With more than 18 years as Ricker’s director of human resources, Karen Mitchener spearheads training, employee recognition and retention.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
Ricker’s philosophy is if it takes care of its employees, they will take care of its customers.
Karen Mitchener, director of human resources for Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker’s, has played a central role in establishing the 56-store chain’s HR department, and the successful development and implementation of employee training and recognition programs based around this philosophy.
For these reasons, CSD is recognizing Mitchener as a leader in the human resources (HR) arena.
Mitchener’s foray into human resources began while working at a small, private religious university. After graduation, she was asked to establish the human resources department for the university. After serving as the director for several years, she was ready for a change.
While at dinner with family one evening, she picked up a newspaper and browsed the help wanted section—something she wouldn’t normally do, and saw an ad from Ricker’s seeking an HR professional.
“I applied, was offered the position to establish the HR Department, and here I am 18 years later,” she said.
The pattern was laid from the beginning. “Early on, the Ricker family, set a strong foundation for recognizing employees. This coupled with its rich history of promoting from within and my passion for learning, lent itself to developing a best-in-class training program,” Mitchener said.
The c-store industry has always been one that isn’t afraid to share ideas. Mitchener cited Bob Graczyk of Quick Chek and Steve Seymore of Country Fair/Kwik Fill, among others, who shared materials, programs and ideas to help Ricker’s develop its own HR best practices.
Mitchener spearheaded Ricker’s orientation program, “The WOW Experience,” which evolved into a comprehensive onboarding program focused on culture, people development and customer care; as well as Ricker’s Business Academy (RBA,) which was established to provide leadership training. The RBA includes:
Leadership Essentials: A seven-course program for employees interested in management. Management Training: A six-week program culminating with a one-week, in-house class. Ricker’s Management Achievement Test (RMAT): After management training, employees must become certified.
Ricker’s also holds numerous events to celebrate its employees’ contributions. An annual Recognition Banquet recognizes outstanding performance and years of service. Employee Appreciation Week includes theme days where employees can dress according to the theme, and during which Jay Ricker, owner & chairman, of Ricker’s personally delivers a gift to each store for the employees. Ricker’s WOW Event awards employees who delivered ‘WOW’-worthy customer service with a handwritten card of appreciation and an invitation to the annual event.
Other employee appreciation activities include: a “Brag Swag” lanyard, which employees receive when hired, which they can decorate with pins earned for completing trainings and various recognitions. The Ricker’s Inspires Service Excellence (RISE) Awards Program awards employees points for achievements, which they can redeem for merchandise.
Each employee of the month recipient, and their manager, is invited to lunch with Jay Ricker, to a place of his or her choosing.
Store personnel are offered a robust benefits package. A tuition assistance program is available to qualified employees.
After new hires complete ‘The WOW Experience,’ orientation, they are trained by the associate store manager or a training mentor for three days, during which time they also complete company and industry-specific computer-based training. Each employee also has a Success Guide to serve as a step-by-step training guide to ensure all job responsibilities are taught and demonstrated.
Mitchener is most proud of the contributions her HR team has brought to Ricker’s culture. “We are eager to roll out our next training program, Food Service RBA, which will be released in April.”
A whopping 68% of customers stop buying because of one employee, according to Forbes.
“Our goal is to keep our customers. We are able to translate how one unsatisfactory experience can impact the store and company,” Mitchener.