Wolff Bros. builds loyalty among employees with a pleasant work environment, training and incentives.

Wolff Bros. Supply Co. motivates and retains good employees by using careful hiring practices, thorough orientation and incentives such as profit sharing.

Just as a winning team assigns each player to a position at which he is most competent, Wolff Bros. tries to place employees in jobs where they can excel. The company uses a personality profile to define how creative or ego-driven a prospective employee may be, as well as a math test.

"We don't want to drive a square peg into a round hole," says President Howard Wolff. This philosophy also functions for top management.

"It seems like each of us has found the right spot," says Irene Wolff Hill, secretary/treasurer and human resources director.

Wolff Bros. recruits employees with newspaper ads, word-of-mouth and promotion from within. Employees who provide successful referrals earn restaurant gift certificates.

Three of the five operations managers and all but two of the branch managers at Wolff Bros. have been promoted from within the company. Job longevity ranges from three to 10 years depending on location.

Hill sees her role as supporting the branch managers who do the hiring and firing. She provides them with checklists to use when hiring and stresses the importance of at least two interviews for every candidate.

Hill handles new employee orientation, which includes a review of the employee handbook, a tour of the headquarters, introductions to the managers and a safety discussion.

Wolff Bros. recently introduced a perfect attendance award program for its employees, Hill says. Employees also receive a card and gift certificate on their birthdays.

The wholesaler has a long-standing program in which it pays a monthly bonus to employees in those months in which profits reach a certain level above its return-on-investment goal. The bonus is based on the performance of the corporation as a whole and the individual locations.

A happiness culture

"Someone from outside the company told me we have a happiness culture at Wolff Bros.," Hill says. "He noticed that everyone here seems to really enjoy doing their job. All we can do is try to make this a nice place for someone to work and hope the person will want to be part of the team.

"We have to work as part of a team to accomplish things," she adds. "The nice thing about it is you are not out there by yourself. You always have that support, like a safety net."

Wolff Bros. perceives termination of an employee as a failure by the company, Hill says.

"We ask ourselves what we have done or not done in failing to retain that person or get his or her attention," she says.

The next generation of Wolffs is getting some exposure to the industry. During the summer, children, nieces and nephews come in and help, whether it be with yard work or part-time labor in the office or warehouse, Hill says. However, they are not pressured to enter the business if they are not interested, she says.

"In this business, your job is either sales or supporting sales," Hill says. "That is not for everyone."

Wolff adds: "At this point we are just trying to bring in good managers. Just because they are not our children doesn't mean they can't be good employees. We hope there are more people out there we can adopt."