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Labor, Culture Strategies Take the Stage at CRU

Operational, scheduling practices linked to low perception of c-stores as desirable places to work

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Issues ranging from scheduling flexibility to internal culture emerged as core topics in addressing labor concerns and overall brand development, according to general-session speakers at CSP’s Convenience Retailing University (CRU) conference on Feb. 21 in Glendale, Ariz.

The convenience-store industry is waging a “war for talent,” in part because of historically low unemployment, a shrinking labor pool and competition for good employees, said Donna Hood Crecca, associate principal of Chicago-based Technomic, in breaking down an internal study done in conjunction with CSP.

With unemployment figures at 4.1% in January and the 86th consecutive month of job creation, “it’s a buyer’s market for a person shopping for a job,” Crecca said. Those statistics, coupled with a Gen Z demographic that’s smaller than the millennials before them; competition from the likes of grocery, mass merchants and dollar stores; and even the opioid crisis putting pressure on the labor pool, “we’re being pummeled,” she said. “We’ve got to be paying attention to the issue [of labor].”

In the study of 200 hourly wage workers and those looking for jobs at retail, conducted last year, Crecca said 26% of respondents viewed c-stores as an undesirable place to work, second only to fast-food restaurants at 30%. The biggest drawback is that most respondents (73%) saw c-stores as a short-term job. Another significant portion (40%) were concerned about opportunities for advancement.

Crecca pointed out several c-store chains that were establishing strong reputations for being employers of choice, including QuikTrip, Tulsa, Okla.; Kwik Trip, La Crosse, Wis.; Wawa, Wawa, Pa.; and Sheetz, Altoona, Pa. “They’re winning in their markets,” she said. “But the industry is not winning the war.”

While wages were a primary concern for what made people want to work at c-stores, Crecca said the industry has to rethink its approach to attracting and retaining employees. She suggested several strategies, including providing bonuses for employees who refer potential candidates for interview, considering flexible scheduling to address work-life balance concerns, and actively pursuing online messaging to tell the company’s story and reach out to potential employees.

Meanwhile, a second general-session speaker addressed another human-resource issue: culture. Denise Lee Yohn, a consultant and author of “Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies,” said businesses can often go awry when their brand message to consumers doesn’t match the culture within the company. She cited New York-based Wells Fargo as an example, having a trusted brand reputation but being exposed as having nurtured a culture of dishonesty and fraud.

She said a company needs to develop a “unique” culture based on its own sense of purpose. Leaders within the business need to identify those ideas and then turn them into actual operational processes that reinforce those concepts. As an example, she cited MGM Resorts, which developed its brand as an “entertainment” company by putting all 77,000 of its employees through a “brand experience” session similar to what they wanted their guests to feel. It included developing experiential sessions, a media campaign and training tools, all professionally executed, that were geared to communicating key cultural concepts to employees.

“Think about the journey the employee takes,” Yohn said.

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