Great Training: The Best Defense to Getting Busted

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Great Training: The Best Defense to Getting Busted

By Roy Strasburger - 03/09/2020

I may have saved a life.

A few months ago, I was running the register at one of our stores. (I admit this is a rare occurrence and something that our operations team gets very concerned about. All sorts of things can happen on the sales report when I’m ringing people up). While I was helping to take care of the rush of customers, a young man came up to the counter with a bag of chips, a large fountain drink, and a six-pack of beer. 

To me, he looked like he was in his late twenties, but our company policy is to check the ID of anyone who we think looks under the age of 45. I asked for his ID. He immediately handed me a Michigan driver’s license. I took it and studied it. It looked like a legitimate card. The birthdate indicated that he was over 21. However, the photo resembled him but was not him. I asked him to tell me the address on the license. He got the city right but the street wrong.

I refused the sale. In exchange, I received a few expletives and had to restock the product he left on the counter. Bottom line is that I did the right thing.

The world is controlled by laws. All of them are designed to provide some type of greater good to the public. Some of them actually accomplish it. Every day brings a new rule or law that affects a class of people or introduces a change to an existing law (in order to make it more effective, no doubt).

There are laws designed to let us do things and ones that expressly prohibit certain actions.  Regulations change so often and obscurely that it is very difficult to keep up with the latest ones.

To quote the Five Man Electrical Band’s 1971 hit song “Signs:”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

Whatever happened to those guys?

It seems to me that the group impacted by most of the changes is us — the local retailer. A large percentage of regulations relate to what you can or cannot sell, or who can or cannot buy something. This can range from health permit requirements to age-restricted products such as alcohol, tobacco and lottery.

If you own or operate a store, you are responsible for keeping up with all of the new laws whether they are federal, state or local — and making sure they are obeyed and implemented. 

Let’s take one example — vaping. Originally introduced as a “safer” tobacco delivery system than combustible cigarettes, vaping has recently been the subject of health concerns and accusations of inappropriate marketing. Federal, state and local governments have been trying to address what to do about the situation. Changes that have been introduced include raising the legal age of purchase, reducing the range of flavor cartridges that can be sold, and banning the complete sale of vaping products. Do you know if any of these restrictions apply to you?

The first defense is to follow the news. Publications such as Convenience Store News and associations such as NACS will keep you informed about what is happening on the national/federal level. Your local media outlets and trade associations will keep you informed about state and local laws. As the old adage goes, “forewarned is forearmed.”

Once you know what is required, you then need to train your staff to act appropriately. While federal, state and local governments can provide you with training materials (or put you in touch with private providers who they have approved), it is up to you to make sure your employees are properly trained.

We often focus on employee training for its operational and customer service benefits. More important is having a properly trained team that knows what they need to do and implement it every day on every sale.

You can’t rely on just your managers. It is also up to the person working the graveyard shift to make the correct decision every time. Having someone violate the law by selling restricted products to the wrong person (underaged or intoxicated) can cost you a fine and you could lose your ability to sell those products. How will that affect your profitability?

We operate retail sites across the country. Part of our job is to keep up with all of the regulations that affect each site. Our clients depend upon us to do it right. The authorities depend upon us to do it right. Our customers depend on us to do it right (more on this later).

For each store, we have a customized training program that communicates our operating procedures and standards to our team members. We have to make sure our training is complete, consistent, and reaches every person who works in the store. The training has to be supervised and monitored to ensure it is done. We have to track which employees have received the training and when they are due for follow-up sessions. As I’ve discussed before, training is not a one-and-done process. For the best results, we need to train, re-train, reinforce and follow up.

We use commercial alcohol and food safety training programs to make sure the information we are conveying is up to date. These training sessions need to be supervised and monitored to ensure everyone has completed the course. In many states, having a state-approved training program can reduce your company’s liability in the event there is a violation at the store. However, you need to keep track of who has taken the training program and when the training occurred if you want to take advantage of this protection.

Age-restricted product regulations are the most difficult to enforce. By their very design, the law is committed to keeping someone from obtaining a product they want and, in some cases, want badly. It is also a conflict situation that is open to the average human response to be sympathetic and help someone out. No one wants to play the bad guy.

Age-restricted products get even more complicated when you have someone legally selling the product who is not old enough to use it or an employee who has recently become “of age” and can still remember the desire for acquiring a product and the frustration of not being able to obtain it. There is a cognitive dissonance between knowing what the law requires and sympathizing with someone “just to do them a favor.”

The factors that influence the employee’s behavior cannot be limited to what the employee themselves would like to do or the imposition of fines and penalties if the rules are violated. More important is the realization that by selling restricted products inappropriately, people can be harmed and, in some cases, killed. And it’s not only about the person who the restricted product is sold to such as a smoker getting lung cancer — it can be innocent people randomly involved in a situation. For example, a drunk driver who hits another car, killing its occupants. Does our employee want to be responsible for those types of consequences?

As with all training, the key component is for the employee to understand and internalize not only what they need to do, but also why they need to do it. It is about doing the right thing under the law, for the good of the company, and to keep our customers safe. It is part of what our customers depend upon us to do — to be a good community citizen that helps make the world a better place and does its bit to protect their loved ones from harm, whether that is preventing a childhood addiction to nicotine or not overserving an intoxicated person who may harm himself or herself and others.

Every employee knows what the law requires. Providing that employee with the information as to how and why to implement the law gives them a better understanding of what they need to do and increases their confidence to be able to “just say no.”

When you have informed and empowered your store team to make the right decisions, then you have fortified your most important defense against restricted product violations. You will be doing your community, and yourself, a favor.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News. 

About the Author

Roy Strasburger

Roy Strasburger

Roy Strasburger is president of StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry nationwide. Read More