5 Workforce Risks Facing the C-Store Industry

AUSTIN, Texas -- Under the South Congress Bridge in Austin, Texas, resides the largest urban bat colony in the world.

As a group of c-store retailers, in town for the recent CSP Leadership and Crisis Prevention Forum, watched the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats take to the sky—and leave a trail of guano behind—they could appreciate the symbolism of the scene.

These risk managers are constantly on the lookout for potential dangers raining down from above, everything from an aging workforce to slippery cybersecurity and food-safety threats. But that doesn’t mean they are helpless. Instead, during the forum, held May 23-25 in Austin, the more than 20 speakers and operators shared a range of crisis-prevention best practices straight from the field to help avoid that next calamity—or at least to recover from it as quickly as possible.

1. An aging workforce

From the fleet to the home office, employees are getting older, compounding safety risks for the industry. Americans ages 65 to 74 are projected to make up 31.9% of the workforce within the next five years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For Temple, Texas-based Fikes Wholesale Inc., the average driver’s age is 46, said Stan Williams, director of risk management and insurance for the company’s distribution and retail divisions.

“Lifting hoses and other tasks are becoming more dangerous when several workers are over 60 years old,” Williams said.

To help reduce the risks that can come along with this growing demographic, Fikes Wholesale has created policies to keep older drivers safe. For instance, daytime and nighttime drivers are not allowed to switch shifts as a way of preventing all-nighters.

To reduce the likelihood of sleepy workers, the chain also does not ask drivers to come in earlier than their scheduled hours.

2. The dark side of the web

Data breaches increased by 40% from 2015 to 2016, according to John Browning, partner with Dallas-based law firm Passman & Jones. And the costs of such a breach can come from all directions. Not only does the Federal Trade Commission have the authority to bring a suit against c-stores for inadequate cybersecurity procedures, but shareholders can also sue publicly owned retailers for plummeting stock value.

To help brace against these risks and the reputational costs, Browning recommends having a proven, companywide data-security policy. “Talk to employees about this issue,” he said. “Tell them this exists and [say] ‘Here’s the part you play.’ ”

Some retailers at the meeting said they test employees’ understanding of their cybersecurity policies via purposefully suspicious emails.

Browning also suggests that c-stores invest in cyber liability insurance and identify the key members of the response team should a breach occur. To be as prepared as possible, retailers should set up a draft notification that can be sent to parties whose information has been compromised so that employees aren’t scrambling to come up with the right language in the moment, he said.

Sources: Identity Theft Resource Center, New York attorney general’s office, FireEye

3. Body talk

To help employees avoid physical confrontations, Maverik Inc., Salt Lake City, holds perceptual safety exercises to help them understand how a customer or fellow worker might interpret their actions. Travis Goff, risk and safety supervisor for Maverik, shared a few of the exercises’ key steps:

Talk with your hands

“Communicating with your hands, palms up, is inviting and a good way to distract and react quickly,” said Goff.

Lean forward

Leaning forward and making strong eye contact signal active listening.

Honor space bubbles

Maintaining at least 4 feet of space from a person makes them more comfortable.

Leave pathways open

People get anxious and act out when their exits are blocked, he said.

4. Product liability in perspective

At the conference, retailers had a chance to look at today’s heightened regulatory and compliance scrutiny from the other side of the table.

Attendees, working in small groups, played the role of staffers from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Food and Drug Administration, and made legal decisions over c-store product liability.

As part of the exercise, Steve Burkhart, vice president and general counsel, and Ryan Sullivan, corporate counsel for BIC Corp., shared best practices for dealing with the sale of illegal, noncompliant products; injuries caused by private-label products; and the sale of imported products from original equipment manufacturers that are not legally compliant. They include:

  • Control purchasing.
  • Obtain indemnity and sufficient insurance coverage from highly rated companies.
  • Require foreign exporters to obtain appropriate insurance coverage from an American or international insurer that will protect you in case of a recall or lawsuit in the United States.
  • Obtain proof of compliance to standards and regulations.
  • Follow the law: Deal only with reputable, financially responsible manufacturers and distributors.

5. Fickle food safety

"What’s high risk anymore in terms of food safety?” said Daniel Coto, vice president of EHA Consulting Group Inc., an environmental and public-health consulting fırm based in Lake Worth, Fla. Diet trends, globalization of the food supply and evolving microbes are creating an ever-changing food-safety climate, and operators must be prepared, Coto said. For instance, unpasteurized-milk trends are driving up the health risks for dairy products, said Coto.

Coto recommends developing strong relationships with regulatory agencies and training employees on the signs and symptoms of foodborne illnesses. But retailers are only as strong as their suppliers. For example, Chipotle’s 2015 salmonella outbreak was likely a vendor issue, rather than from a sick employee or mishandling of product, he said.

“It’s not enough just to make sure you’re not buying from a hot truck in a dark alley,” Coto said. He recommends verifying vendors’ records, requesting proof of certifications and asking about quality-assurance protocols, such as running final product through metal detectors.

“Remember, a third-party audit is only a snapshot of their food-safety protocols,” he said.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention