Match staff to diverse markets

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in Hiring,Human Resources

The hot new game of diversity marketing is old hat for Mike Hanika. His company, Appliance Sales & Service Co. in San Francisco, employs a staff of 17 who speak 16 languages, including Arabic, Lebanese and Armenian.

“Our staff is like the United Nations,” Hanika says. “No matter what language customers speak, we can handle it.”

Here’s how he’s made that happen over 30-plus years in business:

Hiring. Hanika mostly employs blue-collar and clerical workers, drawing freely on San Francisco’s diverse labor pool. His lead technician, a refugee from the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, speaks seven languages.

Collaborating. “We try to emphasize teamwork here,” Hanika says, “which means that some employees can be quite strong technically but have a real challenge with communication in English. So, we worked out a system where we help each other.” In the retail store, repair shop and call center, “you will hear, ‘Spanish online 4’ or ‘Cantonese at the front counter, please,’ and each of us knows our roles.”

Rewarding. Offering his staff flexibility with vacation time, Hanika says he’s repaid in loyalty. Employees get two weeks’ vacation a year, and some roll it over so they can visit their home countries for a month. This year, two employees took off for the Philippines. Last year, one spent the time back in Russia. “They appreciate the flexibility,” Hanika says, “although it’s tough to cover someone for an entire month.”

“I appreciate the work ethic that many of these folks bring to the job,” he adds. “We in this country have lost a certain amount of that ethic, and it’s nice to see can-do spirit.”

Lesson: Respect for diversity translates well into any language.

For more information, see “The New Majority Marketing to Minorities,” Small Business Success Series, Vol. 6,U.S. Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov/gopher/Business-Development/Success-Series.

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