Spa Depot in Tumwater struggles to find workers

Staff writerJune 6, 2013 

In Tumwater, south of the airport, stands The Spa Depot, a business that operates a 35,000-square-foot distribution center and sells hot tub supplies and accessories through its website to customers around the country.

Business has been very good since it was first launched in the Olympia area in 1997, President and Chief Executive David Williams said Thursday, with business more than doubling in some years.

It currently is growing at an annual double-digit pace, he said.

All of that would suggest things are fine at The Spa Depot, a business that even did well during the worst of the recession, Williams said.

But one challenge has been trying to find qualified applicants to fill open positions.

The Spa Depot has a staff of 22, has hired several people the past year and still is trying to fill two positions — struggling to find qualified people each time, general manager Lain Knowles said.

Williams called it a puzzling situation in a county with about 250,000 people and a jobless rate around 8 percent.

“It’s more painful than I think it should be,” said Knowles about filling some of these positions, although he acknowledged the business has found some very good employees and probably is competing against state government for talent.

Still, it has two open positions available: an entry-level warehouse job that starts at $10 per hour, and a warehouse manager job that pays $35,000 to $40,000. The jobs also include health insurance and other benefits.

Requirements for the former include the ability to make accurate shipping decisions, while requirements for the latter include the ability to manage people and have the right technological skills for an Internet-based company.

Knowles said he has been surprised at the number of applicants who didn’t graduate high school and at the number of people who just don’t apply.

If they stick to the requirements they are looking for, they get few applicants, Knowles said. If they reduce the requirements, the applications come flooding in, yet applicants don’t have the right experience, he said.

Former Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council Chief Executive Mike Kennedy said the region has a system in place to train people for positions in demand, but the problem is that funding for such efforts has fallen 49 percent since 2001.

“The amount of money is far less than the need exists,” said Kennedy, who is now director of workforce development at the Thurston County Economic Development Council.

One simple suggestion Kennedy had for companies looking for qualified talent is to expose job openings to a broader pool of applicants by using online listings, an approach that Kennedy has found successful.

The recession also prevented some prospective employees in their late teens to early 20s from gaining work experience to fill open positions, said Reid Bates, majority owner of Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency with offices in Olympia and Aberdeen.

Bates, too, has heard from employers lamenting the lack of qualified applicants who have then sought the assistance of Express Employment to find the right people.

There also are those, as the economy improves, who are leaving jobs to find a better job, he said.

For warehouse work, though, there’s bound to be a pool of available workers, Bates argues, because Trader Joe’s and Harbor Wholesale Foods, for example, operate large distribution centers in Hawks Prairie.

If you’re interested in a job at The Spa Depot, apply online at www.spadepot.com.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403
rboone@theolympian.com
theolympian.com/bizblog

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