussions on what’s growing, how you’re changing. You said pivot prior to this conversation, and I think even this conversation that we’ve started to have is a little bit different than what we had just a few weeks ago at staffing World to a smidge. And it’s a fast environment and it’s really about adjusting. How are we changing? How are we growing? What are we learning? So with that being said, I know as we had the conversation, I think some themes that I heard or I have been hearing over the last few weeks post staffing world is really a few things I’ve heard. Sales is something that we probably just aren’t beefed up on enough because it’s not a muscle that we’ve had to use. I’ve been hearing this for the last. We haven’t had to use it.

Kortney Harmon [00:10:06]:
So it’s a use it or lose it, you have to build up that muscle again. But I’ve also been hearing something about a talent gap as we say that, but it’s really like boomers are retiring in record numbers and generational, we have people that are thinking of gig or fractional work, or it’s being creative for our clients to offer different help whenever. That talent gap is probably only going to get bigger as we go through this, because the jobs report shows that there’s just not enough people for the amount of jobs that we have open today. So with that being said, what are you seeing within your sectors and the markets that you guys serve today? Are you any of those things or completely different?

Michele Massaro [00:10:41]:
Well, no. I think you hit on sales, right. At ASA, we saw a lot of focus. They had a lot of different sessions running. The most highly attended sessions were sales related. Right. Because. And I think you’re right, you know, in hindsight, and, you know, it’s always 2020 when.

Michele Massaro [00:10:55]:
And in 2020, when everybody, there was such a shortage of labor that, you know, we never stopped. I never shut an office down unless I had to because there was some sort of mandate to do it. But we continued to operate at a really rigorous pace and primarily for the e commerce business. Right. Because all you had all these different, you know, it’s kind of the perfect storm, as they say, or you had people staying at home, but they were not feeling a financial impact of that because there was a lot of, you know, disposable revenue coming in different directions for people. And so the appetite to spend was there at a rate that we hadn’t seen in a few years. And then you had facilities that people were sick. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:11:32]:
Whatever you thought, there were people that were really affected by it. So we were so busy and kind of the pillar of how we built our business. We were 100% organic growth. So we’re not a company that has grown through acquisition or mergers or anything like that. So our strategy has been to really focus on the needs of the key customers. We had labor shortages were so substantial that we had to really focus on got to get. We can’t have 50 different customers. We have to have five customers that we focus on to get them the head count that they need to sustain with retention and to really keep the operation going for them.

Michele Massaro [00:12:10]:
So at one point, I mean, I’ll be honest, in one of our sales meetings, I think it was said, like, stop selling, guys, because we have to service these customers. And, of course, again, if at that time we would have signed up that 30 other customers are begging for people, we would probably be in a better position than we are today because we’d have maybe 50% of the volume. But with 30 more customers, you really had to look at that and say, we should assign some of those. Some maybe not, but should have signed up more customers, should have been a little more aggressive on the sales side of things. And really, I know, at least for us, we felt coming off of 21, it was our biggest year volume wise in the company’s history. We were a little slow because we came onto a strong 2022, and then all of a sudden it really started to drop. Right. And by probably June of 2022, I had many conversations with our CFO and our owners and said the question was, hey, Michelle, is it coming back around? I’m like, yeah, I don’t think so.

Michele Massaro [00:13:12]:
I think we’re really, we have to pivot here quickly. And so what we did at that point was look at the talent pool that we had, recognize that some of the business, the industries that we were really focused on were not going to come back around. Right. They were continuing to hold off and making the hiring decisions. Typically when you’re dealing with e commerce customers, you’re starting to have conversations about peaks in like June and July. We’re not having the same conversations. So we really said, let’s look at the skill sets that we have and in industrial space, but in other areas, too. And let’s try to find ways to redeploy this talent in other industries.

Michele Massaro [00:13:48]:
And so that’s when we start really leaning on manufacturing. We had touched more manufacturing during COVID We had a lot of indirect support with some of our warehouse customers, but we started to build some direct relationships there and focus on healthcare, manufacturing, and some other key areas that weren’t a little bit more resilient to a little more recession proof, I guess. And the other thing too is public sector work. We saw a drive a lot of public sector organizations, whether it’s statewide organizations or local organizations, they were trying to bring people back into the workforce, coming back to the office, and they didn’t want to come back. And so they’re left to kind of a gap of talent. We were able to kind of capitalize on that and fill a lot of those voids of people that just were not coming back into the workforce to the physical places. So that’s how we kind of pivot it in strategy. But it’s definitely been different, right? This has been a very different year.

Michele Massaro [00:14:42]:
Last time I think I experienced this was probably about 2007 eight period. So it’s been a while.

Kortney Harmon [00:14:48]:
How is this one different than it was in 2008?

Michele Massaro [00:14:52]:
So I think what’s different is that we’re all kind of, like, stuck, right. So you talk about talent gap, right. There’s still more jobs than people. Right. And people are. And especially when you’re talking again, because I said we’ve advanced our talent base to be some skilled positions, even getting into, like, manufacturing, high end manufacturing positions. There’s a reluctance to leave a job for another job because it’s kind of the devil, you know, versus the devil you don’t. So it’s harder to attract people.

Michele Massaro [00:15:22]:
And so when you’re trying to recruit, you’ve got that reluctance to, you know, I’m going to hang here because I know what I’m in right now may not be the best, but at least I have some stability. If I move to another company and something changes, then I might be out of a job. Right. And it may take me a long time to get back to my kind of financial compensation goals. So it’s complicated from that perspective. And then I think you hit another side. The labor gap is still so significant. In 2007, when stuff started going south, you started to see a large, you know, an increasing unemployment rate.

Michele Massaro [00:15:55]:
You know, the labor pool was starting to loosen up a lot more quickly. But we’re not seeing that. And I think that that’s really unusual. So, you know, when you get an order now or you get 100 orders, whatever that is, you know, the talent pool is not readily available, and then you’re trying to pull people that may be passively looking for a job or reluctantly looking for a job because of, you know, they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, I guess. Does that make sense?

Kortney Harmon [00:16:18]:
That makes complete sense. A lot of the conversations, and I don’t. Were you at thrive or.

Michele Massaro [00:16:22]:
No, I did not make thrive. I wish I would have. Next year I’ll be at thrive for sure. Yeah, next year. I’ll see you there next year.

Kortney Harmon [00:16:28]:
I’ll remind you to get your ticket. Remind me that one of the conversations that they had at mom’s first discussion, and I know this is just, we’re pulling into a different pool of workers because the whole concept of working is not conducive for those mothers that have children, because our workday is eight to five, our children’s work days are nine to three. Right, right. There were some people, and I guess I’m just throwing this out there of maybe what your thoughts are. Have you come up with any creative solutions for your clients of, hey, maybe we change a shift or maybe we go to a different, you know, dynamic for, let’s bring in moms it’s a nine to two shift or a. Are you doing anything creatively with like, and you mentioned pivoting. Are you doing anything creatively with your clients today to maybe give good insight as a consultant, to say you’re going to get different talent if you do this 100%.

Michele Massaro [00:17:18]:
And it’s funny, you know, we’ve talked a lot about the kind of the under utilized workforce, the people that want a job, they need a job, but figuring out how to prioritize a job with their own work life balance is pretty tough. Right. And that’s whether it’s moms or it’s just. There’s just a whole different way of thinking about work. Right. So even before this, you know, when we started to see opportunities, probably, I’d say, you know, in the last five or six years, as labor markets start to tighten up. Right. Even before COVID you were seeing, you know, it’s definitely a tightening labor market, and you’re seeing wages, you know, increase at a pretty fair pace year over year, looking at whatever that underutilized community is.

Michele Massaro [00:18:00]:
And it can be moms we’ve worked with, certainly organizations that support people with disabilities, helping them to find jobs, and had a great example, one of my customers up in Pennsylvania where, you know, it’s a production line. So the production line, there’s a number of pieces that have to go out every single day. And, you know, as long as it’s a predictable amount flow, we were able to work with an organization to bring folks in that, you know, didn’t necessarily could not work and could assimilate well into a primary large production environment. But if we set a production line up for this group separately with some considerations, they could be effective, and we found that that’d be a very effective solution for them and ended up having five lines that were able to operate at a different pace. But it worked. And we had some job coaches and it kind of came together nicely. And then, of course, when you talk about people that have life issues that outweigh their ability to work, a schedule is setting up part time schedules, right? If I have to send product out or I have to manufacture in certain environments, it will work. Or if job sharing, job sharing has been great in the administrative side of things where you can have two part time people that can work a 2025 hours shift and just share the job.

Michele Massaro [00:19:10]:
So I think they’re the creative strategies that have happened. You know, started a few years ago, but now you have to be able to adapt that, and it’s educating your customers. It doesn’t matter. As long as you have two talented people that can handle the same shift, why not do that? Right. And I think it also puts, takes pressure off. You know, sometimes, you know, having to have worry about things like overtime or working people too many hours, because now you’ve got more than one person that can assume that responsibility. So they’re great strategies to engage, for sure.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:40]:
I love that. I love that. I know a lot of the conversations I hear, obviously, is, you know, you hear the, we’ll just survive till 25. But then there’s all the other people that look at this maybe a smidge differently. They look at if I’m going to grow, now’s my time to scale. Now’s my time to grow. So you have like two different mindsets. So for those people that are, like, really in the idea for growing and scaling during this economy, so when it comes out, there are leaps and bounds ahead of people.

Kortney Harmon [00:20:06]:
I want to kind of talk about growth and you being where you’ve been, you have some great insights. So in your experience, what are the most important factors to consider when maybe looking to grow or scale your staffing company?

Michele Massaro [00:20:22]:
Well, I mean, I think, look, I mean, sales, obviously, right? You know, keeping that beat. And I think you said nicely that the kind of the memory muscle of being able to go out there and have conversations. You want to be a resource, right? You want to be a solution for your clients. So it’s okay to talk to a client today that may be saying, I might be laying more people off. Right. And maybe the conversation has to be, well, if you’re laying people off, let us help you work to perhaps reassign these people other locations or just help them with some out placement services. Right. So developing some strategies to respond to your customers who may not have needs today, but still being a relevant solutions provider to them.

Michele Massaro [00:21:01]:
I have a lot of customers that talk to me like, oh, we’re going to hold off on contingent labor, but we’re looking to hire maybe some more people direct, coming up with a direct hiring solution for them that’s different than traditional headhunting where you got to charge a 25% fee. Maybe you do something different. Right. You find a solution for them that will fit a, what they’re experiencing today so that you’re still top of mind when we start to recover and the volume comes back around, because it will. We see this. Been in this industry long enough. I’ve seen cycles like this. This is my third go round.

Michele Massaro [00:21:30]:
So I think it’s like every ten years, if you say, I’ve been in business for 30 years. Like every ten to twelve years, we’ve experienced these types of conditions, and it’s just staying relevant to that customer, even if it’s, hey, look, I don’t need you today, but I might be looking for. I may be looking for a wage analysis. I might be going to a new market. Can you get some data for me about what the market looks like? Get me some demographic information about what the workforce is in a certain area. And just keeping those touches in front of them, I think really helps. As far as the organization, I think you have to be mindful. We have, unfortunately, had experienced some cutbacks.

Michele Massaro [00:22:06]:
I had to cut some staff in 2022, and my biggest concern was I didn’t cut too deep into the muscle. If I started to lose too much of my talent, my core talent, that when things start to recover, I wouldn’t be able to respond quick enough. Right. And be ready to move. So what we’ve done is we’ve done things like we’ve offered, you know, a lot of ours, not a lot. The individuals that we were looking to downsize, offer them opportunities, whether we work to partner, to place them with a customer, or we’ve offered part time jobs or even just hourly. Hey, I have a guy that great. We open a branch in Louisville and open a branch.

Michele Massaro [00:22:42]:
Core customer reopened for shut down six months later. Right. So my branch manager, he said, you know, he worked retail. He’s like, I can still work my retail job, but I want to stay involved in staffing. So we’ve set him up to do some direct hire stuff for us, and he’s getting supplemental income, so he’s available when I need him. Right. So keeping that internal talent available when you need it, I think is really important. Sales don’t ever stop thinking about how to be relevant to the customer.

Michele Massaro [00:23:08]:
And, you know, it’s a good time to develop different relationships. Right. And find your value in different ways.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:14]:
It’s great. I think, like you mentioned something like, it’s not necessarily, do you need a guy? I got a guy right now.

Michele Massaro [00:23:20]:
Right, exactly.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:21]:
It can be that way. But regular touch points, a cadence of, oh, you have a board meeting, how can I help you prepare? Or, oh, you have. You need information I can get. I’m talking to these people every single day. I’d love to help you. I think people don’t necessarily look outside the box of the transactional sometimes instead of, how do I help them, like, you want them to be smarter when they talk to you, like, it’s aha. Moments. It’s light bulbs that go on.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:46]:
So it’s like, oh, I need to go call Michelle. Like something happened. I need to go call Michelle.

Michele Massaro [00:23:50]:
She’s going to give me stuff to.

Kortney Harmon [00:23:52]:
Think about that I haven’t done at this point.

Michele Massaro [00:23:54]:
And I think that’s it. Not just to call me and say, look, I love to get the phone go, hey, I need 200 people. I love that. Haven’t had many of those in the last few months. But am I attending more fundraisers for clients? One of our customers had a golf tournament and so it was a fundraiser for an organization. So we participated in that and just doing things to stay relevant. Or we have a client who’s considering opening, expanding their operations to another state. So we talked about, again, some wage analysis and I said, look, I’ll even send somebody out there to do some recruiting just to kind of feel what the conditions really are on the ground.

Michele Massaro [00:24:31]:
So those little investments keep me and the organization top of mind when, when there’s an opportunity. But I think what happens a lot of times with, especially sales people, right, because salespeople get turned on by, hey, I’m getting an order is they get a little discouraged and then the distance between contact gets long, there’s longer gaps in that. And so, you know, we really watch that. I, you know, my team is, has to report in, you know, not just new sales opportunities, but how often are you touching your existing customers, even if they have nothing to give us in terms of orders right now, what else can we do to provide value to them?

Kortney Harmon [00:25:08]:
Some of the funnest conversations about are about canning, gardening and chickens. I mean, I experienced that first.

Michele Massaro [00:25:13]:
Right? And ducks. Yeah, see, we talked about everything but technology. I love that. Oh my God, that was great.

Kortney Harmon [00:25:24]:
As you look of strategies that you’ve used over the years, is there anything besides kind of what you just said now that maybe have helped you spur growth within the organizations that you’ve worked at? Anything come to mind?

Michele Massaro [00:25:36]:
I mean, I just think being super flexible. Right. So, you know, recognizing that your opportunity doesn’t come in one form. Right. It’s not, as you mentioned, transactional. Right. It’s not just I need people, but finding ways to, to show value. And I think when you do that, that does spur growth.

Michele Massaro [00:25:53]:
One of the things that we’ve done is mentioned all of our growth has been organic and we’ve used that kind of catch line, hey, we’re going to come into a market for you, mister customer. You’re going to be our only customer for a period of three to six months, we get your operation up and running, we get to learn who you are, you get to learn about us. We’re all going to make mistakes. People are not going to show up and you’re going to be angry at times. I’m going to be there for you through all of that. And that really has developed kind of those long term relationships because, you know, it shows a level of loyalty, right. And I think that that’s a big part of sometimes what’s missed is that, you know, customers want to do business with you if they know that you’re there for all the right reasons. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:26:31]:
Not just the orders. And if we’re suffering, you know, they are, right. So they say, you know, obviously in a tough environment, staffing’s the first one is a leading indicator that when things are bad, but the good news is we are the leading indicator when things get good again, when it starts to upswing, staffing starts to really reemerge quickly. So you just need to be there for them, for your customers. And I think that helps with growth 100%.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:55]:
Absolutely. And I think when, as we get into the industries that obviously that we’re in today and we have new shiny AI AI was a big talk at staffing world. A lot of people get reliant on some of these tools sometimes and it’s like, oh, well, it’ll send them an email. Honestly, there’s nothing better sometimes than a handwritten note or a cup of coffee or those matter. And where relationships are one.

Michele Massaro [00:27:19]:
Yeah, no, it’s so funny because one of my owners, he’s great, he sends me these emails, hey, are we sending these emails out? I’m like, no, that’s not even a real person sending those emails out. This email has gone out to 7000 people and that signature has no idea that it’s gone out to those people and has no relationship with those people. Right. So I think there’s nothing that replaces the conversation. And you know, I think the other thing too when you talk about growth is what we’ve done to position ourselves is, you know, we came off of a period of time with two years where we were all doing this, we were all talking to each other virtually, right? And you know, we’ve adapted to it and it certainly works and you know, you kind of get into a different group but there’s nothing that’s better than getting in front of customers. And I’ve challenged our team really, you know, when you can, any meeting should be in person, right? Even if it’s a meeting to say sorry we’re not going to have a peak season this year, or sorry we don’t have any needs or whatever that is getting and being in person. And again, that engagement, interaction, AI is never going to replace that. I say that at least not until I’m out of the industry, then they could do what it wants.

Michele Massaro [00:28:22]:
But I could say right now, the people that we’re working with and the people that you’re interacting with are, they are motivate it by having some real engagement.

Kortney Harmon [00:28:31]:
Absolutely. Now, you said two things over the last few questions. You said, oh, gosh, okay, about having more in person interactions. But you also said having more of like, the types of calls, like, hey, it doesn’t matter. Don’t make it go too long before you call again. So my question to you, as we look at the economy we’re in today, whether it’s looking to scale, you’re looking at KPI’s and indicators every day. I know you are as an operations person, what are the KPI’s that staffing firms should be focusing on whenever they’re thinking of today’s market? Like, what are you looking at when you look at your reports every week to know if you’re good or bad? Because everybody does things differently. Some people are looking at fall off, some people are looking at new logos.

Kortney Harmon [00:29:14]:
What are the three things that you’re looking at in your reports every single week?

Michele Massaro [00:29:18]:
Well, I mean, we are looking at new logos, right? Looking. How many new clients did we sign up in any given week? That’s important. And I think it doesn’t have to be. It can be for a couple of years. It was like, oh, my gosh, how big are they? What is their revenue base now? It’s more, is this a customer that is a good paying customer? And one thing we have to be aware of in this environment, that money’s tight right now. Money is tight for staffing companies and it’s tight for our customers. Making sure that the customer is coming to you for the right reasons. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:29:49]:
I’ve had a couple, we’ve turned business away and where customers just don’t, they’re looking at a staffing company as a way to, as a funding vehicle for them. Right. To keep themselves afloat. So we’ve been very mindful of that. So looking at, you know, new logos, but with qualifiers, probably digging a little more deeply into credit history and availability. Credit ability to pay us. Right. That’s really important.

Michele Massaro [00:30:13]:
I think the other thing we look at is how do we manage our cost our overhead, our overhead to sales. We have some reports that I get on a weekly basis to make sure that we’re hitting a targeted number. And in the markets that we’re not, that’s where we need to focus. We always look at our bottom three markets every week and say, how do we need to get them back to that kind of line that we have, that we have our threshold of profitability? And what focus do we need to get there? And the focus is always to try to bring in more business to right, to get those numbers right without cutting. But if it means having to make adjustments to staff, then we have to do that. So, you know, they’re the tough discussions. We had more of those, I would say definitely in 2022, not so much in 23. We’ve kind of, I think we’re right sized for our volume today.

Michele Massaro [00:31:00]:
But we look at that and then the other piece of it is where I’m looking at my bottom three. I’m looking at my top three. And so what additional support do they need to maximize the opportunities that they have today? I do have some really nice peak volume coming in certain markets. So making sure that those markets are set up with all the tools they need to maximize on that opportunity. Right. So that’s something that we look at on a weekly basis at this point. And, you know, it used to be monthly, but I would say over the last probably three years, it’s weekly because of the dynamic, changing market that we’ve been operating in.

Kortney Harmon [00:31:31]:
I love that. And you talked about sales, you talked about being close with your market. I’m going to maybe ask a different question, because with the talent gap that we have, are you looking at redeployment? Is that something that you guys encounter with staffing opportunities? Do you look at like, okay, this person’s rolling off a project, I need to go put them somewhere else? Is that something that you guys encounter?

Michele Massaro [00:31:50]:
100%? Yeah, very, very. Retention means everything. It doesn’t just mean retention at the customer level. All of our customers use KPI’s. What is your turnover rate? What’s your retention rate? But really retaining the talent that you have, Abacus has as an organization to keep that talent working for you, because, look, the reality is you have an employee that works at one assignment for two months, another assignment for three months. You get them beyond six months. You’re increasing your profitability because a lot of your statutory costs drop dramatically at that point, and sometimes less time than that, depending on unemployment costs and all those other factors. But it also, I think, just it helps with your reputation, too.

Michele Massaro [00:32:29]:
If you are putting good people good talent, you’re able to keep them working for you. Even if it’s a variety of different clients and different assignments. That is a contagious, that’s the best marketing you have. Abacus provides me a job, not just one job, but I’ve been working with them the last two or three years and it’s impressive. That’s one thing probably you hear from other companies. Our retention rate with our contingent workforce is pretty impressive. I mean, we have people working for us, and I’ve had people move from state to state to work for us for some projects. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:33:03]:
So because they, you know, they get some benefits from us, they have some things that are going on and they know that we’re going to do everything we can to keep them working. And I think that that’s, you know, that’s important. So absolutely. If you can redeploy the right talents, it only helps with your cost model anyway. Right. So you already have the recruiting costs behind you. You keep that person, you know, that person or people working. It’s a win for everybody.

Kortney Harmon [00:33:25]:
That’s impressive for people to move states. I know I do.

Michele Massaro [00:33:28]:
Yeah, I’ve had that. So, you know I’m here in Baltimore. Right. So you’re not. You’re an hour from Pennsylvania, you’re an hour from Virginia, you’re an hour from Delaware. Right. So if you have the right project, you have the right people, they’re willing to jump and, hey, I’ll do this. I actually had a small group of people.

Michele Massaro [00:33:44]:
We do some, when you talk about deployment, we do some things. One of our service strategies is actually deploy talent to job sites. And I actually have deployed talent for a project where they’ve been part of a team and then they’ve stayed at the site and they’ve been eventually hired by the customer. So, you know, I think you have to find you would be an attractive employer. Right. And it used to be the day that back, not too long ago, but a lot of times people identified with the company she placed them at. Right. You know, I work for Backus, but I’m working for, I don’t know, Xerox or something like that.

Michele Massaro [00:34:16]:
Right. And so they define, they identify more with Xerox, but now that that’s not as important to people, it’s more about the experience they have with the actual employer that they’re working for. And that’s us, that’s the staffing company. So having that relationship with them is much more a good experience. With us is much more valuable than necessarily who they’re going to work for. Does that make sense?

Kortney Harmon [00:34:38]:
It speaks volumes. It truly does. And honestly, even if it doesn’t work out with one person, that doesn’t mean you can’t. If they’re good talent, you can’t put them somewhere else.

Michele Massaro [00:34:46]:
100%. Yeah. Yeah.

Kortney Harmon [00:34:48]:
I love it. All right, talk to me about any, or if you can share any success stories or case studies maybe that you’ve had within your organizations that you’ve worked at for growth and scale, maybe. Hey, we really focused on this initiative. At my last organization, my CEO was very big on maybe cleaning up job orders. There was an unrealistic expectation of, well, everything was a job order, but in reality it wasn’t. So we defined clarifications. What truly was an A order, time to fill, really cleaned that up. And he said that improved his business.

Kortney Harmon [00:35:21]:
Huge bottom line to his ROI, to be able to, all in all, to improve. So did you have any, like, case studies or success stories of maybe things that you guys have done for your growth and scale that really just hit home for you guys?

Michele Massaro [00:35:33]:
Well, I guess. I mean, gosh, it’s a tough question, but let me think. So I would say probably one thing that’s been really great this year, right? So. And I think I kind of touched a little bit. You know, we are a staffing company, right? So we provide contingent labor, whatever that looks like in many different forms. But when we started to see that our, you know, the volume was starting to decrease, probably last year, like I said, probably middle of last year, and more of our customers were talking about their direct hire initiatives, we found ways to kind of develop strategies, and I won’t share all my secrets there, but to develop strategies where we could be a viable resource for them to hire talent directly in the direct hire world, we know that that’s all you get. These fees that are, they go right to the bottom line. Direct hire fees go right to your bottom line.

Michele Massaro [00:36:22]:
Right. So we kind of set up a strategy on how we were going to, you know, came up with a goal, a monthly goal of how much there’s direct hire revenue that we would need to, because that’s bottom line revenue that would offset the declining sales. Right. And I’m proud of the fact that this year, eight of our months that we’ve had in the books were offset. Although the revenue volume is not the same, the bottom line revenue is pretty stable because we’re pulling in that direct, higher revenue at a more rapid clip than we ever had. I think that that’s interesting. It’s a different type of recruiting. It takes longer.

Michele Massaro [00:37:00]:
It can be a little challenging. Customers also recognize they’re looking for a very specific purple squirrel type of person. I want this person with all these skills. If they don’t fit that, then I’m not going to talk to them. But if you can work with the customer to get the right fit when a direct hire scenario and get that fee and it’s successful and all that comes together, then that really is impactful. The bottom line, and we saw that again at eight of our months in the calendar year, we were able to offset some of that volume by having more to that bottom line revenue.

Kortney Harmon [00:37:29]:
That’s amazing.

Michele Massaro [00:37:29]:
Good example.

Kortney Harmon [00:37:30]:
It’s a great example. I hear that all the time. Like the flip side. So if you’re a direct hire, they’re like, well, we’ll do contingent staffing or, you know, we’ll do. But I’m not saying you’re the only one, but you’re one of the few that have really tried to push that to be creative because you’re becoming that one stop shop for your client.

Michele Massaro [00:37:46]:

Kortney Harmon [00:37:48]:
Like you can solve it all for them.

Michele Massaro [00:37:50]:
Trying to do that, Kortney. Trying to. If I can figure that out all the way, I’d be in really good shape by now. Yeah. And I think it is, again, it’s kind of redefining who you are because, you know, sometimes customers will think, this is my direct hire program. This is my contingent labor program, and they do not cross pollinate. But I don’t think that that’s true. If you know your customer’s business, you understand their goals or operational goals.

Michele Massaro [00:38:11]:
I think you can help them in both options.

Kortney Harmon [00:38:14]:
I love it. You’re providing a solution and find a price. I love it.

Michele Massaro [00:38:18]:
If they bites, half the battle.

Kortney Harmon [00:38:21]:
Half the battle.

Michele Massaro [00:38:21]:
That’s it. That’s half the battle.

Kortney Harmon [00:38:23]:
Well, you told me some success story. What about any, like, common pitfalls, whether it’s our industry today of maybe something that you’ve tried the last six months, or maybe it’s just overall of maybe you tried to do something to scale and maybe it didn’t work. Because, let’s face it, I don’t know about you, but I learned my best lessons when something does not go right. So any pitfalls or things to watch out for that you’ve tried?

Michele Massaro [00:38:46]:
Well, I mean, I think, you know, I think. Well, so, I mean, there’s. So there’s some challenges. We start with challenges, right? So there’s some challenges to our industry. You know, talked about the ASA conference. A lot of, you know, we’re seeing a lot of state legislation that is really looking to impact contingent staffing. Right. So, you know, New Jersey has new laws that have come out that have been pretty interesting.

Michele Massaro [00:39:08]:
And Illinois and, you know, we’re starting seeing, and I think we heard it, it’s probably going to be, we’ll see more states look to regulate how we do business. And I think that that can be, that can be a challenge. It’s not necessarily pitfall. It’s just a challenge on how you have to maybe pivot your business. Right. I think our, you know, when I look at what, again, hindsight’s 2020, I think probably our biggest pitfall was not seeing what was happening as quickly as we should have in 21. Right. I think we probably could have done some things differently from a sales perspective, as I mentioned before, that I think that would have been better positioned us through 2022 and part of 23.

Michele Massaro [00:39:51]:
We’re kind of coming out of that now and definitely have learned some lessons there. I don’t think there’s anything that you have to try. Everything. Not everything’s going to work. And you have to recognize that there’s things that you have great ideas and then you’re like, oh, my gosh, that was a disaster. I’ve had that happen. I’ve talked to customers. Gosh, I mean, many stories, probably too many to tell, but, you know, where you’ve come up with an idea and say, if we do it this way, it’s going to work.

Michele Massaro [00:40:15]:
Right. Whatever that looks like, and it just ends up being a disaster. But I think to your point, if you learn about, if you learn from it and take the good parts of it away and try to redefine it, I think that that’s always important. I just don’t, you know, it’s not anything I can think of other than just, you know, not really focusing on sales as much as we should have. And that’s, but we’re behind that now. That’s all we do is talk about sales moving forward. We’re like, sales, sales, sales, sales. That’s pretty much it.

Kortney Harmon [00:40:43]:
And that’s great. And honestly, the state legislative thing is very interesting because we’re only going to, probably could see that to continue to change 100%.

Michele Massaro [00:40:50]:

Kortney Harmon [00:40:51]:
Something that we just have to keep a very close eye on.

Michele Massaro [00:40:54]:
Yeah, for sure. For sure. And I don’t, you know, I heard a lot of, you know, when I first jersey, things started coming out early this year. You know, it was like, oh, they want to get rid of staffing companies. And I think that, yeah, there’s probably an element of that, but I think there’s also that there, you know, there are staffing companies that have not always done the right thing, and I think that, that there’s always that balance. Right. You got to make sure that you’re, you know, staying compliance, and, you know, companies are utilizing for the right reasons and they’re using you for the wrong reasons. And you need to recognize that and say, this is probably not a good relationship anyway, because that’s what happens.

Michele Massaro [00:41:28]:
It’s the good companies, don’t you? They don’t say, oh, we love staffing.

Kortney Harmon [00:41:31]:

Michele Massaro [00:41:31]:
It’s, oh, go after the bad guys. And that’s what we see. A lot of that happen in our industry is not, there’s a lot of really good companies that I, you know, certainly colleagues in the industry that I think have very impressive organizations and there’s room for all of us. But when you have a few bad actors, it can certainly impact the overall business for all of us. So we have to be aware of that.

Kortney Harmon [00:41:52]:
Absolutely, 100%. And I only have two more questions. Michelle, I promise I won’t drag it out too much for you. You just talked a little bit about legislation, but, like, talk to me about how you see the future of staffing firms evolving in the coming years. Anything come to mind? Do you have any ideas?

Michele Massaro [00:42:06]:
Yeah, I mean, well, I think so. I, you know, oh, gosh, yes. I think we have to learn to adapt to things like, you know, you mentioned AI and technology and what’s happening. You know, do I think that we’ll lose all that robots are going to replace us all over the world in the next 1520 years? No, I don’t think it’s going to happen, but I do think that we need to be smart about and realistic about our business. Right. And understand that technology is redefining how our clients operate and how they engage our services. So I think we just need to be really staying on top of that. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:42:42]:
That’s for sure. I think that we’re also seeing, you know, efforts to make sure that, you know, wages, right, wages. We’ve seen wages increase. We’ve seen wages kind of go out of control. I think we need to make sure that we are fiscally responsible with our customers and, you know, what’s going out there, that we’re paying competitive wages, but we’re not paying times. I think during the COVID it was, we’re paying some abusive wages. I mean, I would sometimes pay a forklift operator, $30 an hour because that’s what it took to get them to work, you know, or her to work. And it’s just, I think we just need to be more aware of what’s going on in the world around us, certainly in our country and what’s happened more globally, that staffing is we’re always needed.

Michele Massaro [00:43:22]:
It’s just in all different forms, and I’ve seen it in many different ways over the years, but we provide a vital service and we can’t forget that.

Kortney Harmon [00:43:30]:
And it’s about adapting and pivoting.

Michele Massaro [00:43:33]:
Adapting, yeah, that’s the pivot. I told you we were talking about pivoting. This guest room pivot. Heard that word a hundred times yesterday.

Kortney Harmon [00:43:40]:
I love it. And it’s so true. And honestly, this industry has always ebbed in flow, and it will continue to do so. It will be a continual focus, and we just have to be able to adjust, so.

Michele Massaro [00:43:51]:
Right. Just adjust. That’s it.

Kortney Harmon [00:43:52]:
And it’s simple.

Michele Massaro [00:43:54]:
It is, you know, it’s not. But here’s the thing. The one thing about our industry is we all have to, if you’ve been in long enough, you know that it’s just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else is going to happen. Right. And you’re going to be like, okay, how do I adjust to this? And I think if you’re flexible, you know, you work for an organization very fortunate to have great financial backing, and we have, we’re very well established, so we can do a lot of different things and be creative and be smart and, you know, not get taken advantage of, and then you can be very successful.

Kortney Harmon [00:44:23]:
I love it. Great words of advice. Okay, so my last question, as staffing firms aim to scale their business, what’s the biggest technology challenge they face today internally with their current tech stack?

Michele Massaro [00:44:35]:
So I thought about that. Right. I think you and I met because we’re currently in that type of. So our company is that little bit of a technology renaissance. Right. So I think we have gotten to the size and scale as an organization that the technology we have in place is probably kind of bursting at. It seems to a certain extent. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:44:57]:
So looking at technology and really just how we’re going to transform the organization through technology has been top of mind priority for us. We have an internal system that has been very, very reliable for a number of years, and we see it. Look, we talk about it. The reality is we have an internal it department that all have been in the business for 30 plus years. They’re probably not going to be in business 20 years from now. And the technology that they’ve written is probably not something that younger people getting out of school even understand. Right. So you have to look at what, what is your succession strategy for technology and to stay in touch with it? And how can you, and one thing that we have been mindful, it’s been interesting because we have a highly tenured internal organization, is, as we introduce new technology, it’s not about replacing people, it’s about repurposing people.

Michele Massaro [00:45:50]:
Right. Where can we take some of these functions that they’ve been supporting? Because of whatever technology challenges or limitations we have with our current system, how can we repurpose them in meaningful ways across the organization? And, you know, our president, we’ve had this discussion many times about technology over the years, but he’s always said his goal has never been to, it’s a this or, like, bring this technology in and then I can get rid of these people. Right. This, it’s the either or. It’s how do we make it mesh with best for the organization to keep intact into internal and institutional knowledge and still make your processes improve dramatically? And so we’re looking at that. I mean, it’s a big initiative for us, and we’re starting with, you know, making sure that we’re refining our processes so that they are designed for the best client experience. Right. They enhance our culture and organization, our ability to do business.

Michele Massaro [00:46:41]:
I think that’s really important. And just how can we improve our business internal processes. Right. So that’s really the three initiatives that we’ve been focused on with our technology. And, you know, I don’t think there’s one technology that exists that handles all the different variables that we need to bring together, but we’re certainly trying to streamline a lot of that. So I think that that’s important, staying ahead of it, because I think we don’t. Look, I’ve worked for only two staffing companies in 30 years. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:47:08]:
But I can tell you technology was not the leading conversation point with either company until it had to be, until there was something that was changing. Whether it’s a generational shift that I’m experiencing here or back in the day when I was working for caliber, it was just that our system was not scaling to our growth, so we had to do something. So it’s always that we’re at a spot, we’ve got to do something. So I think thinking about a little more proactively is always a benefit. But know that you got to be prepared because the technology is going to help you be much more effective as an organization.

Kortney Harmon [00:47:41]:
Digital transformation is really. I know that was the key word.

Michele Massaro [00:47:45]:
But that’s the word, right? That’s what I heard. Yeah. I mean, and it’s, it is. And, you know, you can get scared because I was like, what does that even mean? But I looked it up, like, oh, we’re doing those things. Right. It is digital transformation because it’s, it’s improving without sacrificing. Right. Because you want to improve, but you don’t want to sacrifice, you know, your experience.

Michele Massaro [00:48:02]:
And again, I’ve got some great talent that would love to do other things, to focus on other parts of business that can be more revenue generating or cost avoidant opportunities if they can focus on that. And so introducing that technology solution in that way, I think, is going to be really helpful for us. So I’m excited. We have a kind of a look that we’re going to make decisions, like quarter one of 2024 and start moving towards implementation. So that’s aggressive, but it’s a good time for it.

Kortney Harmon [00:48:30]:
But it’s exciting, too. And honestly, it is exciting.

Michele Massaro [00:48:33]:
I’m excited to see it.

Kortney Harmon [00:48:34]:
And I think I had a call with somebody else and they had mentioned, they’re like, honestly, now’s the time to do it because if we were so busy as we were in 2020, 2021, we would have never been able to transform digitally because we would have never been able to go back to our processes. We would have never had the time to teach our people. And they’re like, now is the time to do it. So I love it. I love that you’re looking at it now because I’m sure all of those things play a part into your decision and your committee to be able to be dedicated to this process 100%.

Michele Massaro [00:49:04]:
Yeah, no, never. The timing, I mean, and that’s, we started looking at it really probably in April of this year. We had a meeting with actually our chairman, who was, he died, sadly, in April, but he was a vital part of the organization. He turned eight. He would have turned 80 this year. So, I mean, he’s been around as long as the company, but we finally sat, we had a conversation and it was, now’s the time. Now our volumes are down. You know, we’ve done well.

Michele Massaro [00:49:30]:
The revenue is, it’s been really, we’ve been very fortunate as an organization to be very well, strong balance sheet, you know, financially ready. Let’s make the investment now so that we don’t have to think about it for the next, you know, 15 to 20 years in a way that we’re focused on it today. Right. It can maintain it, grow it, have it be scalable, but at the same time you’re not. It helps you get to the next level and I think that that’s really important. So with his blessing, it was great to start the journey. And, you know, the idea was to have, you know, one year evaluation period and that we’ll be ready to make some decisions.

Kortney Harmon [00:50:04]:
So when business takes off and it’s booming again, you’re going to be ready to go.

Michele Massaro [00:50:07]:
Be ready for it. That’s right. That’s it.

Kortney Harmon [00:50:09]:
I love it. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for sitting down with me and talking today. I love this conversation, just like I loved our chicken conversation before.

Michele Massaro [00:50:17]:
So I love the chicken and duck. How are the chickens doing? Are they doing all right? Did you get any more?

Kortney Harmon [00:50:22]:
I got my nest. No, I already, I talked to my husband about chicken math and he was like, no. We’re starting with the. That brings back to our conversation with Michelle, a chief operating officer at Abacus Corporation. Thank you so much for sharing your industry insights and your experience from over 30 years in the staffing industry. I hope our listeners gain valuable insight and perspective on leading through change, pivoting business strategies and positioning for future growth and innovation. Michelle offered so much wisdom around scaling staffing firm sustainability while putting people first. So be sure to apply some of these lessons around sales, talent, metrics and more that can help your staffing business thrive in any market condition.

Kortney Harmon [00:51:06]:
Michelle is certainly a leader to watch and learn from. This has been another episode of the full desk experience industry Spotlight. Stay up to date with our latest episodes. Visit our website or email us if you have any additional ideas on topics. Our email is full [email protected]. until next time, this is Kortney Harmon signing off. I’m Kortney Harmon with Crelate. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Industry Spotlight, a new series from the full Desk experience.

Kortney Harmon [00:51:37]:
New episodes will be dropping monthly. Be sure you’re subscribed to our podcast so you can catch the next industry Spotlight episode and all episodes of the full desk experience here or wherever you listen close.

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