Hiring is a challenge for many independent garden centers, especially during the spring season, when businesses need extra help for a short period of time. Bachman’s has taken a creative approach, as the Minneapolis-based company hires volunteer seasonal workers during peak weekends in May. The volunteers’ pay is donated directly to the organization. This helps solve the challenge of finding seasonal help while also supporting organizations in the community, who can raise money themselves instead of relying on people to purchase candy bars or popcorn. Nicole Hart, human resources generalist and recruiter for Bachman’s, explains how the program works.

Garden Center: When did Bachman’s start working with volunteer organizations?
Nicole Hart: We have had our gift card program with non-profit organizations for quite some time, where non-profit organizations can purchase Bachman’s gift cards and 15 percent of gift card sales goes to the organization. But most recently last season, things have grown with employment partnerships.  

GC: What kind of jobs do the volunteers have?
NH: We’ve only utilized the carry-out and the bagging/loading cart positions for non-profits.  

GC: How long does it take to train them for the jobs?
NH: For the non-profit weekends, it’s a very quick training session. I give them a 15-minute session on their job. For the carry out position, the on-boarding is supervisor-driven.  

GC: Are they generally high school students or are there adults with the volunteer groups, too?
NH: For our non-profit weekends, we used local school organizations, such as track and field, softball and wrestling teams, [students from] Spanish club, AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination] programs and a Senior Class Party Booster club.

We also had church groups and Gilda’s Club Twin Cities participate. (Gilda’s Red Door Society provides cancer support to families with a member who is battling the illness.) We had adults at all of our events helping. We had full families with three generations working from our church groups. Even parents of the high school [student athletes] signed up for shifts. This is a good way for parents to get in their volunteer hours for the organization.

Volunteers, ranging from high school athletes to members of churches, work at Bachman’s in the peak of spring, and in turn, their pay is donated directly to their organization. Volunteers help with bagging product and carrying items to cars but do not wear the the purple-branded uniforms regular Bachman’s employees wear.

GC: How much are volunteer workers paid, and it is the same amount as a regular employee?
NH: We have a few different programs that we work with in retail. The first one is our “Non-Profit” program, which we held during two weekends in May, which usually are high customer traffic weekends at all of our retail locations. The organization would schedule volunteers to come work at a Bachman’s store as a bagger to assist the cashier. For each volunteer, they would work a three-hour shift and will be paid (directly to the organization) $10 per hour. At some stores, our last season rates were $10 per hour. This year, we will re-evaluate the per-hour costs as our seasonal wage rates have increased. We need approximately 16 volunteers per store, eight for a morning shift and eight for an afternoon shift. The workers have to be 16 years or older to participate.

The other program we used this past season was working with an organization called Tree Trust. Tree Trust provides summer jobs and employment training in the forestry industry. We had one youth who came to us through Tree Trust who was hired on as a carry out. This program is funded through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, so there was no cost to Bachman’s. The employee was successful last year, and we hope to receive another for this upcoming season.

GC: How did you connect with these organizations?
NH: We reached out to 99 percent of these groups and many others. This took a while to fill the spots. We reached out to many organizations, but didn’t get a lot of responses.

GC: What do you have to do in order to get them prepared?
NH: I communicate frequently with the organization contact person up to the day of the event, so we both are organized and the event runs smoothly.

We also have a parental consent and waiver form that all volunteers must sign before they start.

We also ask them to wear their organization-sponsored shirt, or a uniform color other than purple (Bachman’s brand color.)

Bachman’s partners with Tree Trust, an organization that provides summer jobs and training in the forestry industry, at no cost to the IGC.

GC: Has the program been successful?
NH: I believe it’s been successful. The average organization raised $450. They all had fun, and it was so busy that the time flew by. I have been receiving emails all winter from the organizations that participated last year wanting to sign up again this spring.  

GC: What has been challenging about this program?
NH: I think the most challenging aspect was finding the organizations to participate. We couldn’t find anyone who was interested in one of our locations, so that store didn’t participate. This year, we will work to find participation for that store.        

GC: What would you recommend to other IGCs interested in working with volunteer groups?
NH: Go for it! Everyone had a great time. We also received quite a few applications from volunteers who wanted to work at Bachman’s and hired on a few. I have also reached out this winter to other organizations in the Twin Cities to partner with this season that provide workers and training programs. Even if you may not think it will work for your company, learn about these organizations. They can help you figure out ways to partner and craft it for your business.