Dealer Eat Dealer recruiting: How to hit your competitor where it hurts.

he one type of inquiry The Viscusi Group gets more than anything else are questions from contract furniture dealers seeking to recruit top selling producers from their competitors. “Bring me someone with a base of business and I’ll pay you a fee,” is what I and the many other  recruiters that work in the industry hear over and over again. Fair enough, I get it. Every company wants to increase its revenue and the idea of paying a third party to poach someone from a competitor with a “book of business” seems like a logical way to do that quickly. Seems like a no brainer from the client’s perspective. But, be it The Viscusi Group, or any one of our fine competitors, prying people from competitors is easier said than done. Some dealerships seem to think that they can handle the job on their own. Eventually, though, they come crawling into my office on their hands and knees begging my team to help them fill these positions. There’s a reason I have a job. Finding the right people is no simple task.

I am always willing to dish out some information on the industry; I’m just that kind of guy. I wrote a column recently with a bit of advice about how companies can work to pull people away from competitors. Since then, I have received even more letters and emails than usual from people at dealers asking me how they can steal talent on their own and expressing frustration that they are not able to poach top sales producers from their direct competitors. Now, there are two roads I can take here. The first road is the one where I write tough luck, I’ve spent a career figuring this stuff out and I’m not just going to hand it over like a free literary journal a high schooler is hawking on a street corner. The second road is the one where I explain how thankful I am to all my readers for caring about my posts and as a sign of good faith and mutual respect I generously offer to divulge my secrets. I like to live on the edge, so I’ll split the difference and, as a public service and a thank you, dedicate this post to sharing the “headhunters guide” entry on the next best thing to recruiting top sales people from your competitors.  This is my best tip ever for you dealers out there, so pay attention!

Headhunters are so busy with requests to poach dealer salespeople from competitors that at The Viscusi Group we have a waiting list. That’s right, you pay to get on our waiting list in the hopes that we will accept you as a client in the future. Most of my competitors tell me they have to do the same thing. The reason for these waitlists is that a headhunter with any integrity will only accept a limited number of dealer clients, who represent one major manufacturer, in each geographical area where they work. So let’s say I am recruiting in Houston or Dallas--two cities we do a lot of business with dealers in--we accept assignments from only one Steelcase dealer, only one Knoll dealer, and only one Haworth dealer. You get the idea. We charge them a fee upfront, then poach the hell out of their competitors! At The Viscusi Group we guarantee each hire for 2 full years (a lifetime at a dealer) and then “block” the same dealership from our poaching efforts for the same period of time, meaning we promise not to steal their salespeople. It can take six months or even a year to get just one salesperson to jump from a company to its competitor. And guess what, even us professional recruiters struggle to snag the “top producers” (you have to love that term!) most of the time. To be honest, these men and women just have no reason to change jobs, as you have read before in this column. Short of a massive “sign on bonus,”--which I have also written about here and which few dealers want to do--there is not much you can do to pull these people away. Money talks in this business the rest is a game. If the money doesn’t talk loudly enough, you have to be an expert at the game and that is why people come to us.

But let’s say you want to recruit on your own and aren’t willing to let the money talk as loudly as you need it to. First thing you have to do is come to terms with the fact that you won’t be getting that “top producer”. Okay, now that you’ve mourned that loss, what’s the next best strategy? Do what headhunters do when we are not working with a dealer as a client: recruit sales assistants and project managers! A good sales assistant is worth their weight in gold, and they are usually underpaid. They have less loyalty to their current companies because they are not earning income from the accounts they handle, it doesn’t cost that much to offer them significantly more money than they currently make, and most of their bosses (dealer salespeople) treat them like they are the assistant in the Devil Wears Prada! It’s a great dealer eat dealer win for you. Losing a good sales assistants creates chaos for your competitor and in the accounts that assistant was working on.  It even makes the strong salesperson upset and affects their psyche and morale.  Besides, everyone needs more assistants and project managers. So start there. Grab up as many good assistants as you can. Sales assistants rarely sign non-competes, and they may know more about a competitive account than you think. It gets people talking about your dealership and it hits your competitor where it hurts. Subliminally you are helping to build your brand and reputation in the marketplace, as well. So, yeah, do not stop trying to get that salesperson from another dealer, but start with smaller goals. It gets the marketplace talking about your company, and it is only once they stop talking about you that you have to worry. This little trick is why so many dealers hate me and all headhunters, and why they hire us!

​Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of The Viscusi Group, a global executive search practice specializing in the interior furnishings industry located in New York City. Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job". . Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins book "Bulletproof Your Job". You can visit his website at or follow him on twitter at @Stephenviscusi, Instagram at Stephenviscusi and Facebook  Write him at