These are portions of my letters to Lee Shobe, the former CEO of DowBrands. He has been a major mentor throughout the start of my business, The Spotted Cow Coffeehouse. These letter may come across as a bit unprofessional, but they represent what I am learning through my adventure as a young female entrepreneur.
I currently have six employees: four with special needs and two without. I have to say that I have the most amazing staff.
I have decided that hiring is like shoe shopping. (This may be a bit feminine of an analogy.) There’s the cute ones, the supportive ones, and the expensive ones. You want to find a happy medium in all of these aspects. For cute: It doesn’t really mean that they are physically attractive but that their character is attractive. This is very important in the service business. They have to have a pleasant demeanor, or guests won’t be satisfied. For supportive: they have to be able to provide worth for the business. Even with my individuals with special needs, I look at what they can bring to the business. This is also the concept of attitude. Teamwork is a huge piece. As a team, can they support each other, and get the job done? Finally, expensive. Right now labor is my biggest expense. Mostly because many of my individuals with disabilities cannot work alone. I have not put any employee above minimum wage, but I know how many hours to give each individual. So in aspects of shoe shopping, are they worth the price? This analogy fits perfect into my mission of quality, service, and opportunity too! Cute=Quality Character, Supportive=Service Oriented, Expensive=Are they worth the opportunity.
I’ve had my challenges in human resources too. I’ve made two workers cry! (I am the offensive militant, after all) Both were special needs workers: one was skipping work and the other I pushed too hard.
For the first one, I had a talk with her a couple times. She was not showing up for work and not giving any notice that she wouldn’t be coming in. I told her she had to call. She had a phone so I thought she would be able to do that. Her mom called me that night and told me she wasn’t capable of doing that on her own. Her mom started texting me when she wasn’t coming but I wasn’t satisfied. This young woman, though she had a disability had so much potential. For some individuals with special needs, they get comfortable with never being pushed. The Spotted Cow was the first place where she could really be challenged and not pitied, but she enjoyed her comfort zone too much. I had to let her go. It was really challenging because I want to fulfill this mission to show the worth of individuals with disabilities but I can’t help everyone, and I refuse to just give individuals a job for the sake of letting them say they achieved something.
For the second young lady, Ada, I was helping her practice making change. She struggles a little bit but I was helping her practice. She just hit her breaking point. She said there’s just some things I can’t do. I told her you can do this, you just showed me you can. I’m not going to make you do it without being by your side.
So many of the individuals with disabilities find out one way or another that they can’t do everything like everyone else. Some of them, like the first young lady, have been convinced for so long that they just get too comfortable, and they are no longer teachable. They have learned that they can use their disability as an excuse. If they fail they have that justification to fall back on. Other individuals, like Ada, have the same mindset that they are different, but there is still that spark, that they don’t have to let their disability own them. It’s all about finding the spark and not pushing too far.
Another young lady, Lauren, is the epitome of my mission. She came in very timid, but she has had a wonderful work ethic from the start. She started back in May and she has flourished. She listens and does what she is told. She is dynamic and tries to come up with new ideas for the business. She is so teachable. When she started, she would just grab cups and aid in making drinks. Now she can make all of the drinks with almost no help, and she can run the cash register. There were a couple of times at school where a teacher gave her grief for being different. She came into work crying (I gave her the day off though). For her the Spotted Cow is her safe place where she knows that she isn’t just a consumer, as many individuals with disabilities are labeled. She is a genuine contributor, and I am so thankful to have her.