Sherry Cummins can't believe all the calls she gets from people looking to be put on the subscription list for “Niehaus News,” the newsletter produced by Vincennes, Ind.–based Niehaus Cos. “My subscriber list goes all across the country,” the marketing and advertising manager says of the 12-page newsletter she edits and assembles each month. “I get three or four requests to be put on the mailing list every week, and that is flattering. It goes to our suppliers, our friends, and our employees.”
Cummins' current subscriber count just topped 5,000 readers, none of whom would likely be surprised that Niehaus is the 2006 recipient of NLBMDA's award for excellence in human resources for companies with more than 50 employees. “Niehaus News” is chock full of information on new hires, promotions and employment anniversaries, articles on employees who are taking training classes or are simply having a birthday, and a one-page profile each month on stand-out workers from one of Niehaus' four divisions that include three retail stores, four wholesale building material yards, a counter fabrication shop and Therma-Tru door component assembly shop, and a high-end Karran sink distribution business.
For Niehaus chairman of the board Bernie Niehaus, “Niehaus News” is the nexus around which all human resources issues emanate, revolve, and return to, so much so that he has compiled more than 40 of his own monthly newsletter columns into a hardcover book. In fact, the entire second chapter of Splinters: The Story of a Lumber Company, a Loving Family, a Living Church, a Loyal Community is devoted to employee issues, including stand-out customer service, advertising and marketing, and the importance of recruiting and supporting employees who go the extra mile. “It's people that make business, especially in a people business,” Niehaus says. “You can have the most beautiful store in the country with all the latest and greatest inventory, but if you don't have good people, you have nothing. Not only do you have to look for good people, you have to train them, and they have to have the right attitude, or your customers are not going to come back.”
While Niehaus admits that initial hiring is still largely guided by a gut instinct on a candidate's personality and suitability for fitting in with the company culture, new hires nonetheless get things started on the right foot: their day-one orientation package includes several of the latest issues of “Niehaus News” and a copy of Splinters.
The latest four hires at Niehaus—all salespeople for the company's Karran sink national distribution division—were suitably equipped during an orientation week in August. Despite being stationed across the country at sales outposts in Denver, Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., and nearby Indianapolis, the new hires all spent several days working at the Vincennes retail location and in one of the manufacturing shops, installed one of the sinks they would be selling, and worked for a day in the warehouse where the company repackages and private-labels Karran products.
While new-hire orientation and training differ depending on the employee's position and which division of the company he or she will be working in, everyone nonetheless gets a week or so of introduction to the company, fellow employees, and customers. “The first days differ a lot with our different companies,” Niehaus says. “But there are some things they all have in common. Everyone gets the employee handbook and the Splinters book and a packet of newsletters. We have the manager take them around and introduce them to everyone, and we often take them out and introduce them to customers. The first couple of days an employee is on the job are important, it makes it or breaks it, and you want them to feel welcome.”