2017 Mystery Shop: Pitching In at Rutters

By 
Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Take it from the top

Scott Hartman is president and CEO of Rutter’s Farm Stores.

Company culture at Rutter’s is driven from the top. Twice a year, Scott Hartman oversees strategic planning. In the process, he and his team engineer the company’s growth trajectory for the year and decades ahead, with one element as their guiding light.

“People are our focus inside the plan: how we hire the best people, retain the best people, build bench strength,” he says.

Rutter’s measure of employee fit: simply liking people, a quality Hartman finds more powerful in shaping customer service than experience or skills.

“If they don’t pass the people-person test, they shouldn’t be on our team,” he says.

Those who do find plenty of opportunities for recognition, including being named team member of the month. Hartman takes these winners out for lunch every quarter. Rutter’s also rewards top-performing employees with a trip to the annual NACS Show.

Hartman also expands his senior management team’s perspective with trips to help them learn from retailers in other countries. For 2017, the 16-member team will visit Scotland.

“We’re constantly benchmarking when we travel,” he says. “We bring back pictures from retailers, try to focus on what they do best, their strengths and how we emulate that to improve in different areas.”

The voice of the customer

Derek Gaskins is chief customer officer of Rutter’s Farm Stores.

At another retailer, Derek Gaskins’ title might be chief brand or marketing officer. But in Rutter’s  customer-centric” culture, the title reflects his main priority.

“It’s the customer who wields influence and power in shaping the brand,” says Gaskins. “For all of the marketing touch points I manage and oversee, my challenge is to make sure that the customer is always first and I’m thinking through the endgame.”

That includes working closely with his team members—vice president of operations Matthews chief among them—as he rolls out new store programs.

“He’s telling me the implications on his team and the labor in the store. They then carry my marketing message to reach the end consumer so that we can drive the process and the business forward,” Gaskins says.

While his team does segment customers by demographics (millennial, soccer mom, etc.), it also considers their behavioral needs and how they are met by different categories.

“Instead of just thinking about millennials or Gen X, I can start thinking about people seeking energy and how we meet those needs with the products we sell,” whether it be with coffee, energy shots or energy drinks, he says.

“Their behaviors and need states may be different, but my marketing and branding … have to go through that lens.”

Mildly obsessed with mops

Jere Matthews is vice president of operations for Rutter’s Farm Stores.

“Restroom cleanliness is one area that I take personally,” says Jere Matthews. That’s because he sees how much it influences the customer experience—specifically in foodservice.

“If a customer comes in to a store thinking they want to buy food, and goes to the restroom first and it smells clean and fresh, they’re going to have a higher propensity to make a purchase,” he says. The opposite, of course, is also true.

Matthews is a details man, down to finding the very best mops for Rutter’s to clean its floors. After  evaluating several models, he chose what Gaskins describes as “some of the best mops in the world.” The stores use two types of Rubbermaid microfiber mops: one with tubular fibers for the foodservice area, and one with string fibers for the retail area.

Rutter’s has also introduced a “two-bucket” system for mopping, with one bucket holding clean water and the other dirty water “so that you’re not putting dirty water back on the floor when mopping,” Matthews says.

While this focus on mops may seem obsessive, the payoff is big if it helps Rutter’s stand out. “If your store is much cleaner than the rest,” Matthews says, “then you will differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.”

A career people person

Mindy Torney is a store manager in Rutter’s hometown.

Mindy Torney is the casebook example of the ideal Rutter’s store manager. “She’s a happy person, No. 1, and No. 2, she’s someone who likes people,” says Jere Matthews, vice president of operations.

In the past 16 years, Torney has worked her way up from store team member to manager of the Rutter’s location near York College of Pennsylvania.

Along the way, she has won restaurant manager and store manager of the year awards—a company first.

Torney’s favorite part of the day is when she comes into work, before the break of dawn, to cheer up customers.

“Normally I’m in a good mood and everyone else is kind of grouchy, so they’re getting coffee, heading to work,” she says. “I brighten their day a little bit when I see them.

“I want them to come back to my store, so that means do whatever I’ve got to do, whether that’s being friendly, helping pump gas, carrying product out to their car, asking how their weekend was.”

In Rutter’s fun, fast-paced and competitive environment, Torney feels like she has found a career. “It’s fulfilling,” she says. “I can provide for my family and do something I love to do.”