Three years ago, Aston Recruitment managing director Chantal Haskett made the decision to quit her job at a large international recruitment agency and branch out on her own.
Working from the spare room in her apartment with nothing more than a laptop and telephone, Ms Haskett built her client base from scratch and cold-called businesses to let them know about her boutique recruitment agency.
Ms Haskett said she wanted to bring back the ‘people’ element into the recruitment industry, which she claimed was missing at many agencies in Western Australia.
“I think those bigger agencies had forgotten about what recruitment was all about and that is people,” she said.
“I wanted to change the way the recruitment industry is perceived … it’s important to remember that we are there to represent both our clients and our candidates, rather than adopt a very ‘head-hunting’ approach, which can border on being unethical.”
Now, with a team of more than 25 staff and a new blue-collar division, Ms Haskett said the business had grown faster than she had ever anticipated.
“I think people liked the fact that we were honest, we were WA-based and we had a flat-fee structure, as opposed to a percentage of a salary package,” she said.
To set herself apart from the bigger recruitment players, Ms Haskett decided to target the small-to-medium-sized market.
“I found that the small business space was probably the area that was neglected the most … and, by approaching the small businesses, I could become an extension of those businesses and understand who they really were, rather than just be the recruiter,”
Six months into the business, Ms Haskett had to deal with the challenges presented with the onset of the global financial crisis.
There was a fall in the number of businesses that were hiring, but Ms Haskett still managed to grow the business through the natural turnover in staff that was occurring in many businesses at the time.
“When the GFC hit it became tough in terms of morale, not in the company, but within the market, everyone was talking about the negativity the media had caused … but the reality was Perth didn’t really get affected as badly as everywhere else,” Ms Haskett said.
“But people got it in their heads that they didn’t need to invest in people so it was just more about surviving that.”
She decided to put off moving into a new office in January 2009 and instead invest the money in recruiting her own staff.
By the end of 2009, Ms Haskett was managing a team of 12 staff spread out over five separate divisions, which included commercial and sales, property and construction and IT.
The growing staff numbers meant it was no longer viable to work from Ms Haskett’s apartment, so she decided to relocate the business to a commercial office in West Leederville.
“As agencies were making their staff redundant I was picking them up … I’m a big believer in organic growth and it was about meeting the right people that specialised within an industry,” Ms Haskett said.
Ms Haskett cited finding the right people to fit within the culture of Aston Recruitment as one of her greatest challenges.
“It has been difficult to find good staff and people find it hard to believe but it’s the typical saying of the ‘plumber with the leaky pipes’,” she said.
“I think people think recruitment is more glamorous than it actually is … it’s one of those industries where you either love it or hate it and balancing the client relationship with the candidate relationship can often be very hard for recruitment consultants to get their head around.”
Ms Haskett said 2010 was a year of ‘stabilisation’ for the company after the rapid growth of the previous 18 months. However, by the time 2011 came around, Ms Haskett was intent on growing her business once again.
She launched the second arm of the business, known as Aston Workforce, in July, which specialises in blue-collar recruitment.
“Because we were recruiting from CEO to receptionist for all of our clients we were promoting the fact that we were doing top to bottom recruitment, but we weren’t, we weren’t actually helping our clients with their labour force,” she said.
“While it is a two-speed economy, in the blue-collar side there is huge demand there, it’s going at 100 miles an hour, particularly in mining and resources.”
For the next 12 months, Ms Haskett plans to stablise the business and then look at expanding Aston’s services into the international market.
“We have had growing pains and it hasn’t been easy, so now I am very much about making sure the level of service we have promoted is maintained,” she said.
“Then we will look at the international market because the fact of the matter is, there’s a skills shortage in Perth and we need to look outside of it.”