Tough Call: The poaching problem

A big builder customer has poached two of your top people to work for him. What would you do?

You’ve heard all about the labor shortage that’s plaguing builders as well as their LBM suppliers. Fortunately, your company has managed to dodge that bullet, and you’ve remained fully staffed with a mix of great people, ranging in age from early 20s to mid 60s. As with most companies that are in the same position as yours, maintaining full employment doesn’t just happen.

At your company, you and your management team have made a conscious effort to invest in training, benefits that are better than competitors and, more recently, employee engagement and ensuring a healthy work/life balance. The changes haven’t cost much, but they’ve made your employees happy and loyal, as well as effective unofficial recruiters. All was well until a few weeks ago, when one of your top people asked to speak to you in private.

“This is a hard thing for me to tell you, but I’ve accepted another position and I need to put in my notice,” he said sheepishly. “You’ve been a great boss, and this has been an incredible company to work for, but one of our biggest builder customers made me an offer that I just can’t turn down.”

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He shared that the builder was Wily Poacher from Poacher Homes, and that the offer was a full 50% more than you were paying. You thanked him for his candor and wished him well, and hoped that this was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Just this morning, another top person from your company asked for a private conversation. She, too, had been offered a position by Poacher Homes that was too good to pass up. After losing two key people in a few weeks, it was time to have a serious talk with your old friend, Wily.

“I appreciate your business and all, but I can’t have you hiring away all my best people,” you explained, managing to keep your anger under control.

“I understand, but I need to do what’s best for my growing business. To keep growing, I need the best people I can find—and I’ll pay whatever’s necessary to get them. The two folks I hired away from you are well-trained, pleasant to work with, and excellent at what they do,” Wily replied coolly. “I’m sorry, but business is business.”

You’ve been giving this aggravating situation plenty of thought, but don’t know what to do. On the one hand, Poacher Homes is a big customer that buys at healthy margins, and is relatively low-maintenance. Naturally, you want to keep the business, but as you told Wily, you can’t have him hiring away all your best people. But you can’t possibly match the pay he’s offering. What would you do?

What would you do?

Fight back. You know plenty of other builders looking for good people. Encourage them to consider offering positions to some of Wily’s top people, and see how he likes it.

Stay the course. There’s more to a job than the size of the paycheck. Once your former team members realize all that they’ve given up, it’s likely that they’ll be back.

Fire Wily. Tell Wily that you can’t afford to continue to supply him, and explain that his existing will be fulfilled, but new orders won’t be honored.

Double down. Since you can’t compete with the pay Wily is offering, redouble your efforts on what you can control. Ask your employees how to improve the workplace…then do it.

What would you do?

Something else?
If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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