LAS VEGAS -- At Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc., millennial employees are leading the charge. “If you walk down our hallways, it’s not unusual to see the youngest person in the room leading a meeting,” said Joe Sheetz, CEO of the Sheetz chain, from the general-session stage at the 2018 NACS Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
For some Gen Xers and baby boomers, the idea of handing control over to the next generation sounds terrible. But general-session speaker Scott Stratten, president of Unmarketing and serial conference speaker, assured the audience—in an unapologetically tongue-in-cheek style—that hatred of the younger generation is a simple fact of life.
“It’s just science that every generation hates the younger generation. My grandfather hated my father. My father hates me. And I hate my children. ... I don’t,” said Stratten. “I have five wonderful children I love to death. I hate your children. You need to parent better.”
His point was that it is not just the generation itself that older generations dislike. The real issue is the inevitable change in society that the new generation embodies.
But illogical hatred for millennials was not the only misconception that Stratten broke down. Read on for more insights from the man who claims he would be the most popular Canadian on Twitter if it weren’t for Justin Bieber …
Stratten worked in a convenience store when he was a teenager. More specifically, he worked in a small kiosk that had just enough room for him, cigarettes and cash. “We used to call them murder boxes,” he quipped, noting the inherent lack of safety in working the kiosk during the night shift.
But despite his time in the murder box, Stratten seems to legitimately love convenience stores. He showed pictures of products he had picked up from c-stores in Japan and Germany. He showed a selfie of himself screaming in front of a Buc-ee’s. “I rented a car to drive to Buc-ee’s. I’m going to say that again. I rented a car to go to a gas station,” he said.
Lost and found
After explaining his strange love affair with gas stations, Stratten went through the importance of branding with a story of a stuffed giraffe named Joshie.
Joshie’s owner accidentally left him in a hotel—as children do. The hotel was the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla. The child then told his father once he realized he had left Joshie. “The father did what any good father would do in this scenario,” said Stratten. “He lied and said Joshie was on an extended vacation.”
Lions and giraffes
Dad proceeded to call the Ritz-Carlton and it turned out that they did have the giraffe. But not only did the hotel overnight Joshie back to his home at no extra charge, they included photos of Joshie enjoying his extended vacation.
One photo showed Joshie getting a massage with cucumbers over his eyes. Another photo showed Joshie socializing with other stuffed animals. He also spent some time working in loss prevention to pay for his extended stay.
Tell all your friends
The important part of the saga of Joshie was not how adorable it was but the effect the event had on the Ritz-Carlton brand. “What do you think the father did when he got the package other than change his pants? He told people about it,” said Stratten.
Knowing that the Ritz-Carlton takes that much care of its guests makes it easier to like that brand. But this example of supreme customer service was not by accident. Stratten said the hotel authorizes each employee up to $2,000 per guest per incident to either “delight or make right.”
He suggested c-stores try something similar—not with $2,000, but maybe with just $20 or $5. But what if employees can’t be trusted with that responsibility? “You have a hiring problem,” he said.
It is up to companies to do more than throw a brand or a mission statement together. A company’s brand is about how people perceive it, and while that can be difficult to manage, it is not impossible.
Stratten pointed to Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, who said that every customer that comes within 10 feet of a Walmart employee should be greeted. One day, Stratten hid a camera in his basket and walked around his local Walmart to test how well this rule was being implemented.
He passed 17 employees before anyone greeted him and posted the video to YouTube. Clearly Walmart was not living up to its brand. “I don’t care about your mission statement. I don’t care about your ‘five keys’ unless you do them,” he said.
There was much more to Stratten’s presentation than a few anecdotes about generations, hiring and customer service, but he was trying to say that real-life experiences and their effects on people are more important than what we tell each other is real when we are making decisions affecting employees and customers.