Companion Baking is a premium commercial bakery based in St Louis that has built a great family culture among its 120 bakers and employees. Over time, it became hard to find enough good people, and as they turned to temp to hire labor, culture suffered, and expenses rose.
By bringing in high-quality candidates from Facebook advertising, using text messaging to quickly assess candidates, and then software to keep everything organized, Team Engine has helped Companion hire great people, save time, and preserve its strong family culture.
Josh Allen started Companion Baking in St. Louis in 1993 at the age of 24. His vision was clear and concise: create wholesome and delicious European breads with simple ingredients. From that beginning, they have grown into a St Louis company that employs 120 people.
From the beginning, core to Companion’s business has been focusing on the 4C’s: their Companions, their Customers, their Community, and their Company. This focus has shown in their daily commitment to baking incredible bread, building a team that operates like a family, and giving back to their community.
While many of Companion’s employees have worked for the company for 20+ years, as the company has grew, finding enough of the right people became a key challenge for the business. While referrals were a good source of reliable workers, they were unpredictable and rare enough that Companion would go weeks at a time without interviews.
Two years ago, Nancie Breunig joined Companion as the Production Manager. One of her first priorities was getting the right people on the team and solving Companion’s hiring challenges. At Companion, she oversees the 80+ production employees and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product. She came to Companion with a deep, 25-year history running other baking facilities.
Nancie had used ZipRecruiter in the past without success, so started by posting on Indeed and local job boards. She quickly found that the problem wasn’t getting applicants—it was getting the right applicants. As Nancie said described it, when they relied only on Indeed and job boards, too often they’d end up with “a whole lotta nonsense.” We’d get some applicants who’d watched a lot of television and thought that’s what a baker is. They thought we just stood around talking about buttercream.”
The issues with these candidates had visible impacts at Companion. From not showing up for interviews to getting in arguments with other co-workers, the applicants didn’t match the very family-oriented culture at Companion. As Nancie described it, the impact of bad employees has long-reaching impacts, including: “I don’t want to be there at 1:30 in the morning to sort out drama.” Furthermore, the lack of enough good people had financial impacts through literal wasted dough and closed production lines.
We hired this guy? They’re not going to last a week. It’s obvious.
From Josh’s perspective, their lack of a large candidate pool resulted in moments with new hires hire where he’d think: “We hired this guy? They’re not going to last a week. It’s obvious.”
When things got desperate, Companion would make use of temp to hire labor. While this worked well for some roles (for example, scaling up people to pack and load shipments seasonally), for the bakers this caused more problems than it solved. At the end of the 90 day temp period, they’d feel pressure to hire all the temps who were still around because they were short on people—even though too often ⅔’s of the temps who were still around at that point weren’t great and weren’t great fits with the culture.
Ultimately, temps changed the energy on the production floor and the culture. Companion had always been the type of place where, in Nancie’s words, “if you have an issue in the middle night you can call one of the bakers and they’ll help you out,” but as the dynamics on the floor changed, costs went up due to wasted materials and having to get more of the regular workers to work overtime (in addition to the hassle of managing more employee issues).
As Companion has started using Team Engine, the entire process has changed. In Josh’s words, “Team Engine has been a huge game changer.”
Companion uses Team Engine to source high quality applicants off of Facebook and then uses the full range of texting automation to help run the recruiting process. Nancie spends about 45 minutes a day in Team Engine reviewing new applicants, texting back and forth with them to learn more, and to coordinate next steps.
The thing that’s been really beautiful about this whole process is that we’re getting so many applicants that we can be really choosy so we don’t feel obligated to hire anyone who’s just fine.
Overall the hiring process for Companion is now become predictable and lacks the rock and a hard place choices they were previously faced with. As Nancie puts it, “the thing that’s been really beautiful about this whole process is that we’re getting so many applicants that we can be really choosy so we don’t feel obligated to hire anyone who’s just fine”.
Using Team Engine, Companion can post targeted job ads for specialized positions to people who live nearby who would have reasonable commutes. Within that geographic area, the ads are targeted to an audience of potential job seekers matched using Team Engine’s model of past applicants for similar jobs.
This model takes the many thousands of people who’ve applied to similar jobs around the country, then finds the most similar people nearby. As ads for the job are shown and people click on them, apply, get interviewed, and ultimately get hired or rejected, the audience gets optimized further to target the people most likely to respond to the job ad. Typically, this is a combination both of identifying who fits profile of being interested in the specific job and also who has the skills and qualities necessary to get the job.
For the ads, Team Engine tried different pictures and different text to determine what resonated most with potential applicants and then optimized the ad spend accordingly.
In addition to Facebook, Companion lets applicants apply through their website as well. They’ve experimented with Team Engine’s built-in job posting distribution to Indeed and other job sites, but so far have found the Facebook applicants are higher quality.
Once a candidate applies, Companion has setup a series of automated text messages that go out. These create an initial dialogue with the candidate and begin a conversation. Texting allows Nancie to quickly assess an applicant, both by asking and answering questions but also by getting a chance to see how they communicate.
As Nancie describes it, “I can train pretty much anyone to be a baker…[but] I can’t teach you time management, integrity, a work ethic, those are the things you need to come with. You can get a sense of that from work history and texts you have back and forth.” By assessing how much time someone puts into their texts and the questions they ask, she can get a sense of how interested they are.
In the past, the team used phone screens for every candidate who was a potential fit. This was time consuming, as it would frequently take multiple calls to get an applicant on the phone. Texting not only saves time, but Companion has also found that texting as a medium allows for more direct and personal communication.
At end of the day, Josh describes this as “People just want to be touched and engaged with.” The quick conversations during the recruiting process make it more personal, and are the beginning of what would hopefully be a long relationship. Given the more personal format of text, he says “the power in the text messaging is incredible” for both identifying which applicants might be bad fits on the team as well as strengthening relationships with the best applicants – all without the need to have every single applicant in for an interview.
I can train pretty much anyone to be a baker… I can’t teach you time management, integrity, a work ethic – those are the things you need to come with. You can get a sense of that from work history and texts you have back and forth.
Day to day, Nancie uses Team Engine to assess applicants. She’ll quickly glance at the map (where Team Engine calculates how long an applicants commute time will be by car or public transportation) since she knows that an applicant who’s going to have to commute an hour and a half will never last.
For each applicant she also has access to their work history or resume, and the level of compensation they want in a job. She can then click the Thumbs-up or Thumbs-down button.
For applicants who are Thumbs-up’ed, they’ll receive an automatic series of text messages that Nancie has setup. These texts are personal, and begin the dialogue of setting up an interview with the applicant. Once they’ve agreed on an interview time, Nancie enters this in Team Engine and automated interview reminders will go out both one day and a few hours before the interview. This both serves as a reminder to good applicants (who often confirm the interview) but also an early indicator of applicants who aren’t going to show up (and don’t confirm).
Companion's focus continues to be on building an amazing culture through increasing retention, improving onboarding, and continuing to onboard new team members to support their growth.