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The right stuff


Illustration by Jori Bolton

To be a success in any business, operators need the right staff. Certainly this is true of convenience retail where challenging hours and the competitive nature of the business make human resources (HR) an ongoing battle. According to the Canadian Convenience Stores Association there are nearly 220,000 workers in c-retail with an almost 50/50 split between full time and part time staff. No surprise then that staffing is considered a major challenge in c-retail that can mean the difference between real success in the marketplace and just getting by.

According to Toronto-based HR consultant Norman Wolfson, a principal with Lecours Wolfson Limited, a permanent placement agency that specializes in areas such as QSR and hospitality, sectors that closely mirror c-store HR trends, there aren’t enough workers to fill all of the openings – and this will continue to be a profound challenge in the years ahead. “This problem is compounded by competition for workers from other industries and relatively low rates of compensation,” he says.

Indeed, PayScale, a company that benchmarks staff remuneration, reports that here in Canada c-store cashiers get an average of $11.13/hr with sales associates receiving a bit more pay at $11.23/hr. Store managers can expect a wage range of about $20.50/hr while the assistant manager gets $15.48/hr.

According to the 2016 Convenience Store News HR & Labor Study, turnover is a bigger issue for entry-level employees than it is for those who have moved up the job ranks. The average annual rate of turnover for store associates in 2015 was 54%. This figure dropped to 23.8% for assistant store managers and 14.9% for store managers. Field managers for c-store chains saw very little turnover, at just 4% annually.

Turnover and recruitment stand out as key challenges that may prove more difficult as economies improve and companies find it harder to attract and retain quality employees. “Job seekers can afford to be more selective as opportunities become more plentiful,” says Barrett Crook, Vice-president of Quantum Services, one of the world’s largest auditing firms to focus exclusively on c-store. “With more jobs available, employed individuals feel secure enough to leave for a better opportunity. Therefore, employee recruiting and retention strategies must be a priority for c-stores,” he says suggesting the solutions are not rocket science. Rather the answers to the c-retail’s HR challenges speak to the basics of business.

Recruiting the right staff

Raise the starting wage – Quantum research discovered that higher wages attract a better class of worker that is more productive and is more capable when it comes to improving customer service.

“You have to pay more than minimum to keep staff,” says Revy Reid of Clairmont Gas & Grocery in Clairmont, AB. “We are in the oil patch and staff can go over to higher paying jobs in the oil sector so it’s really hard to keep people at $11.00. We tell them they can start at more than $13.00, but this is often not enough. We work hard to keep our staff with things like a sports and fitness passes.”

Use social media and mobile apps – A company’s application process must now work on multiple digital devices such as smart phones and tablets and be easy for candidates to find and fill out. Social sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and others are ideal for attracting new talent and letting the world know about the HR qualities of an organization.

Winning qualities

The ideal candidate for work in convenience retail should offer a number of qualities that translate into customer service and performance.

Energetic – Canada’s c-stores are fast paced retail sites where the average customer spends about three minutes in a location. Customers expect to spend less than one minute to wait in line and complete the transaction. Slow workers spoil the concept of quick service and work against customer retention.

Positive A good attitude goes a long way in customer service. Being greeted by an employee with a positive approach opens the door to increased sales opportunities as well as the kind of customer satisfaction that earns repeat trade.

Honest – A recent US study on retail theft revealed that employees cause 43% of inventory shrink. There is technology available to supervise staff. However, digital video and remote management apps can be expensive and they only address the problem that already exists in the store. Better to hire staff with the right qualities at the front end rather than wait till your store tapes show a hand in the till.            

Versatile – In a retail setting there is much to do with few hands to cover all the tasks. Convenience operators should seek out workers that willingly do what has to be done to keep the store running on an even keel. Staff members need to be able to step in to clean the floors or washroom, work the till, stock the shelves and deal with customer requests that might be a challenge. A good c-store worker can think in their feet and act responsibly with the owner’s best interests at heart.

Keeping staff

High rates of turnover have a major impact on the bottom line. In fact, the HR industry suggests that it takes 16% of a departing employee’s salary ($30,000 and under) to replace them. As well, c-retailers with a revolving employment door see big reductions in productivity, low worker moral, a steady loss of knowledge learned through training and a staff that can be overworked. Customer service and satisfaction is typically lost and business suffers as a result of poor worker retention.

Flexible benefits and perks – Employers can look beyond the paycheck to sweeten the pot. Offer workers benefits such as a supplementary health package, paid holiday time, or performance incentives to show they are valued in the business.

“Staffing is the number one problem,” reports George Klein of Klein’s Food Mart, Regina. “We offer longer hours and people just don’t want to work late at night or on weekends. We give our staff gift cards as a token of appreciation for jobs well done. My wife and I will also show up with pizzas for the staff on nights. We take over the store for a while and let staff relax and have something to eat. It’s just a small thing, but it shows we value them.”

Opportunities to advance – Have clear career development paths established for workers. Provide training and skill enhancement opportunities that help staff build value in an organization.

Inclusion – Make every employee part of the team. Where practical include workers in goal setting and workplace improvements. This helps employees feel part of the big picture and keeps them tuned in to a company’s mission and objectives.

“I have been impacted by success coach Doug Vermulen,” says Charlene Vlietstra who operates Vi’s Convenience in Wilkie, AB. “He says that gratitude is one of the most powerful things and just saying thanks can go a long way. At our location we make a point of saying thanks and I think staff go the extra distance because they know they are valued and part of the business.”

Looking forward Norman Wolfson quotes Bill Gates who says, “The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area” and to that, he says, “I would add to that competitive compensation, benefits, working hours, training/development and advancement opportunities.”