Station’s math: More employees mean more business

The local employment picture has been a dire one. In the past five years, the unemployment rate has more than tripled. That’s why a local company hiring 1,000 new employees is pretty good news.

It’s particularly noteworthy when it’s in the high-profile casino sector, and even more so when it’s a company that specializes in the hard-hit locals market. Add that it’s a company that’s been driven into bankruptcy by the plummeting fortunes of the Las Vegas Valley, and it’s easy to see why Station’s big hiring push was a cause for celebration.

Of course, even 1,000 jobs hardly puts a dent in the unemployment picture. With more than 140,000 Las Vegans out of work, even if every casino in town added 1,000 workers—and that’s just not going to happen—we’d still have an unemployment rate higher than it was four years ago.

More significant is what these hires say about the near-future of the Valley—and the nature of casino work.

For the last 20 years, casinos have used progressively fewer employees. Bill validators and ticket in/ticket out slot machines have eliminated the need for entire departments. In general, you’re apt to see more technology—and fewer friendly faces—in 2011 than 1990. Part of Station’s plan is to reverse that trend.

“We want to go back to the ‘good old days,’ with more staffing, so people working at Station can take the time to engage with customers,” says Valerie Murzl, vice president of human resources and training at the locals casino giant. “We’re increasing the number of guest-service ambassadors so that slot players have more attention while they’re playing the machines; we’re also increasing the numbers of cocktail servers and dealers. From the wait staff in the restaurants to the registration desk, we’re gearing up to take better care of guests than we ever have.”

With its new approach, Station is acknowledging that people are important. “I remember when we had enough team members to really interact with guests,” Murzl says. “They knew the guests so well, and the guests got to know them so well, that they’d become friends. You’d see players and [guest-service ambassadors] exchanging gifts at Christmas. Those were real genuine relationships, and that’s what we’re striving for now.”

Superficially, it’s easy to assume that vacationers at five-star Strip resorts are more demanding than those who shuffle into locals properties from down the street. But Lori Nelson, Station’s vice president of public relations, says the opposite is true.

“We cater to locals, who are more discriminating than tourists who come out once or twice a year. We see our average guest five times a month in a variety of ways—in our restaurants, in the casino, at our theaters. It’s important that we win them over with personalized service on each and every one of those visits.

Station, no longer harried by the need to stave off bankruptcy, is listening to its customers. And with its new “we love locals” campaign, the company is giving its target market a giant collective hug. That phrase, spoken like a mantra, runs through any conversation about where Station is heading.

“We love locals,” Murzl emphasizes. “Our employees are locals, our guests are locals—when you employ a local person, they and their families often return as guests to use the amenities and even gamble. That’s the attitude [Station founder Frank Fertitta Jr.] had when he started with Bingo Palace back in 1976, and it’s still important to us today.”

Station is hoping to get the balance of its new hires on the floor within the next month. At the same time, a company-wide guest service training program, centered on the idea that employees should “know it all and share it all,” aims to ensure that visitors to Station will meet knowledgeable, enthusiastic workers when they stop in. Much of the training will be done by mid-February, and both Murzl and Nelson believe the difference in service will be palpable.

Any plan that gives customers a better experience and puts Las Vegans back to work sounds like win-win. And it will be—provided that customers can generate enough business to cover those additional paychecks. Nelson is optimistic. “If higher staffing levels lead to an increase in business, there will be more opportunities,” she says.

At this point, that’s about the best that Las Vegas can hope for, and if Station is successful, other casinos will follow suit, creating even more opportunities for the Valley’s hard-hit work force.

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