The Right Stuff

Kwik Trip tops CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop again for large chains.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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As retail management recruiter for Kwik Trip, Bower says that while being outgoing, energetic and fun is very important, “Often the people I’m looking for don’t draw attention to themselves. If I’m at aparty and the person is saying, ‘I did this, or I did that,’ it’s not someone I’m interested in.”

Bower wants to know if that person enjoys helping others, talks about family or has a history of volunteer work. “Those are things that will draw me,” he says.

And he’s constantly recruiting. He works through conventional means, such as online resume posts or referrals from Kwik Trip employees; and more active means, such as when he’s in a restaurant. If he sees an employee or a manager exhibiting great customer service, he strikes up a conversation. He says his wife has seen him do it so often, she sometimes jumps in with questions.

His worst nightmare is picking someone who’s the wrong fi t. “I’ve got 11,000 team members and it’s my job to make the right choice,” he says. “If [owner] Don Zietlow walks up and feels this person’s not the right fit, I don’t ever want him to think, ‘Did Rich recruit that person? What was he thinking?’ ”

Other factors also can come into play. Different zone leaders like different types of people. Some prefer people with more experience, while others prefer newer ones they can mold and mentor. The candidates themselves have to be willing to work in different locations or possibly relocate, so sometimes it’s not a fi t in that respect.Bower met Schweiger through an in-house referral, with Schweiger looking for a more supportive work environment. Bower saw in him an enthusiastic, concerned manager who had a history of leading large numbers of employees

And Schweiger wasn’t the only one with those traits. That type of background led Bower to bring on Phillip Heldt, now an assistant store leader in Bonduel, Wis., who spent 25 years in the U.S. Navy. He ended his time there as a senior chief operations specialist.

Heldt says Bower reached him via an online resume posting. Though Heldt initially didn’t picture himself working for a convenience chain, he took the interview as a practice face-to-face meeting for an upcoming interview in Washington, D.C.

After talking with Bower, Heldt was taken aback by Kwik Trip’s generous incentive programs (among them a well-known 40% pretax profi t-sharing bonus to employees at the end of the year), its successful track record and team-based focus—all that in an area in which he and his wife grew up in and wanted to raise their family. It was a great fit.

In talking about the traits he brought to the table, Heldt cites honesty and integrity, plus the fact that daily he had managed almost 200 people while in the military.

“Every company has a hard time leading people effectively,” he says. “You have rules and regulations, but things don’t always happen that way. You should naturally help people, care about people, but sadly, we have lost that.”Motivating a large staff means managing a host of different personalities, Heldt says. It’s a skill that takes patience, energy and innate people skills.Of course, finding Mr. Right is not exclusive to gender. April Hoesly, a store leader at the Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., location where Schweiger is training, says having the passion and enthusiasm to connect with the customer is a critical part of the job.

Growing up on a farm, she says her parents taught her that 90% of her day was about attitude. She learned that a great attitude will always get her through a bad day. It’s a mindset that turns a shopper into a guest, a store into an extension of her home. In her 13 years at Kwik Trip since starting part time in high school, she’s seen that culture get stronger, especially in the past few years.

That kind of purpose has to be genuine, she says. “Whenever I do hiring or ask anyone about why they want to work here, I can tell if they are fudging an answer or saying things by the book,” Hoesly says. “You’ve got to have passion and enthusiasm for the guy coming in for milk and you’re the only conversation he’ll have with someone that day. If you watch any one of our co-workers … they do [the job] for a purpose. Even if we … have a bad day, we understand we’re making a difference. I do what I do to give them an awesome experience. They come here for [that] value, not just milk, bread or bananas.” 

Chains Up Their Game

Food offerings drive gains in service, cleanliness

Chains studied in the annual CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop are, as a whole, pulling up their average scores, giving the impression that their focus on foodservice is elevating store cleanliness and the customer experience, according to Service Intelligence.

Top-ranked Kwik Trip’s scores jumped almost 5 percentage points from its overall average of 90.9% in 2012 to 95.2% this year, while the average for the group overall made a similar jump from 85.2% in 2012 to 90.8% in 2013.

Overall averages in interior and exterior cleanliness are up since 2010, while restroom cleanliness has made another improvement, going from 87.8% to 90.4%. “If you go someplace to eat, it’s something you care about,” says Cameron Watt, vice president and general manager of Service Intelligence, Ft. Mill, S.C. “The industry is actually behaving like it wants to be in foodservice.”

Being in stock and having a variety of baked goods, dispensed beverages and other hot foods have also gone up from past years, Watt said.

Where the industry appears to be falling back is upselling. Over the years, Watt says, his firm has experienced pushback from some chains, which say they’ve decided not to emphasize upselling because customers say they don’t like it.

Overall scores for upselling have languished year after year, with some chains having extremely low marks in that area. Though showing a small improvement over last year (11.1%), the overall average for upselling was still a dismal 12.3% for 2013.

The problem is twofold, Watt says. First, customers in the study say they’re not worried about an upsell, he says. It’s not a main reason why they shop or don’t shop at a store. Second, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) upsell on a regular basis and find it an acceptable means for increasing sales.

“McDonald’s, Subway, these newly stated competitors are very good at suggestive selling,” Watt says. “If done with the right item in the right way by a friendly person, I don’t believe there will be a negative impact on service, but there will be a positive impact on the bottom line. 

Interior and Exterior Cleanliness

For RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., the goal is to be the convenience store of choice, which means creating a “wow” experience. That translates into cleanliness and safety, according to Ashleigh Collins, communications manager for the Atlanta-based chain.

RaceTrac squeaked by Kwik Trip to gain the highest overall score for interior cleanliness in the mystery-shop study, but Kwik Trip turned the tables in terms of exterior cleanliness.

Embracing foodservice has been a part of that experience as well, with RaceTrac one of a few old-school fuel jobbers able to succeed in the c-store channel.

“We think outside of our industry,” Collins says, “benchmarking our standards against a wide variety of retailers, from restaurants to grocery stores to QSRs, to ensure we are maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness as we expand our foodservice offering.”

For RaceTrac, consistency in terms of cleanliness revolves around a routine of spot-checking stores. At the beginning of every shift, the in-store team goes through a six-point checklist, which addresses overall cleanliness, food-safety standards, inventory of products, accuracy of signage and specifications in other areas of the location. Managers also regularly perform store walks to ensure the sales fl oor is clean and that shift duties have been handled.

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