3 Ways C-Stores Can Compete With Restaurants for Talent

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Retailers are stuck in a kind of limbo in 2018. Convenience stores are resembling restaurants more and more. At the same time, however, the industry operates unlike any other.

“We’re the people they come to for a pack of smokes, a 25-ounce can of beer and a candy bar,” said Josh Halpern (above), vice president of small format and former vice president of on-premise sales for Anheuser-Busch. “That’s who we are. On the other hand, that’s who we no longer wish to necessarily be. We want to go into the restaurant world.”

To do that, c-stores need to compete with an industry that added 25,000 jobs in December alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Check out Halpern’s strategies for drawing new staff members and keeping the ones already in place ...

1. Shift priorities

kwik trip coffee staff

Convenience stores need to treat staff the same way they treat customers, Halpern said at CSP’s 2017 Outlook Leadership Conference. To find the people who live to create experiences for customers, training needs to be fun and engaging, he said. “Any way you can gamify training is a good thing,” he said.

Restaurants have a major advantage over c-stores: tipping. So c-stores need to find additional ways to compensate their teams to hold on to their best people.

“Any way you can reward people for working later or double shifts will help people feel better about putting in their sweat equity for you,” he said. For instance, handing out $20 gift cards to workers who sell the most limited-time offers (LTOs) could help round out staff’s paychecks.

C-stores don’t need to get hung up on the dollar amount, he said. “It doesn’t need to be big monetary rewards, but rewarding through education, access to experience, product and cash is vital,” he said. “They need to feel not a part of your company but of your ecosystem.”

2. Don't try to sell staff on a career

racetrac employees

Attempting to convert staff into life-long employees might not be the best approach.

“If you’re thinking about creating your chain university in training for these servers, please don’t do it,” Halpern said. “Because these servers don’t view that they have a career; they don’t even view that they work for you.” Rather, their take is they're working for themselves, and the restaurant is just a vehicle to reach customers.

Instead, Halpern recommends sharing quick hacks with staff about how to increase sales and move on to their next role.

3. Transform staff into closers

twin peaks

Creating the most “lethal, baddest salesforce” starts with teaching employees about active and passive menu recommendations, Halpern said.

Active recommendation is when a server takes the time to guide a guest through the menu or promote a LTO or other dish; passive recommendation is when it’s built into the menu.

For example, Twin Peaks, an 81-unit restaurant known for its scantily clad waitresses, offers guests gendered beverage options. Customers can order a 22-ounce "Man-Sized" or a 10-ounce "Girl-Sized" beer.

“Folks need to feel good about the people they’re servicing if we want them to stay, and we all know turnover is a problem,” Halpern said. “Understanding active and passive states is the key to unlocking this challenge.”

Each method has different benefits. An employee’s passion for sharing their favorite menu items and how they’re made can be contagious, but a passive approach that simplifies a customer’s decision helps promote efficiency.