Wow, what a year 2020 was! My hat’s off to anyone in human resources (HR) or operations working with the staffing challenges we all faced in retail during the height of pandemic and continue to navigate still today.
As the vice president of Clark Oil Co. Food Stores, which operates 49 convenience stores across Mississippi and Alabama, my first impulse when the pandemic appeared was to reach out to peers across the industry. That included calling some of my friends at Atlanta-based RaceTrac, Oklahoma City-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and some of my local competitors to brainstorm ideas and see what they were doing, as “we are all in this together.”
Thanks to these conversations, here are some creative practices we implemented at Clark Oil starting in April 2020 to keep our stores open to serve our guests.
I created a “Friends and Family” recruiting bonus open to all of our associates, managers and district managers that would reward them with up to $250 for every new employee they recruited to come to work for us. This also included a $250 bonus to the new employee after 60 days of employment.
We added $3 per hour hazard pay for all associates across the 49-store chain. This came at a cost to us of over $1.5 million. Our owner understood the cost and was happy to pay to be there for our communities.
As things grew harder on the Mississippi Gulf Coast moving into the summer months, we added up to a $300-per-week bonus that could be achieved by working over 40 hours per week. This total payout amounted to $600 per pay period for the 176 employees on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Throughout the pandemic, we also used recruiting services like ZipRecruiter and Indeed to find qualified candidates to work in our stores.
ZipRecruiter had some cool tools to make our job postings stand out and let prospective candidates know we were hiring during the pandemic, and that even if they had another job that they were on furlough from, we still wanted them to come to work with us.
To better recruit managers and district managers, we implemented sign-on bonuses up to $3,000 for these roles. We also used social media to help recruit employees and encouraged our managers and associates to post on their social media pages about job openings.
I personally spoke with many mayors in Mississippi and Alabama to get temporary allowances to place “now hiring” signs on our Clark Oil properties in municipalities where permits or permission were needed from the local government.
This not only helped Clark Oil, but also benefited other retailers around our stores. The local governments were invested in helping us and other retailers like us keep our businesses profitable. They allowed us to place multiple “now hiring” banners in our yards and use smaller “real estate” signs in municipalities that had limitations on signage, in order to follow code enforcement guidelines.
As if a global pandemic wasn’t challenge enough, we also experienced two hurricanes on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2020, which only made it more difficult to operate as normal. The two hurricanes caused us to shut our doors on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a total of three to four days, but our people promptly returned, even if they did not have power at their own homes.
So, to say the least, I am glad 2020 is behind us. We learned a lot about the resolve of our front-line staff, and I’m grateful that they have remained true to Clark Oil throughout the pandemic.
I am proud to be a part of Clark Oil, and I am proud of my leadership team who held it all together. I am also proud the ownership of Clark Oil gave us the financial backing to reward our most valuable asset — our people.