Monday Q&A: Yellow jackets take sting out of staffing

You’ve probably seen Dan Schmitt’s business. Or at least the yellow jackets his employees wear when you walk through the turnstiles at a college basketball game or event at the Richmond Coliseum. Those jackets are popping up at more and more venues these days as the company adds high school sporting events and is planning an expansion into North Carolina.

Three years after graduating from the University of Richmond with an undergraduate degree in business, Schmitt started providing local stadiums with hundreds of ushers in yellow jackets.

This week, BizSense chats with a savvy entrepreneur who found a niche by providing a service that most colleges and event operators would all too happy to take off their plates. Plus, by managing events across the state, he can keep employees longer and give them more hours, which no single stadium outside of baseball can match.

Below is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: How did you get your break? Your first client?

Dan Schmitt: I was working at the Richmond Coliseum. I took the event component and the staffing component and put it together. But I got started at UVA in 1999 at a WWE event. A guy I knew needed to rent some chairs. He called me and said his staff knows how to run a basketball game but not a wrestling event. I’d done it 50 times, so he asked me if I minded getting 15 guys to work the floor.

RBS: Why would a stadium or athletic department hire you guys? Can’t they do it in-house?

DS: Stadium operators are not keen [on this part of their business]. Take the University of Richmond. They play seven football games a year and maybe 18 basketball games. For them, their core business is running an athletic department, not interviewing, training and managing HR issues that come along. And there are a lot: payroll, workman’s comp, liability. Is in-house staffing the cheapest? Yes, it is. You can always do something cheaper yourself.

RBS: How many employees do you have?

DS: Fifteen full-time and 1,100 part-time. We do not run classified ads. We hire folks through referral. If you want to be a member [of the staff] you have to know someone or see us at an event and contact us. That’s a huge reason for the success we’ve seen. Chances are a friend is a good employee.

RBS: With 1,000 temporary employees, you must have quite a variety.

DS: We have attorneys who do it, retired folks, college students. My theory is, if you have to work a part-time job, why not work a Springsteen concert? It’s better than Target.

RBS: What’s your biggest frustration in the event business?

DS: Sometimes the guests look at the usher like some temp off the street. That frustrates me. The average guest does not understand that an usher has gone through an 18-hour training class with confrontation management and customer service skills. If the lights go out, they will get you out safely.

RBS: I’ve seen lots of fans, especially after too many beers in the parking lot, get annoyed at your crew. Does that happen often?

DS: We have a dirty job. If fans waited a long time in the parking garage, they are going to take it out on us. We get screamed at every day. And prices are going up. So folks are quick to complain if the show doesn’t warrant what they want. With them paying more for tickets, their expectations are higher than ever.

RBS: Staffing can be very lucrative. How is business?

DS: There are very slim profit margins. It’s not like owning a technology staffing firm where you charge $250 an hour and pay the guy $40 an hour. This is hard work for slim margins.

RBS: Your business has a lot of moving pieces. What keeps you up at night?

DS: Security. My main fears rest around making the fans and patrons safe. One challenge is that our staff is in 50 or 60 facilities a year. They’re at VCU one night, and at Virginia Tech another night, then maybe the State Fair. We have to get them knowledgeable about all those facilities.

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

You’ve probably seen Dan Schmitt’s business. Or at least the yellow jackets his employees wear when you walk through the turnstiles at a college basketball game or event at the Richmond Coliseum. Those jackets are popping up at more and more venues these days as the company adds high school sporting events and is planning an expansion into North Carolina.

Three years after graduating from the University of Richmond with an undergraduate degree in business, Schmitt started providing local stadiums with hundreds of ushers in yellow jackets.

This week, BizSense chats with a savvy entrepreneur who found a niche by providing a service that most colleges and event operators would all too happy to take off their plates. Plus, by managing events across the state, he can keep employees longer and give them more hours, which no single stadium outside of baseball can match.

Below is an edited transcript.

Richmond BizSense: How did you get your break? Your first client?

Dan Schmitt: I was working at the Richmond Coliseum. I took the event component and the staffing component and put it together. But I got started at UVA in 1999 at a WWE event. A guy I knew needed to rent some chairs. He called me and said his staff knows how to run a basketball game but not a wrestling event. I’d done it 50 times, so he asked me if I minded getting 15 guys to work the floor.

RBS: Why would a stadium or athletic department hire you guys? Can’t they do it in-house?

DS: Stadium operators are not keen [on this part of their business]. Take the University of Richmond. They play seven football games a year and maybe 18 basketball games. For them, their core business is running an athletic department, not interviewing, training and managing HR issues that come along. And there are a lot: payroll, workman’s comp, liability. Is in-house staffing the cheapest? Yes, it is. You can always do something cheaper yourself.

RBS: How many employees do you have?

DS: Fifteen full-time and 1,100 part-time. We do not run classified ads. We hire folks through referral. If you want to be a member [of the staff] you have to know someone or see us at an event and contact us. That’s a huge reason for the success we’ve seen. Chances are a friend is a good employee.

RBS: With 1,000 temporary employees, you must have quite a variety.

DS: We have attorneys who do it, retired folks, college students. My theory is, if you have to work a part-time job, why not work a Springsteen concert? It’s better than Target.

RBS: What’s your biggest frustration in the event business?

DS: Sometimes the guests look at the usher like some temp off the street. That frustrates me. The average guest does not understand that an usher has gone through an 18-hour training class with confrontation management and customer service skills. If the lights go out, they will get you out safely.

RBS: I’ve seen lots of fans, especially after too many beers in the parking lot, get annoyed at your crew. Does that happen often?

DS: We have a dirty job. If fans waited a long time in the parking garage, they are going to take it out on us. We get screamed at every day. And prices are going up. So folks are quick to complain if the show doesn’t warrant what they want. With them paying more for tickets, their expectations are higher than ever.

RBS: Staffing can be very lucrative. How is business?

DS: There are very slim profit margins. It’s not like owning a technology staffing firm where you charge $250 an hour and pay the guy $40 an hour. This is hard work for slim margins.

RBS: Your business has a lot of moving pieces. What keeps you up at night?

DS: Security. My main fears rest around making the fans and patrons safe. One challenge is that our staff is in 50 or 60 facilities a year. They’re at VCU one night, and at Virginia Tech another night, then maybe the State Fair. We have to get them knowledgeable about all those facilities.

Aaron Kremer is the BizSense editor. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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