If you don’t have a program in place to pick your employees brains on a periodic basis your ‘garden of knowledge’ is incomplete.
By Bill Scott
Here’s an old saying that I’ve heard repeatedly that goes something like this:
“Employees will work for money, but they will swim oceans and climb mountains for praise, acceptance and a sense of belonging.”
Say, “Howdy” to Gavin Boyett, a dedicated member of the Buc-ee’s family in Bastrop, Texas.
I began working with oil distributors in 1978, and interacted with my first service station/c-store employee in 1982. I don’t remember the fellow’s name, but I vividly recall a long, thin ‘string-bean’ in his sixties, lounging in a metal folding chair, feet propped up on an empty milk case, oily rag hanging out of his left back packet, wearing a greasy Cities Service cap and puffing on a Lucky Strike cigarette.
I announced I was there to take inventory in his store. Without saying a word, never taking his eyes off the cars that were passing by, he flicked the ashes off the end of his Lucky Strike, and dipped the brim of his cap to signify that it was fine with him.
The inventory in the little store consisted of an assortment of oil, bulbs, greasy area maps. spark plugs, batteries and a few fan belts. None of the items were priced, so I picked up a can of motor oil and went back outside.
“What’s the price on this can of ‘awl,'” I asked.
If I had said, ‘oil’ instead of ‘awl’ I can guarantee you that fellow would have had no idea what I was talking about.
He paused, squinted his left eye, squeezed his cheek on the left side of his face, furrowed his brow, and replied. “I charge a buck and a quarter, but Ralph usually gets 89 cents.”
Now you may not believe this, but just last year I personally broke up a cat-fight between two cashiers over the retail price of a soft drink. But, I digress, and I apologize for wandering off track. We all know in our hearts what happens when employees are left to their own devices. Usually, nothing good.
It was a treat to chat with Gavin Boyett and others like him. The people that work in these stores’ make up the stores’ brand.
Hands down, employees are a store’s most valuable asset (or liability), and we seldom utilize the capabilities of our people to their fullest extent. I’ve met a lot of important people in my lifetime, but most of them never did a thing for me. Boyett interrupted his work to ask me if he could help me.
‘So, that’s it?’ No, there was something else. I told Boyett I had just met with the owner and I was curious what made the store tick, and in doing so I learned a great deal about Boyett by asking the right questions.
For example: in our short conversation I managed to find out that prior to being employed at Buc-ee’s, Boyett worked with his father in construction engineering and designing.
Couldn’t hurt to ask, so I took a chance and asked him, “If this were your store, what changes would you make?”
He had to think about that for a while as it was obvious he had never been asked that question before. He talked about how he would change the floors, the walls, and even the quality and amount of inventory on display.
Boyett has been employed for only six months, but he already knows things about the store where he works that I am sure the owners don’t know.
Now, I am not saying that Boyett ‘s knowledge is the answer to everything, but it is a significant part of everything. If you don’t have a program in place to pick your employees brains on a periodic basis your ‘garden of knowledge’ is incomplete.
For all it’s worth, the convenience store business is a nickel/dime enterprise, and the sale of one insignificant product can be deceiving. A relationship exists between a can of soda and a candy bar, similar to one involving employees and inventory. Employees like Boyett set the bar for others who work there, and that’s a good thing.
Bill Scott is the author of two retail books, a convenience store retailing consultant, speaker and president at StoreReport LLC.