Business Essentials: She has friends in all areas of hospitality, but there's no room at the inn for her job agency

A fledgling recruitment consultancy for the hotel industry can't seem to get itself the right service. Kate Hilpern reports
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The Independent Online

Ivette Armsby is feeling more than a little despondent. "However hard I try, I can't seem to get my business off the ground," she says. "I know there is a gap in the market, so I can't understand where I'm going wrong."

Ivette Armsby is feeling more than a little despondent. "However hard I try, I can't seem to get my business off the ground," she says. "I know there is a gap in the market, so I can't understand where I'm going wrong."

With 11 years' experience in the hotel and catering industry behind her, Ivette decided last year that it was time for a change. "I had worked as a waitress, a receptionist and a bar maid, as well as working in conferences and catering, banqueting and reservations," she explains. "While I'd enjoyed these various jobs, I was getting bored and wanted to do something different. I also wanted to work from home."

Eventually, she hit on the idea of a recruitment agency, specialising in the hotel and catering industry in the London area. "It seemed perfect for three main reasons," says Ivette. "First, I knew the sector well and had direct experience of it. Second, I knew a lot of people seeking work in this field were finding recruitment consultancies unfriendly and not particularly helpful. And finally, I had a lot of contacts."

Indeed, Ivette knows plenty of people in Britain seeking work, who in turn know lots of others. Meanwhile, in Germany - her homeland - she has further contacts. "I spoke to the ZIHOGA agency, which is part of the job centre in Germany, and they said they would be willing to provide me with CVs from German job seekers in this industry," she explains.

Having researched the market, mainly via the internet, Ivette became even more convinced she was on to a winning formula. "Most agencies specialise in only one area - management positions, for example, or reception work. I realised it would make employers' lives a lot easier if I covered the whole range. There are a huge number of recruitment agencies for this industry, but I couldn't find one that had this breadth of coverage."

Ivette also worked out a way of offering competitive rates, while still ensuring that her business made a profit. "Most agencies charge around 20 per cent of the annual income of anyone they place, but I decided to start off charging just 13 per cent."

So, after registering her company, G2E Recruitment, on 5 November last year, Ivette was optimistic that it would soon attract clients. She has since been busy contacting hotels from the big chains to the independents. However, not one has so far shown interest.

"I started off by sending emails," she says. "I made sure they didn't look like adverts so that they wouldn't be instantly deleted and I didn't use colours or capitals - just a brief, straight-to-the-point letter introducing my company and its services. In addition, I've sent faxes and letters and phoned up the hotels direct. I've even tried to contact hotels outside the London area - notably Birmingham, Glasgow and Stratford-upon-Avon."

Ivette always finds out the name of the relevant contact, whether it is the proprietor, HR manager, account officer or hotel manager. "But I feel I'm constantly being avoided, even lied to. A few of the hotels from one of the major chains, for example, told me their head office bans them from using recruitment agencies. But when I contacted head office, they said this wasn't true."

Having been unable to place a single candidate through her agency, Ivette is understandably concerned about its future. "But I don't want to give up just yet," she says.


Tom Hadley, Director of External Relations at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation

"Ivette may have underestimated the difficulty of setting up a recruitment agency and the need for a clear marketing strategy. She may not fully understand all the different regulations and laws involved. If she is placing temps, for example, does she know their rights and how to manage cashflow? Temps will have to be paid even if she has not yet received payment from her clients. Specific training in these areas would be useful.

"If Ivette is looking to place German workers, she might think about areas and hotels that are popular with German tourists and business people.

"Good agencies with high-calibre candidates will develop long-standing relationships with clients. This may be one reason Ivette is finding it hard to break through. She shouldn't give up, though. REC data shows that the demand for staff is always increasing."

Simon Turl, chief executive officer of People 1st (the industry's voice on skills)

"This industry is the 'window' to the UK for millions of visitors, and there is certainly scope for growth.

"For Ivette, putting herself in the shoes of employers is the secret. Employers know that skills equal success in terms of productivity, profitability and long-term competitiveness. If they see Ivette is mindful of this too, things should take off.

"Focusing on a few employers and investing some time in face-to-face meetings will help. Big employers normally have national agreements with much larger agencies, and Ivette would be best advised to offer a more bespoke service for the small and medium-sized enterprise market, especially in London."

Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Over half of private-sector employers turned to recruitment agencies in 2003. But they need to be convinced a new agency can provide good-quality candidates, to tight deadlines - and this credibility is likely to be a first consideration, before rates.

"Some of Ivette's difficulties could stem from businesses already having preferred supplier agreements with other agencies. Although she wants to work from home, she must continue to make personal contacts. Attending industry events and taking advantage of other networking opportunities will help her establish relationships more effectively than relying on emails, letters and phone calls."