As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitch Chailland, President, Canal HR. Mitch graduated from the University of Houston and moved to New Orleans in 1992 to start working in the professional employer organization, or PEO, industry. Mitch started Canal HR in 2013 after spending 21 years learning as much as possible about the field. He is currently the President of Canal HR, and he previously served on the Board of the Professional Association of Co-Employers (PACE), a PEO trade association, for over ten years.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have had a job ever since I was 15 years old. In high school and college, I mostly worked in restaurants and hotels. I went to the University of Houston and graduated with a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. After that, I went to work in the restaurant industry and it didn’t take me long to figure out that working the 70 to 80 hours a week it required was not going to work with the family life I wanted to lead. Then, the opportunity to start working with a PEO, or professional employer organization, in New Orleans came to me. I took it and began what is now an almost 30-year career in the PEO sector.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I don’t know how funny this is, but back in the early days when voicemail first started, the company I was working for installed a voicemail system. It became obvious to me very quickly that voicemail was not a good thing. Instead of a person answering every phone call, the system was taking messages. Employees were using the system to screen their calls and customer service suffered. This is why today at Canal HR we do not have voicemail. Phone calls are always answered by a real person.
Providing a wide range of HR services and benefits, Canal HR certainly reduces management headache. But when push comes to shove and there are worker compensation issues, or medical issues, the situation can be stressful for employees. If an employee has to deal with a third party HR firm, rather than directly with the employer, does this put a wedge in the employee-employer relationship? How do you address this?
Canal HR is a professional employer organization, or PEO. PEOs share employer responsibilities with small businesses in order to provide services like payroll preparation, workers’ compensation insurance, and employee benefits to companies that either do not have the capacity to have their own HR departments or do not want to handle human resources administration on their own. We leverage our size and expertise to get the best rates on insurance and other benefits for our clients and their workers Because of our unique structure, our clients’ employees don’t have to jump through hoops and are able to handle any issues directly with their employers or with our vendors.
What do you think are Canal HR’s competitive strengths over similar size HR service companies? With competitive presentations to management all being relatively similar with similar promises of savings and service, how do you manage to stand out?
We believe that customer service sets us apart from our competitors, both locally and across the Southeast. We pride ourselves on always being accessible by email or telephone so that our clients are never left with unanswered questions. While some HR companies promise flashy technology solutions, we’ve found that putting human relationships first has given us an edge.
Where does software fit into your model? Do you provide clients with dashboards to simplify their processing?
We don’t provide a specific software dashboard. We’ve found more success in being responsive, helpful, and attentive than in investing in expensive software solutions.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision has always been to become a trusted partner with our clients. We want to be a resource that helps them run and grow their business. Because our work is so collaborative, keeping the success of our partners first has been paramount. We also want to be a business that our employees enjoy working for.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
We remain available to our clients as much as possible. As I mentioned before, we don’t use voicemail. There’s always a person to talk to. In most cases, we hand deliver our clients’ payroll. These are just a few of the ways we let our clients know we are always there for them. With our employees, the main goal is to treat them as you would want to be treated. Then, we go above and beyond to show them how important they are to the success of the company.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Never give up. Everyone will have tough times, no matter how good they are. There will be difficult days, but always remember to never give up and this too shall pass.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the most difficult things to deal with is when you lose a client because you have helped them be so successful that they have been “bought out” by a larger company that no longer needs your services. We have had several clients that started with us when they were very small and have grown over the years to be very successful. We always feel we have helped them on their way to being more successful. By saving them money, helping them to retain and keep talented employees, and providing advice.
Ultimately, you have to re-frame these losses as a success. We did our job, even if it meant they are no longer using our services.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well. Our goals have never been to grow huge and go national. We want to be the best PEO in New Orleans, in Louisiana, and I think we are well on our way to that goal. Our attention to detail and customer service has really helped us be the best.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Service is always number one. If your business is service-based, customer experience is part of what you’re selling. Make sure to treat your customers accordingly.
- Be flexible. Without a physical product to anchor your business, you have to be flexible and make adjustments on the spot.
- Keep employee morale on the positive side. Your employees are the face of your company. When they feel good about your business, your customers will take note.
- Never lose site of your company’s goals. Remember why you’re here. Even when you make a mistake or sustain a loss, keeping an eye on your goals can help you re-calibrate.
- Listen to those around you. Whether it’s your clients, your employees, or your peers, those around you can offer a lot of valuable advice. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you know everything.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father, Don Chailland, started the company, and I always admired him for taking the risk and believing in himself. He was part of a lay-off from a large company when he was in his fifties. He believed in himself and his ideas so much that he cashed in all of his retirement accounts and started the company. I don’t think many people have the drive and desire to risk it all and start over at that stage of life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Looping back to how important human interaction is to our business, I would love for all people to make more time for one-on-one communication. With so many distractions from smartphones and the internet, which are useful tools, I think many people forget that other humans are on the other side of technology.
How can our readers follow you on social media?