Retaining top-tier employees can be challenging for convenience store chains competing in a tough labor market. Small, independent convenience store chains can find this even more difficult as they compete against larger retailers that often have larger budgets and more robust employee benefits.
But there are many things small retailers can do to improve their employee retention that don’t come with a huge price tag. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after humans have the basics required for survival, like food, clothing, shelter and safety, one of the biggest human needs is to be appreciated.
And that, dear friends, goes right to the heart of retaining good employees — show them you appreciate them. It doesn’t cost a dime, and it’s something every convenience store retailer can do. Yet so many businesses fail to meet this basic employee need.
I found out early in my career that if employees like their job, they will often recruit their friends. I also learned that friends tend to share many of the same characteristics, so struggling employees are likely to recruit more employees that struggle to perform the job in a satisfactory way. Mediocre employees who recruit will almost always recruit in their likeness, and thankfully good or excellent employees can save the day by bringing mostly good and excellent candidates for positions within their place of employment.
If you have the pre-conceived idea in your head that convenience store chains must spend tons of money to retain good employees, you are mistaken.
Allow me to illuminate the situation with an example. Many years ago, we introduced a simple program for our store employees that we labeled “star of the day.” We initially had one rubber stamp with a single bold star on it, we invested a few more dollars and purchased a simple stamp pad with red ink. We used existing company stationary and made a few stock letters to encompass certain good deeds.
The letter started with the following: “Your manager reported to us your great success in (satisfying a disgruntled customer, etc.). Accordingly, you have earned our ‘star of the day award’ and are automatically entered in our month end drawings for cash and prizes.”
Managers were equipped to answer employee questions, and at the bottom we stated how much we needed and appreciated their successful efforts.
Here’s a similar idea that costs even less.
When I was in my early 20s, I was promoted to accounts receivable manager for a prestigious management firm. There were 16 different accounts receivable desks that I inherited, all out of balance for periods ranging from five to 18 months.
I purchased a large 50-cent cigar and named it “The Blue Max,” and held a staff meeting where I explained that the first person to balance their account each month would get to hold the Blue Max on their desk for that month. The employees caught fire and several months later through great teamwork by the stronger people, all accounts were in balance, and the morale and camaraderie was unbelievably high. And all it cost me was 50 cents, wow!
It’s also key to show appreciation at various times of the year. For example, working on holidays is part of the job of being a convenience store employee, but that doesn’t mean we as managers should take it for granted. We went out between the second and third shifts on Christmas Eve and delivered a single rose with baby’s breath and greens, each wrapped in green wax paper and a tiny red ribbon, to each on-duty employee. We them offered the choice between a $2 bill or a rose, but the unmistakable message was appreciation for their time, and to show that management is not “too big” to work on Christmas Eve.
At this same company, we took on a fundraising challenge by the ‘Empty Stocking Fund’ for under-served children. Our store employees, office staff and vendors raised $25,000 to $37,000 each year, and the pride and fellowship were an absolute joy to behold.
Again, these were all extremely effective programs at a negligible cost — each one and many more possessed that meaningful human touch that resulted in team building, a greatly reduced turnover rate and a magical, feel good aura. Don’t you dare miss it!