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Transform operations by upskilling your front-line workforce

C-stores are in the midst of wide-scale transformation and associates are expected to do a lot more than stocking shelves and running the register: 4 tactics to make sure your frontline team is always ready to execute.
system of convenience store
Delivery, POS, loyalty apps and more: Front-line staff do it all. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Who’s running your convenience store right now?

Today, employers across North America are struggling to find people to work in frontline roles, including retail, foodservice, grocery and convenience. In Canada, 76% of c-stores employ less than 10 people, while 51% employ less than five. This means every associate must be capable of running the complete day-to-day operation. Unfortunately, rising turnover is making it harder to build a knowledgeable frontline workforce. In 2020, full-time associate turnover was already 81%, while part time was nearly double.

Meanwhile, the convenience industry is in the midst of wide-scale transformation. Associates are now expected to do a lot more than just stocking shelves and running the register. As c-stores compete with alternative convenience offerings, including online ordering and home delivery, workers are taking on new responsibilities. They must cook and handle prepared food while keeping spoilage rates down and staying in compliance with health regulations. They’re interacting with customers in new ways thanks to the growing use of drive-thru and curbside pickup. Plus, the expansion of EV charging networks is bringing its own challenges and opportunities, as customers spend additional time on-site.

Here are four tactics you can use to make sure your frontline team is always ready to execute.

1. Rapid onboarding

You hire new employees because you need them on the floor ASAP. You can’t wait for a regional trainer to travel to the store to complete their training. You also can’t just throw new people out there and to figure things out on their own. Both options add risk to the business and negatively impact the customer experience. Even worse, frustrated associates who feel like they’re being set up to fail have more options than ever to find a different job.

C-stores spend an average of $2,181 to hire a full-time hourly employee. Make this investment count by providing a comprehensive onboarding experience.

Break down the knowledge and skill required to run the store, including topics like job safety, food handling, payment processing, inventory management and customer service. Use a mobile learning management system (LMS) to guide associates through training using an in-store device, such as a tablet or POS, or even their own smartphones. The LMS ensures every employee, regardless of location or manager, receives the same training. It tracks their knowledge and skill development to ensure compliance and inform coaching opportunities. You also have the option to use assessments to accelerate training and get people on the floor faster if they prove they can already do certain parts of the job.

2. Digital communication

C-store operations are constantly changing. Prices. Products. Promotions. Regulations. Weather. Associates must have the latest information to make good decisions on the job. However, they don’t use traditional workplace communication tools like email. Many c-store managers implement their own digital tools, such as group texts and WhatsApp, to keep everyone informed using their own smartphones. It’s a quick fix that puts the company at risk through unapproved software.

Avoid potential security risks by implementing a purpose-built digital communication tool for your frontline workers.

Accelerate information flow by giving management a fast, reliable way to push messages to every employee. Give associates the option to share, react and provide feedback. After all, they’re often the first people to identify operational issues and need an easy way to report problems and share insights. Unlike everyday consumer tools, a digital communication platform will also help you abide by company, regional and union guidelines when it comes to what employees are permitted to do while off the clock.

3. Reinforcement

Just because someone was trained on how to complete a task during onboarding doesn’t mean they’ll remember how to do it correctly three months later. Everyone forgets information, especially when we’re overwhelmed in a new job. Forgetting may be natural, but it’s also a major cause of inconsistent performance. This is becoming an even bigger problem as c-stores rely on employees with little-to-no retail experience.

Use reinforcement training to help employees remember what matters most. Ask employees to recall critical food safety guidelines or how they would handle a difficult customer situation. The more often they recall information, the more likely they are to remember it long-term.

Use your LMS to push three quick questions to each employee at the start of every shift. Reinforcement requires less than five minutes out of a busy workday, and it quickly adds up to a knowledgeable, capable workforce.

4. Cross-training

Staffing shortages are pushing frontline employers to find ways to do more with less. This includes cross-training employees to cover extra shifts and take on additional responsibilities. You may train cashiers to also prepare food items and serve coffee in larger stores. Or you may train associates to work between multiple locations that offer different products or services. Cross-training creates operational flexibility, while also combating employee burnout by adding variety to the daily work experience. 

When you’re short-staffed, you can’t pull people out of the operation for hours of training. Instead, make cross-training part of the job for employees who are ready to expand their skills.

Use microlearning to add a few minutes of training to every shift.

For example, cashiers can use slow periods to complete five-minute exercises on preparing hot food items. This will reduce the time needed for hands-on training, increase employee engagement and help you keep the operation running smoothly despite labour challenges.

Frontline employees make or break store execution. They always have. The best workers have the knowledge and skill to run the store, solve problems as they pop up and keep pace with operational changes. Many of these associates are among the 45% of frontline workers that have already decided to leave their jobs. As it gets harder to find people with relevant work experience, c-store managers must implement tools and processes to help workers do their jobs consistently, effectively and confidently.


JD Dillon head shot

JD Dillon has spent two decades working in operations and training with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the global talent development community, he continues to apply his passion for helping people do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's chief learning architect.

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