Understanding Your Local Labor Landscape

How retailers can find and hire employees in a post-pandemic economy.

Understanding Your Local Labor Landscape

December 2021   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

A recent drive down the main street of my hometown revealed a familiar theme on numerous retail marquees: Help Wanted. Many also advertised signing bonuses and starting wages far above the federal minimum. “Participation in the labor force in general is declining,” said Jayme Gough, NACS research manager. “Baby boomers are aging and retiring, removing a large group of people from the workforce, while there’s a new wave of workers quitting in what some are calling the Great Resignation.”

Those factors make it even harder for retailers to hire good workers. Knowing what the current hiring trends impacting retailers are—and what they can do to get workers—is crucial to continuing to meet the needs of customers. Earlier this year, NACS hosted a series of webinars designed to help retailers find, hire and retain workers in this ever-changing post-pandemic economy. Here’s what you need to know.

Competing for Workers

As many retailers have experienced, the competition for hourly workers is especially fierce. “Wages have gone up, creating more competition around hourly rates especially,” said Gough during the NACS webinar “The Hiring Landscape.” “And COVID-19 accelerated some of these most sought-after employee benefits, including flexibility, peer coaching, teamwork, diversity and work/life balance.”

With flexibility topping the list of what workers want, she reminded retailers that they can build flexibility into their schedules for hourly employees. “Flexibility can be how long an in-store shift is, what days an employee wants to work or not work, what store location they want to work in, etc.,” Gough said. “There are more options for flexibility out there on the front line than retailers realize, and it’s an asset for a company to provide that flexibility for hourly workers.”

As Travis Kistler, principal at Oliver Wyman, pointed out, “The importance of the customer experience is also on the rise not just for customers but also for prospective employees. If they don’t like the customer experience, they’re not going to apply for a job.”

Kistler gave the example of a retailer with customer experience focused on being community oriented and then also treating employees like family. “Retailers need to make sure the employee experience and the customer experience are complementary,” he said.

Both Gough and Kistler reminded retailers that wage earners want more than competitive pay. “The good news is that there are lots of great options for retailers to create an attractive and compelling work package, as companies are testing a lot of different things to see what’s the most effective in retaining workers as well as bringing new workers in,” Kistler said. For example, he suggested tailoring benefits to the different life stages of employees to see what works best for a retailer’s diverse workforce.

One thing any retailer can do to figure out how to retain and hire workers is to find out the reasons why people stay in the job. “Conduct stay interviews with long-term employees to find out why they stay with you, then consider how to emphasize all those positives to both new and current employees,” Kistler said.

A New Way to Connect

Retailers have adapted and adopted new practices and technologies to attract and hire team members in unforeseen circumstances. As society continues to return to normal, retailers continue to modify business practices to retain and hire workers by building flexibility into hiring and adapting quickly to meet the changing dynamics of the market.

For example, at GPM Investments LLC, Talent Acquisition Manager Bianca LaFountain leaned heavily on virtual hiring in the Midwest region. Earlier this year, the national chain expanded the practice company-wide. “We implemented virtual interviews every week,” she said during the NACS webinar “Attracting and Hiring Team Members in the Next Normal.” “The first one we held had [more than 600] interviews in one day. Since then, we’ve averaged between 300 and 400 per interview day.”

Those dedicated interview days have made it easier to fill positions. “We’ve also switched to making candidates a job offer on the spot,” she said, adding that in 2020, the company hired 300 to 350 candidates a week, but with the virtual interview days, that average is up to 500 hires per week during the summer of 2021. “This gives our operational teams a relief and support for them by easing the burden of understaffed stores,” she said.

Over at TXB Stores, Nathan Graham, director of human resources, created a slightly different process that has proved successful for the Texas chain. “People work for people, so we’ve taken the interview process and created a Realistic Job Preview (RJP) instead,” he said. The RJP involves on-site interviews with designated store employees, plus a short period of job shadowing. The up-to-one-hour process can end with an offer extended to the candidate, who can start training for the position immediately.

“So far, we’ve seen a huge improvement in retention since we started this process,” he said. “Our goal is for the new employee to know half of their team members on day one.” Interviewer employees go through coaching and role playing to prepare for the process, and stores prepare for this by scheduling interview days on the calendar. “Our goal is to roll RJP out to every store soon,” Graham said.

What both LaFountain and Graham stressed is that their processes are simply different ways to find the same answer to the question: Will this person fit into the store culture and position? “We’re really trying to gauge a person’s interest in the actual position by focusing more on those softer skills and attitude,” she said. “We can teach register and food—we can’t teach attitude,” Graham added.

Employees Are Part of Your Story

Are your employees telling your story? Do you have a story to tell both prospective and current workers? If not, then you need an Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Whether you have defined one or not, you attract and retain employees because of your values, commitment to customers and how you pay, retain and develop those who work for you. Telling prospective employees how they can benefit from working for you can be the difference between fully staffed stores and scrambling to cover shifts.

“How your employees feel about coming to work for you on a day-to-day basis is what an EVP is all about—it’s like the employee experience,” said Joanne Loce, managing partner of Fortify Leadership Group and NACS HR Forum facilitator, during the NACS webinar “Employee Value Proposition: Telling Your Story.”

The benefits of an EVP include:

  • Attracting people to come work for you
  • Establishing an emotional connection (especially appealing to younger workers)
  • Providing a roadmap for managers on how to treat employees

“Everybody has an EVP whether you’ve written it out or not,” said Chris McKinney, HR director for Victory Marketing/Sprint Mart. “An EVP demonstrates that you understand your employees as well as they understand your customers. It also increases engagement, which is tied to employee retention, better customer service and greater business results.”

For McKinney, one of the major benefits to having a formal EVP is that it “creates a consistent experience across the organization. … At Sprint Mart, we use it to clearly communicate to managers what it means to work here, often through the words of our own employees.”

Building an Employee Value Proposition isn’t difficult. Loce identified at least five building blocks of an effective EVP:

  1. Company brand
  2. Commitment to customer
  3. Values, purpose and mission
  4. Pay and benefits
  5. Development opportunities

Sprint Mart uses video recordings of its own employees talking about what it means to work for the company as a recruitment tool. “Oftentimes, we hear echoes of our EVP when we’re interviewing potential employees because of these videos,” McKinney said. He pointed out that when he first started at Sprint Mart, the storytelling in employee orientation focused more about the history of the organization. “While valuable, I noticed that new employees resonated far less with the company story than with what their own story at the company would be,” he said. “We’ve intentionally crafted an onboarding function within HR to reinforce … this sense of belonging and of being part of something bigger than just your store.”

Competing for candidates? Here are some ideas that could give your store the edge:

  • Be flexible with hours, shifts and work locations
  • Focus on building a great customer experience as well as employee experience
  • Hold dedicated hiring days and make job offers on the spot
  • Offer realistic job interviews that include job shadowing
  • Find out why people stay on the job—then share those learnings with recruits
  • Create and share your employee value proposition

Convenience Jobs Are Good Jobs

To help convenience retailers attract and retain top-notch people, NACS has partnered with the nonprofit Good Jobs Institute to bring the Good Jobs Strategy to the industry. The Good Jobs Strategy, which is a combination of investment in people and smart operating choices, increases employee productivity, motivation and contribution and promotes operational excellence. Case studies show that implementing the Good Jobs Strategy can grow a business and increase customer loyalty.

Retailers can access the Good Jobs Calculator, designed exclusively for NACS and the convenience industry. This tool allows retailers to use their own data and customized assumptions about the amount of improvement or uplift achievable, and executives can run scenarios on the bottom-line impact of a Good Jobs system. Visit www.convenience.org/goodjobs for more information and to access the calculator.

Watch and See

The NACS Labor Landscape three-part series on finding, attracting, interviewing and hiring labor in the convenience industry is available for viewing at www.convenience.org/Education/Webinars/NACS-Webinars.

  • Part 1: The Hiring Landscape
  • Part 2: Attracting and Hiring Team Members in the Next Normal
  • Part 3: Employee Value Proposition: Telling Your Story
Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.