By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor
The most important attribute a convenience store has to offer is its customer facing employees.
Especially when touting a foodservice program, image is everything from store cleanliness to how friendly and well-spoken employees are when greeting guests who are determining whether they view you as the type of place they’d like to purchase a meal.
So how do you create happy front line employees willing to go the extra mile and decrease turnover? QuickChek, RaceTrac and Ricker Oil are three companies working to engage employees by creating a strong culture, working to reward and recognize employees and most importantly gaining their continued feedback in order to best motivate them in the future.
“If we understand humans better, we will be more successful. A great hotel is more than a bed. A great c-store is more than convenience,” noted Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels. “Culture is what happens when the boss is not around. If you have a strong culture, you will have an enthusiastic staff, strong customer loyalty, and a profitable sustainable business.”
Conley challenged retailers to help employees at every level gain that calling mentality by helping show them the meaning around their work. “If you don’t create a happy staff, it’s hard for them to be friendly to your customers,” he warned.
Motivating With Rewards
Recognizing employees for a job well done is a big part of helping feel a sense of achievement and motivation to succeed. But recognition doesn’t only mean a cash reward.
“As we think about rewards we need to think about Millennials. By 2025 they will make up 75% of the workforce and they want non-cash rewards,” said Karen Mitchener, director of human resources for Ricker Oil.
Mitchener noted that many rewards programs are based on tenure, which in a high turnover industry can leave out key employees, while others focus on a static employee of the month award, which can get stale. The key, she said, is to turn “thank you” into performance.
To make rewards work for your company in helping to boost performance, Mitchener recommended tying the rewards into company values and goals, such as superior customer service, mystery shop results, team work, positive store inspections and cost-cutting goals.
Another aspect to consider is how your message is reaching and motivating your front line employees who interface with your customers everyday.
“Too many times we don’t take the company rewards and values to the staff,” Mitchener said. “What’s in it for the front end employee? There is a lack of linkage between company key drives and success with frontline employees.”
The reason is that while managers might be getting a bonus if goals are met without a hitch, frontline employees also need motivation, and their manager’s reward doesn’t reach them. “Success or failure must be a team experience. We must reward front line employees to see action—not just managers,” said Mitchener.
Ricker’s solution was to institute RISE, which stands for “Ricker’s Inspires Service Excellence,” and is a points based variable compensation program. It rewards according to individual metrics, such as holidays, birthdays and anniversaries; store metrics; and team payouts, such as when one employee passes a mystery shop, the entire store is rewarded.
“Ensure points can be managed on a timely basis,” Mitchener noted. “If it’s not timely it defeats the purpose.”
RISE not only succeeds in aligning the goals of corporate, management and frontline employees, its team focus brings about peer pressure and supportive motivation from team members for all employees to achieve the outlined goals. Since instituting the program, 27 out of 48 stores have improved store inspection scores an average of 2.5%.
Jamie Benton, director of total rewards for RaceTrac, said that one motivates one employee to do a good job is different from what motivates other employees. His team learned that their employees wanted recognition, communication and trust. Finding out what your employees need and want to stay motivated is an important step in fueling their enthusiasm to work hard.
At RaceTrac they also switched from only recognizing milestones to giving out a service award every year. RaceTrac also reviews its program every year to ensure it’s not becoming stale or boring to employees.
The company works to engage and motivate employees through its Employee Assistance Program, which includes complimentary fresh fruit delivered to team members, wellness challenges and competitions, free personal trainers, Zumba and kickboxing classes and RaceTrac’s annual Run for Research 5k.
When it comes to scheduling regional awards and events, RaceTrac listens to what their team members have to say, gaining feedback through exit and retention interviews and reviewing annual engagement surveys.
Creating The Right Culture
QuickChek goes the extra mile when looking to motivate employees, and it shows given the chain’s Best Place to Work status in New Jersey and New York. The chain operates 130 stores throughout New Jersey and southern New York, and employs more than 3,500 team members.
QuickChek prides itself on being committed to its team. The chain provides college tuition reimbursement to help eligible team members achieve their professional goals. Assistant Store Leaders and Store Leaders can also further their development through QuickChek University (QCU), a 10-part in-house leadership development program, that even includes trust falls and a poll climb.
“Recognition is in the culture,” said Robert Graczyk, QuickChek’s vice president of human resources. The chain even has a recognition coordinator who ensures employees are well recognized for their achievements and milestones with the company. Recognition includes “way to go” notes, birthday cards, team members of the month, quarterly award winners, and more.
“Be proactive,” Graczyk advised. “We stood back years ago and said, ‘this is the culture we want.’”
Once you’ve decided on the culture you want to foster, it’s vital to consider that culture in every decision you make. “If it’s a family culture you want to create then maybe don’t schedule a meeting for 8 a.m. on a Saturday,” Graczyk said.
Communication is another key step in ensuring employees understand the culture. Monthly town hall meetings with employees, weekly communication meeting, store meetings, and so forth are all great venues for repeatedly making your message clear and gaining valuable feedback from the staff.