Strategies to Recruit and Retain Top Employees

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Strategies to Recruit and Retain Top Employees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Day Two of Convenience Store News' 13th Annual Future Forum featured a panel of four of the c-store industry's elite retailers, moderated by Brian Wright of Executive Leadership Solutions. They spoke about, "Competing Effectively to Recruit and Retain the Best People." Topics included recruiting, benefits, rewards and career development.

Kicking off the session, Jenny Bullard, CIO of Flash Foods Inc., headquartered in Waycross, Ga., spoke about how her 180-store chain finds employees. In rural areas, or when the company is moving into an area for the first time, Flash will use newspaper ads as well as store-level advertising. Employee recruitment pay and job fairs are also strategies the company employs.

"Our district managers will go to job fairs to recruit both managers and supervisors as well as career days at local colleges," said Bullard. Flash Foods also offers applications on its Web site, a tactic that has been working well, according to Bullard. "We are excited about the number of applications coming from our Web site," she explained.

Signs at the pump and on receipts advertise the online option, and while the company has not taken the step of utilizing software to screen applicants online before calling a potential employee for an interview, it is an option being explored.

The company offers competitive wages and both managers and supervisors receive quarterly bonuses. Medical, dental, vacation, sick time, personal time and a 401K plan are offered, and in some cases employees find these factors, "more beneficial than money," said Bullard.

Additionally, the company is currently looking into offering by the end of the year kiosks at the store-level for prospective employees to apply online, and for customers to utilize the company's loyalty program.

Changing to Retain
Finding good employees is the first challenge, but keeping them happy and willing to stay with the company is another. At Wawa Inc., the general managers are the "kings and queens," of the company with good compensation and benefits, according to Mike Woerner, senior director of organizational development at Wawa Inc. But the retailer wanted to know how the more than 12,000 customer service associates felt about their jobs, and what their level of satisfaction was at the company.

"We saw a lot of our employees leaving to go and work at the big-box stores, so we put together a program to keep our employees and position ourselves to compete with the 'big dogs' in order to play with them," said Woerner.

The company surveyed all of its customer associates, and pulled approximately 2,400 highly-valued employees by asking managers to pick people they could not live without, said Woerner. Using a computer-generated survey that forced people to make tradeoffs, where they must make a choice, the 20-minute survey showed Wawa what these employees valued most in their worklife, Woerner explained.

It came down to 13 factors across four key categories of compensation and benefits, work/life balance, development and work environment, and the company environment. The top categories in each that scored the highest in terms of employee value were health benefits, retirement benefits, relationship with manager and co-workers, flexible scheduling and vacation.

Wawa also looked at where employees were currently satisfied as well as where they felt improvement was needed. "We spent a decade working with general managers, and it proved successful because all employees surveyed were happy with the mangers, coworkers and employee recognition," said Woerner. "They were also happy about the flexibility in scheduling as well as the Wawa brand."

However, the company discovered the greatest dissatisfaction with health benefits, and a major dissatisfaction with pay differential. "The employees were on a step system, so there was no way to reward high-achievers, and there was also no paid vacation time offered to part-time employees," noted Woerner.

"We realized the reputation of the company and the quality of management and flexibility was what we were good at," he said. "The things we needed to close the gap on cost the most money to the company, and once we give a benefit we can't take it back."

After consideration, Wawa came up with a solution to satisfy employees where they felt they were lacking. The company moved associates from a step rate pay scale to merit raises, and 30 days after their initial start date, an associate now sits down with a manager for a merit review, and is eligible for a pay raise, said Woerner. "Our managers map their people and use a merit increase to drive performance."

The company is also moving to offer benefits to part-time employees.

Rick Fitzgerald, director of human resources and Stackhouse University with Thorntons Inc., followed Woerner with a presentation about turnover, stressing the importance every level of the company plays in terms of turnover.

"Every level in your organization has to understand turnover, from the top down, they have to know what turnover means," he said.

While the average employee cost a company $3,100 in turnover, that adds up, according to Fitzgerald. "Four people cost us $10,000, and this is something you have to make your employees believe," he said.

Thorntons starts turnover prevention in the interview process, requiring managers to have the job description in front of them when interviewing employees and they are required to discuss it with them, noted Fitzgerald.

"In regions with the highest turnover, we running a phone screening test," before the in-person interview, he said. Potential employees also have to interview with the store manager as well as the region manager to get hired with the company, which Fitzgerald referred to as "panel interviewing."

Managers are given an interview guide and are told to ask situational interview questions.

"You have to do the math," said Fitzgerald. "Look at who is staying with you, and then look at who is applying. Go after the types that are staying with you."

Developing Careers
At Sheez Inc., based in Altoona, Pa., the company launched a training program called Z-Force learning with the slogan, "Empowering Sheetz People through Learning." Using the company's Learning Management System (LMS), the company can target training to specific employees at specific stores, and can track their performance.

The system utilizes a "blended learning approach," with auditory, visual and hands-on training at the store-level, and ensures employees are properly certified in their job function, said Sherry Hancock, curriculum coordinator at Sheetz. "This is the key to our success in the learning department."

Employees log into the computer to complete the courses and the store manger reviews each item on their checklist. Employees can gauge how well they are doing by taking tests in order to move on to the next level, and the manger verifies they have completed the tasks by entering in a code so they can move to the next task, said Hancock.

"We can slow down information if needed, and the employee gets to become proficient in customer service, foodservice and the register instead of learning all the information at once," said Hancock.

The company also utilizes story telling at Sheetz University, where the owners, Stan and Steve Sheetz will come and talk to employees about where the company has been and where it is going. "This is critical to the development of our future leaders," said Hancock.

Once the classroom learning is done, employees get assigned coaches that help to develop skills. As the employee progresses, there are other training programs offered such as ServSafe Certifications, to learn about serving safe food, certified training managers, where top level managers are taught to develop new associate managers, and also Train the Trainer Certificates to take management to the next level.