Staffing Industry Spotlight: Jared Black, Founder of NewVine Employment Group

In this interview on Ascen's Staffing Industry Spotlight Series, we spoke with Jared Black, Founder and President of NewVine Employment Group and President of the Florida Staffing Association, who talks about how to be innovative in the light industrial staffing world by providing great service, how to succeed as a staffing startup founder, and about general issues that light industrial staffing firms face in the Florida market and beyond. The interview spans Jared's beginnings in the flower industry and his experience with staffing suppliers that led him to start his own company, all the way to his involvement in the wider Florida staffing community that led to his election as the President of the Florida Staffing Association.
June 30, 2024

Francis Larson: Tell us a little bit about Jared Black. Who are you? And what do you do?

Jared Black:

That is an ever-changing answer, right? So, Jared Black, I own and operate NewVine Employment Group. We are a boutique staffing and recruiting firm headquartered in Miami, Florida. And we specialize in helping growth-focused organizations build winning teams. That's the way I like to describe what we do in a nutshell. So many people always ask, what's our specialty or what's our industry of focus? I don't really like to drill down in one specific area. If you're a business operator or owner and you struggle with finding the best talent, then I want to help you, and I want to help you build out your team.

Francis Larson: Are you focused on a particular region, or have you been expanding that recently or at all?

Jared Black:

Obviously, we're headquartered in Miami, so we started in the Miami / South Florida area. Then we quickly grew into Central and North Florida. And we're continuing to break into key markets throughout the United States, so we're ever expanding. The Southwest, the Northeast, the Midwest, those are key areas for us that align with a lot of the same types of businesses that we've helped over the years.

We do have a little bit of a focus. We've had great results in manufacturing, production, light industrial, hospitality, and events from the staffing side. And then, on the direct placement side, we are really strong in finance, technology, human resources, sales personnel, and key mid-level management roles. Those are, I would say, our strongest suits just based on what we've done and what we've been able to do in terms of helping businesses find the best leaders that they wanted to bring into their organizations. But I don't like to limit myself, no.

Francis Larson:

That makes sense. From our previous conversations, you’ve talked about your route to the staffing industry being nontraditional. Could you go into that?

Jared Black:

Yeah, so I kind of backed into staffing and recruiting, it wasn't intended, I didn't plan for it. I definitely didn't reinvent anything, but when you come across a problem, you immediately look for the solution. If there's no solution on the market, then you create the solution. That's how a lot of great businesses start.

I founded NewVine on the premise that I wasn't happy with the service that I was seeing in the marketplace. I didn't find anybody that was able to provide me with the service to meet my standards, so I created the solution for myself. And that's how NewVine was founded. I started in the import-export space. My family comes from the import flower industry, so I was essentially born into that industry. My father's in it, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, so it was like my birthright in a way.

I spent a number of years working in refrigerated coolers, working hand-in-hand with a lot of the warehouse personnel that I would go on to hire and staff for years. But at the last point of my professional career in that side of the business, I was working on building bouquet collections and different unique recipes of fresh flower bouquets to sell to supermarkets.

You go into a Whole Foods or a fresh market or any of your grocery stores, and you're going to see a fresh flower selection. Historically, those flowers are whatever they have available at the farm. They get packaged at the farm level, typically, in South or Central America. It gets shipped or flown here to the United States. There's a little bit of a touch-up process. And then, it gets trucked to your local grocer.

What I was trying to do was import flowers from all different points around the globe. So I was bringing in European flowers, South American flowers, Central American flowers, locally sourced or grown flowers from New Jersey or California. I was bringing all that into Miami and creating very unique bouquets. Then, I was trying to produce them into seasonal bouquets by hand. Obviously, some machinery and some production as well, but most of it was very hands-on.

I was looking for the staff to be able to do that; it's out there; they're available, but you have to really find them, and you have to be in tune with that market to really understand it. And I just couldn't find them. And the staffing companies that I was using couldn't find them.

Not only could they not even find me good prospects, but they would send me zombies, I would call them zombies, who would just stand around and hover, and they wouldn't really know what to do. We're working in 36-degree coolers, and they would show up in shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops and not really have a real understanding of what they were in for when they got there.

I knew that the staffing company who sent them just didn't prepare them, didn't take the time to understand who this person was, what they're capable of. What skills did they have? Were they prepared for that? Would they be happy working in that environment? Because we're living in South Florida, I mean, nobody even owns a jacket here. So at that time, it was really hard to find somebody who would work in that environment and be happy and successful and skilled.

So I started finding my own people, but it was taking away my attention from also running the production, selling, being on the road, marketing this to these mass markets, into these grocery store buyers, which was a very difficult job on its own. And I realized, I started talking to some of the peers in my space and I said, "Hey, this is what I'm experiencing. Who do you use?" And they told me, “That's what you're going to get in our industry." So I quickly realized, okay, there needs to be a change. That led me to creating NewVine Employment Group.

Francis Larson: Your problem wasn’t one-off, it was a pattern in the industry.

Jared Black:

Yeah, we probably went through about a dozen different suppliers in a 24 to 36-month period. The understanding in staffing was that the flower industry was valuable to those staffing companies twice a year, Valentine season and Mother's Day season, but my operation was year-round. So unless I had their attention in volume, meaning, hey, am I going to send them a request for 50 bodies for the next month and a half? "Are you going to pay attention to me?" But I didn't need 50 bodies, I just needed 12 really good ones to meet my production needs.

Everyone that I spoke to was just kind of like, "OK, we'll send you some people." And what I would get was just whoever would take any job. There wasn't even a qualifying process. They didn't even take the time to understand what that person's skills were or what their experience was, or even what their interests were. They just would say, "Hey, do you want to make money?" or, "Do you want to work tomorrow? Here's a place." They would send them with a sticky note. That was my favorite. The employee would show up with a sticky note with my address on it, not even my name. They wouldn't

know what job they had. They wouldn't know what they were supposed to do. They would just have the sticky note, say, "Yeah, I'm supposed to show up for work." And that was what the expectation was.

Francis Larson: Wow. Talk about manual.

Jared Black: Yeah, exactly.

Francis Larson:

I mean, how are you dealing with that now? How are you dealing with keeping track of those various skills and employer's needs? What did you have to do internally to fix that?

Jared Black:

Well, internally, we have our own note-taking and classification process. So it starts with the ATS. Also, because I'm not traditionally from the staffing and recruiting space, I am not very, let's say, thrilled with some of the products that I've seen over the years available to staffing and recruiting. I just feel like they're not flexible enough for most companies. They're kind of built for the top-tier companies in the space. But as we're boutique, we kind of have different clients with different needs, and that requires a little bit of customization. And I feel like you should be able to be flexible with your client. If their requirements don't fit into your solution, if you're capable of amending your solution to meet their needs, then you should be able to do that, but if not, they need to find somebody who can fix their situation, not just take an order.

But what we do internally is first we have a ranking process. So it's like, "Okay, is this person qualified for the type of assignments that we can offer them?" "Yes." "Okay, great." Now we want to say, "Which bucket do they fall into? Do they fall into more of a warehouse role? Are they a manufacturer? Do they have any skilled trades? Are they a CDL driver? Do they have any licenses, anything like that?" And then, we have a tagging process in which we kind of tag them where we believe that they would best fit or their skills would best be suited.

And then, we have a short list of clients that we work with on a year-round basis, and we're always looking for talent for those groups. So we can say to a company that, let's say, packages fruits for mass market or for grocery stores or something like that, and we can say, "Okay, we have a new candidate who just came into our database who is looking for a new opportunity, and they have four years of food packaging experience. They understand the food safety guidelines. They work in this exact environment. They're used to working at this pace or at this level of volume."

So there's a lot of things, little intricacies that can go into it. So meaning, do they work with big materials? Are they heavy materials? Are they light? Do they work with their hands? Is it labor-intensive? Do they use machinery? Things like that. So just understanding what the requirements are of our client. We kind of look backward at that and say, "Okay, is this candidate going to have success within this environment, within our client's environment?" And then, we're constantly looking for that. We're constantly grading against that.

And if they don't check the boxes for our client, then we market them outward to prospective clients or potential clients and try to make a recommendation where we can. Ultimately, we're not just pushing people out the door and saying, "Here's a job," we're making sure that either, one, they have an interest in it, or two, they have the skills for it, or three, that they'd be willing to learn it. And if they are, we want

to let our client know beforehand, "Hey, this is somebody that has the personality or the culture fit, but doesn't really have the skills yet, and you have to coach this person up a little bit." And that's valuable too, because if somebody wants to learn, then if you can give them the opportunity, that's going to be a valuable employee because they just fit in with the culture.

Francis Larson:

What you're saying is so different from other light industrial staffing firms. Many think of it as a pure bodies game. We go recruit 50 people, 30 people drop off on the onboarding, and you're left with 10 warm bodies that you just send. They might not look at skills at all. You’re almost taking a professional staffing approach to these, building out this profile like, "Is this the right fit for the client?"

Jared Black:

Well, for me, if I don't do the job right the first time, then one of two things is going to happen: either, one, they're going to make me redo the work, or two, I'm going to lose the opportunity. So if I don't do it right and I don't do it with care the first time around, then I'm setting myself up for failure. So the best thing I can do for, not only myself, but for my client, is make sure I put in the time and attention to make sure that it's done the right way the first time.

Francis Larson: Measure twice, cut once.

Jared Black:

If you're going to do a direct placement, you wouldn't cut corners, you'd qualify the person properly. I don't see the difference. Obviously, there's less value in "placement," but for us, our bread and butter isn't that transactional placement, our bread and butter is really the long-term employee management solution.

We have clients that we work with where we provide the solution, and we are the staffing partner in perpetuity. So the employee never really gets hired, they never convert, they never leave, the job never gets terminated. So the best thing we do is find somebody who's going to be with us long-term so we don't have to keep redoing that work.

And then, obviously, there are clients where, "Hey, look, I only need somebody for three months or two months or two weeks," or whatever the case may be, and we find those people as well. I say there's a butt for every seat. So you just have to identify and classify and make sure you're making the right recommendation. But it starts with understanding what the goal is and not just sending any warm, walking body that comes across your desk.

Francis Larson:

NewVine’s volume has grown impressively over the last few years. What kind of challenges did you have to overcome to get to where you are right now?

Jared Black:

Oh man, that list is probably too long to name everything, but I would say the biggest ones, mindset. You have to overcome limiting beliefs so having the right mindset definitely is a big one. Being able to accomplish your goal, even though the goal, the task, might be so overwhelming or so impossible from

face value. Taking a quick pause and understanding, okay, how am I going to accomplish this goal? What plan do I have to put in place? And let me work towards that plan. And then, having faith in your plan, because a lot of people have a plan and then they pull the eject cord maybe five minutes into it and they're like, "Oh, it's not working. I'm not seeing results." So you have to really have faith in your plan and your direction to know that you're going the right way, even when things don't seem that they're going the right way. So I would say overcoming limiting beliefs was definitely a big one.

Always learning. Obviously, I didn't come into this space knowing everything. I wasn't born knowing everything. I'm very honest about that. I'm very open about my limited experience in the staffing and recruiting space. So whenever somebody's willing to teach me or coach me or there's an opportunity to learn something, I take that opportunity for everything it's worth and try to learn from that person or see how I can inject that model into my business or see if it's even the right fit for my business. Maybe some things work better for other people, and sometimes, they don't work so well for others. But for me, I'm not willing to just say yes or no right off the bat, I'm going to listen, I'm going to digest the information to see if it's the right choice for me, but I'm always willing to learn. I would say that would be the core there.

And then, just managing business. It's really easy to go fast. It's really hard to go fast and make sure you don't break your business. And I know that's the famous quote from Zuckerberg, “move fast and break things” It's easy to say when you got billions of dollars behind you to back that up, but when you're working with your own dollars and every dollar you spend and waste is gone and you can't recover it, every time you make a mistake, it's a learning lesson.

So I would say overcoming beliefs, always being willing to learn and managing business properly, getting the right tools in place to manage business properly.

Francis Larson:

You mentioned learning and coaching. Did you take inspiration from any leaders or anybody that mentored you along this journey of being a staffing firm entrepreneur? Or was it just a journey of self-discovery?

Jared Black:

A lot of it was from the outside looking in. I never really reached out to anybody who was actively in the space and approached them as a potential mentor. A lot of the people who I did have personal relationships that I view as mentors were either clients that I won really early on or people that I had relationships with prior to starting my business that I would use as counsel and I would go to them when I was feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed. Or if I was confused in any way, I would go to those people and say, "How would you handle this?" Or, "What would you do?" And these were people in their own business or different industries that were successful in their own right. So I just kind of took counsel from people that I respected from a number of different places.

And then also, just outside personalities, podcasts, audiobooks, lunch and learn events, networking events, people that I didn't know personally, but were always willing to teach or coach or offer guidance in any way. Even if I didn't have a personal relationship with them, I would take their feedback, I would take their advice, I would take their counsel and see how I can implement it or if it was right for me. I'm never opposed to trying new things. I would say that people who are afraid of change probably have a hard time in business because everything changes all the time, I mean, every day, every week, this is a moving target. I'm comfortable being uncomfortable.

Francis Larson:

Speaking of network events, you're the president of the Florida Staffing Association. This position is obviously great exposure and esteemed. How did you get involved in the FSA, and how did you eventually become president?

Jared Black:

Well, that was a funny story because I didn't intend to. The first thing I knew to do when I first started my business was to find like-minded people, find people in my space that I could potentially network with or work some type of relationship out of it where I can go to them for advice or feedback or anything like that.

So first thing I did, I started looking up my associations. And that's what I used to do, obviously, in the flower space, associations are big. So when I got into staffing and recruiting, I quickly looked up, who are my associations? And who should I know? Who should I be involved with? So I found the American Staffing Association quickly, but I was overwhelmed. It seemed a little bit too big for me, especially starting out. I didn't know where to start.

Through some exploration, I found FSA. I'm in Florida, being the local Florida chapter, they're affiliated with ASA, it just made sense for me to start there and maybe move my way up into the ASA side. So that's what happened. I reached out, they said, "Hey, come to an event. We're happy to have you and share content, share ideas." So that's kind of where it started. Early on, I met some of the leaders, they were very friendly, they were very inviting. Everyone I talked to asked me about my business. They asked me what questions: What do I need? What am I hoping to accomplish? They were very open and transparent and very willing to share information.

After going to several events and being active, being in the environment, and constantly supporting their events, they got to know who I was, and they got to see what I was about, and they asked me if I was interested in getting involved. It's a volunteer leadership board, so everyone who is on a leadership team volunteers their own time. And so, I answered, "Yeah, I'd be happy to help in any way I can." It started really easy with helping stand up and support some of the local events.

Then, the president at the time was Kelly Merbler, she used to work for AppleOne. She was a sales leader with AppleOne for a number of years. She was the sitting president of FSA at the time. When I came into the association, she kind of took me under her wing. She was a great mentor of mine. And she said, "Hey, I think you can do some special things." She asked me if I'd be willing to be her right hand as a VP within the organization. I told her, "Sure. I mean, I don't know what you need, but I'm happy to help." And I served under her for a couple of years.

And then, when she stepped down, she was leaving the industry, she was going to do her own thing, and she has a successful consulting business now; they basically opened up books to vote in a new president, and somehow my name got thrown in, and I was voted in as president. I was very humbled and honored, and I did not expect it whatsoever, especially because there are a lot of other people in the industry in the association that I thought probably know more than me, but it's less about what you actually know about the staffing industry, it's more about what you're willing to share and how you're willing to help drive the industry forward. And that's what FSA is ultimately about: is a progression of the industry, and how do you help other business owners and operators move their business forward?

Francis Larson:

With your viewpoint from the head of FSA, what kind of challenges do you think other staffing owners face, specifically in the Florida state market and then maybe beyond?

Jared Black:

It varies. It depends on the industry. So for a while, healthcare was crushing it. Obviously, COVID was very friendly to the healthcare industry for anyone in the healthcare staffing space; now, it's not so much, very competitive, and it's hard to win business these days. Florida is heavy in the elderly population, so you have a limited workforce. You have an aging-out population as well as a young millennial population that doesn't want to do the trades, doesn't want to do the labor, the hard work. There is a very high population of immigrants in the state of Florida, so you have a lot of undocumented workers that affect anybody involved in the construction or manufacturing space.

There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of unique issues that staffing business owners are facing. I would say some of the most common ones will be competition in the market. I mean, most Florida staffing businesses are concentrated in the metropolitan areas. You’ve got the South Florida/Miami area, you have the Tampa/Orlando area, and then you have Jacksonville, and those are the major markets of Florida. Those submarkets and those small cities, they're not really expanding outside their local market.

And challenges vary based on the size of your business... Some of the bigger well-known staffing companies that are doing hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue a year, have completely different challenges than those small cap companies in the mid-markets and remote towns of Florida, that are doing a million to $3 million a year.

So in Florida, you're concentrated in those major metropolitan areas, and those markets can be very competitive due to a number of factors, pricing of services, services offered, quality of candidates, etc. For example: Miami, for me, is very competitive because you have a limited workforce.

The people who you want to hire to work, let's say, an entry-level or a light industrial type profile, those people cannot afford to live in this city; they can't afford to make a living in Miami. So they relocate and they go to Central Florida, they go to North Florida, they go to the West Coast, something like that. So we're losing a large percentage of our workforce in the manual labor side in South Florida. The ones that are still here are earning more money, or they're not interested in the type of work that we need to hire for.

Then you have a population that is retiring and they're aging-out, or they're not physically capable of doing the work. And then, you just have a high surplus of turnover because Miami is a very competitive market, everyone is trying to undercut each other or try to win out that candidate. So it's very competitive. It's very hard to have a successful, sustainable business here in Miami year-over-year without having very interesting, unique problems pop up every other week or every other month. So I would say it depends. It depends on what industry, but capital, competition and price, competition to market, and competition for candidates are the norm in Florida.

Francis Larson:

What's next for NewVine as the market evolves in Miami and as you expand to these other markets? Is it a different vertical? Are there any hot spaces that you see or is it just more of the same?

Jared Black:

Well, I think because Miami is such a central hub for the logistics space, just continued focus and attention in the logistics market, we are really well-versed in air cargo we currently partner with airlines. So having continued focus and attention in the cargo space and the logistics space is definitely going to be important because Miami has an airport, a major seaport, as well as trucking going out of the Southeast into the rest of the country.

As far as new verticals, we are constantly exploring new verticals all the time and looking to see if we can take advantage of an underserved market. I think some of those markets might be the event space;

though a lot of staffing companies are involved in the event space, those are typically on a local level. We're looking more on a national level because I think that ever since, we got through the point where no one was worried about COVID-19 anymore, events are back in full swing. Everybody wants to go out. Everybody wants to go to a concert. Everybody wants to go to the next show, the next sporting event. And they just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So, I think there will be continued emphasis on supporting the infrastructure for those events.

And then, we are, obviously, continuing to invest in our direct placement services. That is a strong business line for us. We have made a separate division totally dedicated to serving direct placement in 2023. So we're about a year and a half in since we started that direction as well so continued advancement there.

Francis Larson:

Interesting you're talking about events. We've seen a lot of inbounds from events companies expanding nationally because it definitely is coming back. Like brand ambassadors all the way to golf events, all those kinds of things that weren't around for a while are just exploding. And that industry, talk about quality: it's so high turnover. It's so hard to get right. You really have to be a quality staffing firm to make it work. So I wouldn't be surprised if NewVine does very well there because of just the attention to detail to make money in that space is-

Jared Black:

Yeah, you have to have good technology. You have to have good management. You have to have the ability to manage your people properly because you're deploying people to different markets, different places all the time, typically, on a shorter term than most.

I have a buddy of mine who is a banker, and every night and weekend, he bartends. And I ask him, "Why do you bartend when you're a banker?" He's like, "Because every single concert, sporting event, everything is sold out every single night." And he's like, "I can go bartend for four or five hours and I'll make 1500 bucks." And he's like, "It's so easy, it doesn't make sense not to." And I thought about that and I was like, wow, it's true, I mean, you really can have people who work full-time jobs and be perfectly happy working a gig for a concert or a sporting event or whatever for two, three nights, maybe twice a month. And that will pay rent, that will pay a car payment, that will pay whatever, a credit card bill. So I think about today's market, and it calls for it.

Francis Larson:

Yeah, no, that's such a good point. So, to finish off here, you run a successful firm now, and it is growing and going well. What kind of advice do you have for newer staffing firms?

Jared Black:

I would say, depending on what industry they're going to focus on, definitely want to have your finances right. Having capital is so important in the staffing space because you can go so hot, so fast, and then, suddenly, you run out of capital, and you're in a pinch. So, depending on what market you're in, having a good, reliable stream of capital to be able to support your growth is probably one of the most important things from a staffing perspective.

And then, outside of that, it's about understanding what you are looking for as a business owner or from a leader from what you want from your people, and then, just not moving off that. Being unreasonably unmovable of your core values when it comes to hiring core people in your organization. I made a lot of

bad hires over the years because I was trying to fill a seat rather than stay true to my core values and what I expected from an accountability standpoint from the people in my business.

And what I've learned is never waver from your core values. Never waver from what you hold to be true core values in terms of what your expectations are from people, and you won't go wrong. If you're hiring people who have different core values, if you're hiring people who don't want to put in the same work ethic, or they don't have the same understanding of how the business should operate or how you should serve your client, you're just going to be butting heads with that person sooner than later.

So, I would say get your finances right, understand your numbers, and then make sure your people are aligned with the same core values and common goals.

Francis Larson:

That's really great to hear. It's no surprise that NewVine's reputation has grown really strong and that clients really respect you because of this rock-solid approach to your team and your business.

Jared, thank you so much for talking to us. It was super inspiring. Your passion for the business really shines through. We're looking forward to the future for NewVine, you, and the Florida Staffing Association.

Jared Black: Thank you, brother. I appreciate it.


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