The HR Community Connects

Turnover, total rewards, recruiting and retaining staff were among the hot topics at the NACS HR Forum.

The HR Community Connects

June 2019

More than 80 HR professionals gathered in Charleston, South Carolina, this past March to rethink and refresh the convenience industry’s hiring, retention and leadership challenges at the NACS HR Forum. In its 27th year, the Forum brings together HR leaders from c-store companies large and small to collaborate and work to resolve some of the industry’s most pressing labor issues.

To kick things off, NACS President and CEO Henry Armour shared a state of the industry overview with the nearly 90 attendees. Packaged beverages is a hot category and remains, according to Armour, “the No. 1 reason why people go to c-stores today: to be refreshed.” Every month in 2018 showed a decline in cigarette sales, so it’s important “to plan for a future where cigarettes will be a smaller part of your business,” he also advised.

Armour also reviewed direct store operating expenses (DSOE), including wages, credit card fees and utilities among other expenses. According to the recently released NACS Compensation Report, the average hourly wage for c-store employees is now $10.19. Yet, even with wages increasing, most companies are struggling with a labor shortage. “We don’t have enough workers in the United States,” Armour stated simply.

As if a dearth of workers wasn’t enough, Armour also reviewed additional strategic issues facing the industry—declining fuel volume, declining cigarette volume, declining trips and the rise of electric vehicles—as well as some of the issues the industry is tackling on Capitol Hill:

  • E-cigarettes and the push to a minimum buying age of 21, as well as flavor bans
  • SNAP/food stamps
  • Marijuana and CBD sales
  • Potential sugar taxes
Many of our stores will plan their schedules two to three weeks ahead of time, so people can plan their lives around work.

And yet, in spite of the uphill climb facing the industry in many areas, Armour remains hopeful about the industry’s future.

After a brief break, George Reeves of Fisher & Phillips law firm canvassed the legislative issues percolating for retailers.

He discussed the rise in sexual harassment charges (+12%) and litigation (+50% over the previous year), as well as reasonable cause findings (+23%). In addition, visits to the EEOC website’s harassment page have more than doubled during the past year. Reeves cautions that retailers should expect more scrutiny and state legislation aimed at reducing an employer’s ability to keep complaints of sexual harassment muted through NDAs, arbitration agreements, confidentiality agreements and/or settlement agreements.

To mitigate against any issues, here’s what retailers can do:

  • Make sure your policies match modern standards
  • Distribute your policies in a thoughtful way
  • Train your managers
  • Promptly investigate issues and complaints
  • Consistently enforce standards

Wages and hours were covered, specifically related to the overtime rule, which increases the minimum salary threshold to $679 per week (which annualizes to $35,308 per year). Discrimination, leave laws, immigration and medical and recreational marijuana use as it relates to hiring and retention also were discussed.

Engaging Leaders

A large focus of the meeting was on how store managers play a critical role in not only retaining employees but also engaging them in an effort to retain them and grow more leaders within the company.

Joanne M. Loce, managing director at Fortify Leadership Group and the HR Forum moderator, led a panel of HR professionals who discussed best practices and techniques that their store managers use to create a work environment that fosters engagement, retention and business performance. “People leave managers, not companies,” said Loce. “Sixty-five percent of employees would rather have a new manager than a pay raise.”

Panelist Bob Graczyk, vice president of human resources with QuickChek, said it’s critical to engage store managers and leaders through recognition in order to reduce turnover and boost performance. “The more recognition we give our folks, the more engaged that team is,” said Graczyk.

Panelist Mansoor Rasheed, senior manager of human resources at United Pacific, concurred that recognition is key to success. “We continuously refresh and remind our leaders to recognize employees, and we try to praise employees in public,” said Rasheed.

For Graczyk, “Flexible scheduling is one of the most important assets to the team today. Many of our stores will plan their schedule two to three weeks ahead of time, so people can plan their lives around work.”

Millennials want to jump jobs? That’s ok. There’s probably a lot of jobs at your company that they can jump to.

On a parallel discussion, later in the event, Natalya Fater, vice president of human resources at Nouria Energy Corporation, shared her company’s story on how it built and disseminated a customized manager training program to develop long-term leaders from its internal workforce.

“I don’t want our associates to feel like it’s just a job. I want them to feel like it’s a career,” said Fater, who says Nouria employees first learn about career opportunities at the company during new hire orientation.

Fater took attendees through Nouria’s manager in training (MIT) program. Employees first focus on becoming an assistant manager, which requires the completion of three programs, supervisor recommendations and at least six months as an employee with the company. Next, employees can apply to enter the 12-week MIT program; however, the selection process is rigorous and certain prerequisites must be completed, such as assigned trainings and interviews with upper management, plus their positive recommendations.

Once in the program, the biggest focus for employees is on the company’s core values and not just training, Fater says.

Before Nouria implemented the MIT program, employee turnover at the company was 132%. Now, the turnover rate is around 70%. “If that doesn’t tell you that training works, I don’t know what else does,” said Fater.

The session, “Developing Store Employees for Success,” also approached the topic of turnover through training. Mark Bryan, vice president of human resources at EJ Pope & Sons, operator of about 40 Handy Marts, shared how his company invested in development to combat turnover. “We challenged our managers to focus on the A and B employees and asked ourselves, do we do a good job in letting the high-quality employees know they are high quality?” The company recognized that it had to train managers how to better recognize leadership qualities and have them communicate to the employee that their abilities have been noticed.

To facilitate this, the organization added a leadership assessment to its 60-day employee evaluation, which asked questions such as: Does the employee have a positive impact on the workplace? Does the employee demonstrate the ability to earn the trust and respect of other coworkers? Does the employee lead by example with their effort?

Employees in good standing and scoring at least 85% on their review would have the leadership assessment completed by the store manager. Additionally, a leadership training class was developed for employees who score well on the assessment—a highly selective group. Half of the employees who have attended the class have been promoted, and the turnover for the group going through this process is nearly half of other employees.

We continuously refresh and remind our leaders to recognize employees, and we try to praise employees in public.

Scheduling Flexibility

Scheduling resurfaced later, when attendees at the conference heard from Stacy Ferreira, founder and CEO of Forge, an app that allows companies to partner to share workers. Ferreira spoke about the future worker, particularly the millennial worker, painting a picture of an employee who works multiple jobs—not always because they have to—to maintain a flexible schedule that fits into their lifestyle. “People don’t desire the corner office. They desire the flexibility to work in a Starbucks at 2:30 p.m.,” said Ferreira.

The millennial is taking care of themselves first and foremost, said Ferreira, which means that a career is not linear. They’re working multiple part-time jobs, making a flexible work schedule in high demand for not only this generation but others as well. “Companies who have more flexibility retain people for much longer,” said Ferreira.

Recruiting Values

Even if you get the scheduling right, employing the best person to fill a job at a convenience store can be challenging, but it’s vital to the success of a business, according to a panel of HR professionals from the session, “Attracting and Recruiting Employees in the C-store Industry.”

“We look for three things in candidates: attitude, personability and motivation,” said panelist Renzo Bassanini, director of field HR at RaceTrac. Bassanini spoke highly of hiring minors to work in c-stores, saying they are “very dependable” and a “quality employee.”

Panelist Laurie Quinn, human resource director for Campbell Oil Company & BellStores, agreed. “It’s the minors that keep the place ticking during the afternoon and evening hours,” she said. “We’re their footprint of how they can be successful in their journey forward.”

When it comes to recruiting, panelist Fran Krainas, corporate recruiter for The Spinx Company, said her company looks for its core values in a potential hire, such as accountability and being team-oriented. “Core values are who you are, and they can’t be taught. I can’t teach someone to be community-centric or passionate about their job,” she said.

Panelists also advised the attendees to get creative around the staffing process. Think about hiring a senior citizen to work the morning shift to greet the regulars and sell coffee, or instead of standard shifts, accommodating the unique schedules of individuals who want to work.


Now that you’ve hired the right fit for your role, it’s time to onboard them. Valerie Kostecka, director of human resources at Loop Neighborhood Markets, spearheaded an overhaul of her company’s onboarding process to free up managers’ time, accelerate employee onboarding and increase compliance adherence. “Sixty-nine percent of employees who have a great onboarding experience are inclined to stay with their company three-plus years,” said Kostecka.

One key to a successful onboarding process is to automate all training that is assigned at the time of onboarding, so training is consistent and in compliance across the company. Kostecka also said to set expectations for the employee from the start with great communication and early access to handbooks and job descriptions. Explaining how job-related goals align with those of the company also is important. “Every single role is an important part of our organization, so you need to let the onboarding employee know that,” she said.

Overall, there is not a one-size-fits-all onboarding process, and companies must review their options and see what fits. “Although the cost to establish a good onboarding system can be expensive, it’s worth the benefits,” she said.

Retaining Staff

After employees are successfully onboarded, keeping them is a c-store’s next challenge. Kim Lazerus, vice president of human resources at Utah-based Maverik, encouraged attendees to rethink the way organizations design and develop benefits to meet the needs of their diverse workforce. The booming economy has left companies with a talent shortage due to low unemployment rates, and the rules have changed, according to Lazerus. “We have five generations in the workplace now. All the unique challenges we experience is because of that,” she said.

Lazerus took attendees through the revamping of Maverik’s own benefits program to reduce turnover and boost retention and employee satisfaction rates. “What matters [to us] is that we’re a great place to work,” said Lazerus. She also emphasized that you can’t simply hire an employee and leave it there. “You have to continue to recruit your employees,” she said.

And when it comes to the millennial generation, Lazerus advised attendees to work with them and remind them of the promotional opportunities at their current employer. “Millennials want to jump jobs? That’s ok. There’s probably a lot of jobs at your company that they can jump to.”

People don’t desire the corner office. They desire the flexibility to work in a Starbucks at 2:30 p.m.

Unconscious Bias

Clearly, recruiting and retention keep retailers up at night, stated Joan Toth, senior consultant at Simpactful, who discussed the impact that unconscious bias has in the workplace. As a result, companies need every advantage point to increase employee satisfaction. “Fostering a diversity and inclusion environment is as critical to a company’s success as pay and benefits,” she said.

Unconscious bias is natural, normal and hardwired into brains, but we need to talk about it since it could lead to legal issues, limit the pool of applicants and unfairly impact promotions. It creeps up, for example, when the assumption is made that a woman with younger kids does not want to assume a more demanding role at work. Or consider that just 15% of men are over 6 feet tall, and yet 60% of men in CEO positions are over 6 feet tall.

These days, diversity of opinion is a business imperative. Toth encouraged attendees to explore where some unconscious bias might be in you and your organization. Create tools to be aware of biases in yourself and others. “If you are not intentionally including everyone, you are unintentionally excluding someone,” she said.

Big Picture

Shifting the focus to a broader view of the industry, Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at NACS, shared with attendees how jobs at c-stores can allow workers to gain valuable business and people skills, but stereotypes and misperceptions about c-store jobs tend to cloud this realization for those outside the industry.

A focus group study by NACS showed that former c-store employees reflected positively on their experience, allowing them to develop people skills. Interacting with customers was the most common top-of-mind recollection about the job, and “the customers” tended to be the most common enjoyable thing they recalled.

Convenience stores are among the last to close during a disaster and the first open, which is a great story to tell, said Lenard. “[Convenience stores are] the first responders to the first responders,” said Lenard. Similarly, 53% of EMTs and police work the second and third shifts, he said, and a better way to tell the c-store story is to remind the public the industry is serving them. “We’re the ones helping to fuel them so they can help others,” said Lenard.

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Benchmark Your Talent

The NACS State of the Industry Compensation Report of 2018 Data allows you to benchmark your business with the latest industry data on employee compensation, benefits and turnover for every position, seniority level and store size. This year’s report was compiled with metrics from more than 100 retail companies, representing more than 12,000 stores.

Inside your digital copy, you’ll find annual base salaries and the dollar value of all additional compensation for 15 executive-level positions, 10 operations positions and eight store-level positions, sorted by region and firm size. Also included is an Independent Operator section, providing a breakdown of salary, health care and benefits for smaller companies.

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