It was 25 years ago that Kim Taccati relocated to Columbus and went to work at W.C. Bradley Co. through a temporary staffing agency.
"I didn't know anything about the company, who Mr. Turner was, who Steve Butler was, Brad Turner, Abbott Turner, and ended up working for them and loving my job," said Taccati, who made such an impression on Bill Turner, the company's top executive, that he recommended her for a marketing job at the Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta.
It was decision time, with Taccati pondering the allure of working for a top global brand or sticking with her growing love of helping people find gainful employment through a staffing company.
At the last minute, she chose the latter, a move that set her on a path that would lead to the opening of her own temporary staffing company, Staffing Connections, eight years ago. It has grown steadily since then, serving an area from Columbus-Fort Benning over to Auburn-Opelika, Ala., and up to LaGrange, Ga.
The past year, however, has been a quantum leap, with Taccati's company ramping up to serve more than 150 client firms, including an exclusive office at the TSYS corporate offices in downtown Columbus. She will soon open up a third office in the Atlanta-area community of McDonough, with plans to staff a 500-person call center. The Michigan native, 49, only envisions growth from here. There are plans to open a LaGrange office in about a year, with hopes for another in Jacksonville, Fla., after that on the way to a dozen Southeast locations.
Aside from TSYS, clients range from Panasonic and NCR to Alexander Electric and A-Com. The Muscogee County School District also relies on the company to find suitable talent, she said.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Taccati recently to discuss her job, its challenges, and the temporary staffing sector in general. This interview has been edited a bit for length and clarity, with an expanded version available at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
Thinking back, any regrets about not going to work for Coca-Cola?
No regrets, absolutely not. I guess the biggest thing is it's hard work, owning your own company and running it. We were on vacation a few weeks ago and I was never on vacation. It's sometimes frustrating with phones now and technology and emails and constant interruptions.
When you have 750 people out there (on the temporary staffing payroll), there are different issues everyday, worker's comp, sexual harassment, somebody in a fight. So we're constantly being a human resources department to 150 different clients with 150 different cultures.
And there are different levels of acceptance. At some companies you can have a (negative) background. At TSYS, of course, you can't have any background. Some accept a DUI, some might accept a felony. There are a lot of companies that don't accept any felonies. But we do have clients where we can put people who have felonies, where we kind of give them an opportunity to start over. But those are lower wages, like $8 an hour. But at least there's a place to put them.
You employ these people and the companies pay you?
They're our employees. We're totally responsible. We pay their FICA (social security), FUTA, SUTA, (unemployment taxes). I pay their worker's comp insurance. My worker's comp insurance, of course, is very costly and it depends on what the employee's doing. If the employee is doing construction at Fort Benning, I might pay 5 percent worker's comp insurance. If they're doing clerical or customer service, I might pay 1 percent. So, of course, we like to place more of the clerical positions because the insurance is a lot less risky. We've had some substantial claims in the last couple of years. But you can't control people, and they might do something like put their arm in a machine by mistake, or fall off a dock, or things like that. Worker's comp insurance, we have to supply that to every client. They want to make sure that my people are insured, which is understandable.
How long has your company been up and running?
I started it eight years ago. Before that, I was with another staffing company, Staffing Solutions. ... I was with them 10 years and then my partner, Wayne Starks, owned the company and sold it. I left them and had a non-compete, almost a year and a half. In that year and a half, I was getting my company ready to start up. We began with four employees and I think we're up to 19 employees, full-time permanent who work for us. In the field, we probably had about 750 (temporary staffers) on payroll last week.
Is that an all-time high?
It is. Actually, this is going to be a record month for us. The company, we've probably grown 35 or 40 percent this year. It's phenomenal. It just seems like more clients are using temporary employees.
Companies use temporary employers because of the trial or probationary period?
Exactly. And usually a temporary will stay on our payroll for 90 days. We actually call them talent. We let the talent roll over after 90 days with no cost to the employer. Some employers keep them temporary for six months. But we have temporaries who have been on payroll for two years, because the companies probably don't want to bring them on because of benefits; it's not cost effective.
We offer a small health care program. They get paid vacation and holidays. After they work for us 1,500 hours, they get offered a week's vacation and paid holidays. So a lot of times, clients just keep workers on our payroll.
The employee must not mind that or else they would try to find something else?
Exactly, or a lot of times they can't find anything else or they like what they're doing. And a lot of temporary positions do have flexibility, where they can sometimes work the hours they want, especially in the summertime with school teachers. They work for us in the summer and they'll call us and say, oh, I'm in town this week. We'll put them on the available list and we'll use them when they're available.
What kind of jobs do the teachers take?
They take receptionist, clerical, administrative assistant, answering phones. A lot of them work in the TSYS mailroom or the Aflac mailroom for us. We wouldn't put them in production, like packing batteries at Panasonic.
What types of jobs overall do you fill?
At Fort Benning, we do a lot of electricians and maintenance, a lot of general laborers, plumbers, more of the higher-end skills which, of course, pay rates are great. Everybody wants to work at Fort Benning because the contractors do pay very well. In Columbus, Opelika and Auburn, it's more customer service, a lot of call center, mailroom, administrative assistants.
Some manufacturers use temps exclusively in assembly and production work?
Yes. With assembly and production you don't need a lot of experience. Anybody out of high school can go in there and put batteries in a box. Those positions are long-term temporary. At Panasonic, there are two shifts running and we probably have 125 temps a day just doing that now.
How about food service?
We do a lot of food service. In fact, there are some (restaurants) staffing chefs and waiters and waitresses downtown. That's something new that we've just started doing. It seems like the turnover is so high in that industry that now they're starting to try out people temporary, and then they don't have to get insurance on them. We pay the insurance.
Experts say an increase in temporary staffing use by companies is a sign that the economy is getting better. Is that what you're experiencing? Or are more businesses using temp agency employees permanently because it's easier to deal with?
I'll give you some numbers. Last week 95 people rolled over to permanent jobs, which is a substantial amount. That takes them off my payroll, which is sad for me, I lose the revenue. But it's great for the people. We send out a thank-you note to everyone who goes permanent, with a lottery ticket.
But normally we might roll over 25 a week to permanent positions. Even at Total Systems, a lot of positions at the call center are temp-to-perm. They stay on my payroll 90 days. A lot of times they don't make it. They'll either have a lot of tardies or absenteeism, and it gives the employer a chance to see in that 90 days if the employees are keepers.
Of course, TSYS has a great benefit package. But they don't even want to go through the benefit package until they make that 90 days with us. If they can make it through with us, they'll graduate and go on to TSYS permanently. On their 91st day, they go.
But I think companies are wanting to try out people before they go to the expense of putting them on their payroll.
Employers simply can be more selective now?
Absolutely. And we do all of the recruiting. We had a client call yesterday; I think it was Waddell. They had four positions available, and they wanted to interview 10 people.
We're the ones going through hundreds of resumes. Those (applicants) have been credit-checked, background checked, drug screened, social security checked. They've gone through an extensive compliance check. So when the employer looks at those 10 resumes, they know those 10 people are qualified to come work for them. Last week, we had 1,700 resumes on our website. So there are still a lot of people out there looking for work.
These are people hoping their resume will be a good match for a company?
If we're getting 1,700, can you imagine how many resumes TSYS and Aflac get.
A lot of people say they never get called. A lot of times, when they come here we let them know we'll at least get you in the door temporary and, if you do a good job, you're usually going to get offered a permanent position. They're going to snatch you up. They always do. The good ones get taken.
How did you get an office inside TSYS?
We've been there about six months. (Another national company) lost the account ... We emphasize that we're locally owned. If you go with a national player, like a Ranstad or a Manpower, you have a branch manager running it, but it's not an owner. When you have an owner running it, you're going to make sure every one of those positions are filled.
That's what happened with TSYS. Their positions weren't being filled. There was no local ownership. So they gave us an opportunity to get in there. We were on a trial basis for about 60 days and we did phenomenal. We have a great staff.
And it's noticed when the owner is in here and making sure that everything is being done, the i's are being dotted, the t's are being crossed, because compliance is so important to clients. They don't want to have someone (on the job) for 90 days and you run a background and find they've got a felony, and they've wasted 90 days of training. There's nothing more that upsets our clients than if they run a background and a temporary employee can't go permanent with them.
Particularly if they really like that employee?
Exactly. Like with the Muscogee County School District, we had a little bit of the business. Last week, we were granted the whole account due to another staffing company not doing compliance. You can't have somebody out there that has a record working in the school district.
Our clients come out and audit our files, making sure we do what we say. And I think that's why we've been able to get these accounts is we do what we say ... Compliance is expensive. It costs us hundreds of dollars to get someone in compliance for some of our larger customers.
Did you know much of this early on in your career or have you learned a bunch along the way?
I've kind of learned it as I've gone. I've been in human resources 20-something years and you just learn it. I take classes, and I'm active in SHRM, which is a human resources management group. You just learn it as you go.
There's a lot of employment laws, sexual harassment, discrimination. My team is always doing webinars. We send them to classes just trying to get educated and learn human resources because, again, we're an extension of every HR department out there.
What did it take for you to get this company up and running?
I was with Staffing Solutions for 10 years. A lot of that experience played into it. I guess it was getting to know our clients. I was the sales rep when I first started. I was the CEO, but I was also the sales rep. I was the one knocking on the doors, going out to Fort Benning, going to the TSYS' and the Aflacs.
Of course, larger companies think about you like: You're new, you're small, you can't handle it. In five years, we started to get larger and become a player. Our first customer, Panasonic, we took away from some big players, and we started getting recognized.
Then I hired two other sales managers who are out in the community all of the time networking and selling what we do. Our pricing is competitive. We're not the cheapest and we're not the highest. But you get what you pay for.
But it has been a learning curve. As we get larger and grow quicker, it's hard for me to find good recruiters. I've got two recruiter positions open right now and I've been interviewing for weeks. We're up to six recruiters.
They recruit or try to find employees for companies?
Find employees for our customers, for the TSYS' and the Aflacs out there.
How far away do you recruit?
It's up to Atlanta. We service (auto parts supplier) Mando in Hogansville. We place a lot in LaGrange. And actually our next branch will be in LaGrange in January, after we open in Atlanta. We're supplying people out to Kia.
You're opening the Atlanta office soon?
Yep, it will open Sept. 1. ... We've got the potential of 10 customers right when we open the doors, so we're excited about that ... McDonough, where we're going is one of the fastest growing cities in America. We've spent so much time up there. We've leased a 4,000-square-foot office and take possession Sept. 1. But there's opportunity for growth. I think there's 40 staffing companies there right now. It's unbelievable.
You're in Auburn and Opelika?
Yes. That branch actually is doing phenomenal. That services hospitals, Kia, Mando, a lot of the suppliers of automotive. It's more industry based.
Kellogg's was in the news recently, saying it is shutting down the Columbus plant. Will your folks get involved with that?
Absolutely. Anytime there is a layoff, we are always involved in human resources, going out there and handing out our business cards and applications. Those are great workers at Kellogg's, people who have been there a long time ... When we get a good candidate, we'll market them all over town. We do a lot of marketing of resumes all the time.
There are a 325 Kellogg's employees. Can you place most of them?
We probably could place half of them. Today, we have 100 positions open to fill this week. That's a lot. We normally average about 50 a week. This month has been phenomenal. The girls in the back, we did the numbers and they placed 400 people in the last four weeks. So they are working hard, and there's a lot of jobs out there. That's what people need to understand, that temporary agencies can get you in doors that you normally can't get in.
What's the biggest challenge you face?
Probably managing my time with my family. At least my children are getting older; they're both going to be in college. But the challenge is managing your own company and managing people. You can't control people, especially when they're off working for you.
You can't take a day off, in essence?
You really don't ever take a day off, and I love to travel. It is getting easier. I have a great staff now where I can finally leave and not worry that things aren't going to get done.
What skills do you need in this job?
People skills, customer service skills. We can train someone to work at the company. Our biggest thing is finding someone who knows customer service, who will service our clients, who's friendly and personable, who's nice to people.
An example of that?
Last week, we had five different people who wanted to go to work, but they had bad credit and we had to pay off five different accounts. We'll do a payroll deduction (to get the money back). Sometimes we don't get it back because they might lose their job. But we'll pay off their account so they can go work at a large company.
Also, the girls last week put up a gentleman in a hotel who's homeless ... If it's somebody who needs a job, and needs steel-toe boots or needs khakis, my staff will go take them shopping or drive them to work. They go above and beyond.
Is that typical?
No, it's not typical. (laughs)
You tell your staff to work with job prospects?
Take care of them, because it will come back 10 times over. You know what, it's about getting them a permanent job, getting them out of being a homeless person or getting them off the street.
But when they come in and show my staff, oh, this is a new car I bought or I was able to turn my electric bill on, or I was able to pay my medical bills because of you, it's a great feeling. And the letters we receive, that's where it's so rewarding and why they do what they do, because they get thanked over and over.
My staff finds work for people who are usually less fortunate and have been unemployed, sometimes a long time. They have no money left. Again, they're homeless. I can't tell you how many hotels we've paid for. But, you know what, if they can get a permanent job and get back on their feet and work for us and do a great job, it's worth it. We have so many great testimonials of people who we've been able to help. We make a difference. That's what we do.
Do you have a soft heart?
Absolutely. (laughs) Anyone on my staff will tell you. My petty cash is usually always drained because someone needs gas money or somebody needs boots. It's funny, I leave $500 cash in the office every week and we always seem to go through it, and it's always for a good cause. So I guess that's our contribution to the community, is helping people who are less fortunate.
Looking into the future, how big will your company get?
I'd like to just stay in the Southeast, but I would like to open a dozen offices. We want to go to Jacksonville, which will probably be after LaGrange. With the kids going off to college now, it will be easier for me and I'll be able to work a little bit harder and, hopefully, smarter. And with technology I can work from anywhere. That's the one great thing. I can still help Columbus when I'm in the Atlanta office.
What's the most rewarding thing about your job?
I know I speak for my staff and myself. It's finding people an opportunity, a career. Giving them a reason to get out of bed in the morning again, because usually when they come to us it's a last resort, especially on the industrial and manufacturing side.
The clerical side is not like that. They know those are permanent positions. But on the industrial side, a lot of times it's people who have been out of work a long time, their unemployment benefits have run out. They can't even pay their electric bill or they could be homeless. The most rewarding thing is getting the industrial people work and making a difference in their lives.
You mentioned the word entrepreneur earlier. Why is that and what qualities does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?
Being a risk taker. I gave up a great job. It was very scary. (Husband) Scott did, too. We both gave up careers with a steady income and benefits. I would encourage people to do that.
Working for someone else is great, but there's nothing like starting something that you built. It's very rewarding, it's humbling. Even when I look at my numbers today, I'm like, gosh, this is mine.
I feel so blessed and honored to be able to do it. ... Seven years ago, I would never have believed we could be doing what we're doing today.
Name: Kimberly Taccati
Hometown: St. Clair Shores, Mich. (relocated to Columbus 25 years ago)
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Graduate of Lakeview High School in Michigan; earned business degree from Macomb University in Michigan
Previous jobs: Worked more than 20 years in human resources, including nearly 10 years with the W.C. Bradley Co. in Columbus (Human Resources and Stakeholder Relations), and with Staffing Solutions in the Atlanta and Columbus markets
Family: Husband, Scott Taccati, president of Trillium Capital Resources, with locations in Columbus, Jacksonville, Fla., and Atlanta (as of September); daughter, Meaghan Stinson, who attends the University of Alabama, and son, Ryan Stinson, who will be attending Columbus State University this fall
Leisure time: Enjoys playing tennis, traveling, boating, going to concerts and listening to her husband play his piano
Of note: Has sailed the British Virgin Islands; went to the Grammy's last year and was in the Bruce Springsteen "MusiCares" video; won the Banana Open tennis tournament in Hilton Head, S.C.; is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management; is a member of the chambers of commerce in Columbus, LaGrange, Atlanta, McDonough, Ga., and in Auburn and Opelika, Ala.; supporter of Columbus Hospice, Grammy's, MusiCares, Heart Association and Young Life