One of the most common questions I’ve asked people within our industry is how they got to where they are.
I ask that because most of us just sort of wandered in, either because of family, or because we needed a job during our college years, or maybe because things just didn’t work out in our first, more aspirational, professional positions. What may have seemed like a last resort job choice turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime.
But, at the time we started, it sure didn’t feel that way.
Within Nice N Easy, Founder John MacDougall had been a social worker and I was an English teacher. Matt Paduano, our buyer, earned a degree in Accounting. Jared Sturtevant, our marketing director, has a Fine Arts degree, majoring in Sculpture.
Bill Purdy, who has become an outstanding fuel purchaser, started in the accounting office. Jeff Carpenter was working part time in our stores and as a substitute teacher in the Syracuse school district when John McDougall brought him on to oversee employee training.
I would wager we are not unique in this regard. The same story can be told within most successful companies in our industry. So why not take advantage of that? While most of us did not tell our high school guidance counselors that we wanted to work in the convenience industry (or even retail, for that matter), who’s to say that a new generation, one that has grown up seeing us at our best and for whom we’ve always been a favorite place to visit, doesn’t view our industry as aspirational?
I think maybe they do, and there are clear reasons why.
HOME TOWN HEROES
Ours is a regional industry. Many chains are family owned and very tied to particular cities or geographical areas. Staying near home and working for a well-known and respected local company can be inviting to young people.
And because so many of our better companies are involved in local charities, events and institutions, a new generation of job seekers might find that common business practice more in line with their own public service attitudes.
When I used to tell people that I worked about 60 hours a week, they would blanch and think that was horrible. I’d laugh and tell them that my 60 hours felt more like 30 because I was very busy and having lots of fun. Then they would admit that their 40 hours sitting at a desk seemed like 80.
We operate very entertaining enterprises and we should use that to our advantage at all times. Young people like to form opinions and have them heard and considered. If we embrace that trait, it can work to our advantage.
At Nice N Easy, John MacDougall created an e-suggestion box. Store employees were encouraged to send us any and all good ideas they had about improving anything about the store or the company in general. Every month we picked the best idea and put it into practice. We honored the best ideas quarterly and then chose an annual winner. Jeff Carpenter, our aforementioned training director was one of those annual winners.
REWARDS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Our industry generates reams of data—and if your company does a good job of compiling that data and uses it to identify outstanding performers down to store and individual levels—you can continually acknowledge those within your company who are deserving of attention.
For a generation raised on pats on the back and participation trophies, this can mean a great deal. It’s also a superb recruiting tool.
Don’t forget to use social media to announce your winners. Family and friends can view your praise publicly, as well as anyone who might be considering you for employment.
Over the past few years, we recruited from local colleges and it proved to be successful. For a while, that might have been because we offered tuition assistance. However, lately, it was more the case that students thought we were a pretty cool company, with loads of opportunities, especially in foodservice. They wanted to work for us for many of the reasons I listed.
One message is clear: this is an aspirational job, not a last resort. We in the industry must continue to share that message.