By Chris Blasinsky
In March, the NACS Human Resource Forum welcomed more than 80 HR professionals to the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s premier human resources program. Since 1992, highly engaged HR experts have gathered annually to discover new ideas and expand their knowledge and networks.
Throughout the event, attendees (including more than 40 new-to-the-event participants), focused on several results-driven objectives:
- Taking actions that drive higher levels of business performance
- Connecting with HR colleagues and gaining business insights
- Building skills and HR competencies that support their professional development
Event moderator Joanne Loce, president of Loce Consulting LLC, based in Mechanicsville, Virginia, opened the HR Forum with a nod to the indispensable role HR professionals provide in balancing day-to-day operations and anticipating what’s coming. HR roles today are more diverse and complex than a decade ago. Skills such as adapting to change and having strong business acumen are essential for success in the HR field, particularly among the chaos of shifting laws and regulations (i.e., health care, wage and hour, Fair Labor Standards Act), and the complexities of the convenience store landscape (managing turnover, foodservice operations, etc.).
“What’s coming this year will affect your organizations from top to bottom,” warned speaker John Thompson, partner at Fisher & Phillips LLP, when discussing the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) changes coming this spring and summer. Along with the Obama administration, he told attendees, the Department of Labor is attempting to leave its legacy. Expect a rocky year as DOL continues to aggressively enforce the FLSA.
The legislative arena doesn’t appear to be much brighter for labor, suggested Jon Taets, director of government relations for NACS. The Obama administration is actively pushing for new labor regulations, including a proposed new rule to update regulations that govern which employees are eligible for overtime pay. Taets noted that even with a Republican president in the White House, it would still be unlikely for a full reversal of the overtime threshold increase, although the joint employer definition may be ripe for reversal, which would take time to formally take place. (For more on these labor issues impacting the industry, read the April NACS Magazine cover story, “Labor Pains.”)
Stephan Mecklenburg, research coordinator at NACS, discussed specific industry trends gleaned from recent NACS State of the Industry data. A drop in gas prices since mid-2014 has had a profound influence on the c-store industry, with both gallons sold and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increasing. In terms of industry challenges, many retailers have called out direct store operating expenses (DSOE), which are outpacing inside gross profit dollars. Mecklenburg pointed out that within DSOE, almost half are wages and benefits. This is a tough line for HR professionals to walk: how to keep costs down while maintaining competitive wages and benefits structures.
Also at the HR Forum, retail leaders from Weigel’s Stores, QuickChek, Sheetz and RaceTrac spoke to attendees about their work culture and hiring and retention practices.
Kurt Weigel, recruiting manager at Powell, Tennessee-based Weigel’s Stores Inc., described his company’s unique culture. He’s the fourth generation working in the family business, where his father still comes to work every day at age 79. The company has 63 stores and is growing in a market where yesterday’s ways of doing things are no longer supporting a vibrant workforce and a regulatory landscape has brought new challenges. To adapt to these changes, Weigel’s leadership took a hard look at company culture.
Weigel’s had a set of values, but they weren’t ingrained throughout the organization, especially at the store level. So leadership simplified the company’s core purpose into a statement everyone could get behind: “Wow our guests with a positive experience every time.” Weigel’s also developed six core values, posted inside each store:
- Heroic customer service
- Passionately seeking solutions
- Create positivity
- Do the right thing
- Respect and appreciate
- Honesty and integrity
Weigel explained that hiring new employees is based on these core values, which helps store managers hire the best candidates for the job. In fact, store manager engagement in the hiring process has helped grow the culture by creating a sense of ownership and investment in the company’s goals and values. Store managers and district managers hold daily “huddle calls,” an opportunity for them to catch up on store-level performance and focus on retention and developing their skills as leaders, as well as foster open and constructive communication.
Bob Graczyk, vice president of human resources at Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based QuickChek Corporation, is a 41-year veteran of the c-store industry, having spent the past 19 years with QuickChek. The company opens five to seven new stores a year, all with fuel and roughly 200-300 new positions added to the company’s workforce annually. The stores have an expansive foodservice operation, where menu items are freshly made in-store each day.
With this growth comes a laser-beam focus on hiring employees who embrace the company’s culture and values throughout the chain’s 140-plus stores in New Jersey and New York. “Our business is about our people,” Graczyk said. QuickChek’s website clearly outlines expectations for employment, and there can be as many as 800 job postings listed on the site at a given time. Store managers are given seven days to review applicants that make it through pre-screening, where applicants are asked a series of questions that align with the company’s core values.
At QuickChek, new hires start with a full day of training at one of the company’s three training centers. Training focuses on culture, what it means to be a part of the QuickChek family, its core values, policies and procedures, practice behaviors and expectations, and new hires undergo the customer recovery process. When a customer has an issue, it’s up to that frontline employee to solve it. “[The employee] makes that decision,” Graczyk said.
QuickChek’s thorough and committed hiring process helps ensure the company is hiring right the first time, and subsequently turnover is low; the current goal for 2016 is 40%. This year QuickChek was named a “Best Place to Work” in both New Jersey and New York, an accolade that helps with recruiting and holds the company accountable to high standards.
This year is “the year of the people,” said Stephanie Doliveira, vice president of human resources at Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Sheetz, explaining that competition for quality labor and wage pressures are driving many of the workforce enhancements Sheetz is undertaking. The company, with about 530 locations in six states and 17,000 employees, has changed its store management structure, revamped employee uniforms, introduced higher wages, enriched employee training and development, and defined leadership competencies.
New employee development implemented at Sheetz has been designed to free up store managers so they can move beyond task training and focus more on development and “people stuff.” Leadership competencies are relatively new for Sheetz, recognition that to have a healthy store culture, hiring management personnel with competencies required to manage a Sheetz store is essential. Core competencies also help during the hiring process as a guide to drill in on certain skillsets, experiences and conflict resolution.
Whitney Woodward, vice president of human resources at RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., shared how the southeast retailer is investing in its key competitive advantage: its employees. The war for talent is tough, Woodward said, noting that RaceTrac is focusing on development at the store level and its store support center. In the past, training at RaceTrac was mostly focused on delivering that “wow” experience for customers. Today, training is also about wowing employees from the hiring stage to orientation, designed to excite new hires about being immersed in the RaceTrac culture and team.
New this year, RaceTrac has introduced tablet-based training. The training sessions are developed in-house at RaceTrac, giving employees a chance to practice skills on their own.
RaceTrac has also enhanced training and development to grow current employees into future managerial and leadership roles. In the past, the message to folks seeking advancement opportunities was “keep doing what you’re doing.” Today, managers can nominate future leaders in their stores for promotion, and those selected are given the opportunity to sharpen their skills through weeklong field training. When the training wraps up, employees who don’t demonstrate that they’re ready to move up are given an action plans for skills to work on.
Be on the lookout for information about next year’s HR Forum at nacsonline.com/hrforum. Until then, reach out to Doug Reed, chief marketing officer and vice president of training development at NACS at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 518-4236 for event information, as well as HR content in the works for the 2016 NACS Show in Atlanta, October 18–21.
Chris Blasinsky is the managing editor of NACS Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com or (703) 518-4296.