This story is the fourth in a series on key trends that will impact c-stores in 2023.
Hiring and retention challenges continue to plague the convenience store industry.
Turnover in the space in 2021 reached 150% — its highest level since 2012, according to NACS’ most recent State of the Industry Compensation Report. Despite pandemic-induced business closures and slowdowns no longer being an issue, the hiring and retention woes for c-stores don’t seem to be getting any easier, experts say.
“It’s gotten harder to attract and retain, especially in the last year,” said Rick Schlenker, co-founder and executive vice president of sales and marketing for Logile, a retail workforce management company.
With labor challenges top of mind for most c-store retailers in 2023, some are tapping into innovative methods to help improve hiring and retention for the long haul.
Flexible scheduling is key
Flexibility is one of the most common traits current and prospective c-store employees are looking for in their jobs, said Schlenker. Specifically, c-store employees want predictability, stability and more control over their working hours.
“Whoever can give [employees] that is just going to be the clear winner,” he said.
Needing a way to help keep current staff on board, Weigel’s introduced a four-day work week at one of its locations last January. The Powell, Tennessee-based c-store chain had thought of the idea during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, and after a series of employee surveys, decided to run with it, said Melanie Wilson Disney, director of human resources for Weigel’s.
The idea was “well received,” among employees at the test location, and the hourly workers “jumped on it” quickly, Disney said. One quarter in, and Weigel’s started to see turnover “trimmed down.” By the third quarter of 2022, “the results were phenomenal,” she said.
After the success of the test site, it didn’t take long for Weigel’s to roll its four-day work week out to hourly workers across all of its nearly 80 stores. Fast forward about a year, and when asked if the four-day work week has helped improve employee retention, Disney didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely,” she said.
Beyond a shortened work week, c-stores can implement a type of flexible scheduling where associates can pick and choose their shifts — down to the exact number of hours on specific days, Schlenker said.
“They don't even have to pick the entire shift,” he said. “Say a shift runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. — they have the ability to say, ‘I can do 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., but not until 2 p.m.’”
Nouria Energy, a chain of about 170 c-stores on the East Coast, is exploring a version of this concept. The Worcester, Massachusetts-based retailer is looking to tap into two-to-four-hour shifts at its stores, even allowing associates to complete shifts during multiple periods throughout the day, Fouad El-Nemr, executive vice president for Nouria, said during a recent roundtable discussion held by Convenience Leaders Vision Group, a division of retail knowledge-sharing network Vision Group Network.
“We were actually at a meeting, talking about splitting up shifts for the mom that has to pick up her child in the afternoon, then take them home and then they can come back to work,” he said.
C-stores can also take notes from companies like Lyft and DoorDash that capitalize on the gig worker economy, Schlenker said. Gig workers are usually independent contractors who do short-term work for multiple businesses, whether on an hourly, part-time or ongoing basis. This can be especially helpful for retailers who may be short-staffed or seeking extra help on any particular day, Schlenker said.
It’s not just smaller c-stores that can tap into gig workers, either. During the Convenience Leaders Vision Group roundtable, Joe Sheetz — executive vice chairman of Altoona, Pennsylvania-based c-store giant Sheetz — said the company has experimented with gig workers “in very strategic ways,” mainly by having them help unload delivery trucks, stock coolers or “[do] things that most of the full-time workers in the store don’t want to do.”
Although skeptical at first, tapping into gig workers has “gone much better” than he thought, Sheetz said.
“It’s better in some markets than others, but it’s letting us pick off a bunch of task work in a more efficient way than having full-time people work overtime or having to drag in part timers,” he said.
Better pay, more often
Recent statistics show that hourly c-store clerks earn around $24,000 per year, a level that lags grocery clerks. The role averages out to under $12 an hour, or less than half of the average salary in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
C-stores need to stay competitive when it comes to wages to hire and retain employees, Schlenker said. However, since many c-store retailers can’t counter the wages offered at major cross-channel competitors such as Kroger or Walmart, that makes their benefits package and scheduling flexibility all the more important, he noted.
Both Weigel’s and Pilot Co. have increased their hourly wages over the past few years. Although neither retailer specified by exactly how much, both noted the raises were implemented to retain employees and attract new ones.
“We have remained competitive and responsive to the market in terms of pay,” Jamie Landis, vice president of team member experience for Pilot, said in an interview.
Retailers who may not be able to raise their hourly wages can consider letting their employees — especially those working mainly in foodservice — receive tips.
Kevin Smartt, CEO of Texas Born c-stores, said in the Convenience Leaders Vision Group roundtable that he’s begun adding tipping to some of his locations, and that he’s “shocked” at the amount of tips his employees have received — which, on average, hit about $50 to $60 per worker every week.
“I definitely see the benefit in doing it,” Smartt said in the roundtable. “Our employees are happy.”
Not only does the amount c-stores pay their employees matter in hiring and retention, but how they pay can make a difference as well. About a year and half ago, Weigel’s rolled out same-day pay for its store associates, which kicks into effect once an employee is on board for at least a week. After that, through a mobile app connected to Weigel’s payroll system, associates can access up to 50% of their pay for any regular work shift in real time.
“I think it’s helped [increase retention] a lot,” Disney said.
Schlenker said he sees same-day pay becoming more popular in c-stores as 2023 progresses, as employees will increasingly want to get paid the same day they work.
“We’re seeing companies do it because their employees say, ‘I want to get paid at the conclusion of my shift. I want those funds to be available,’” he said.
Create a path for growth
For retailers, offering workers clear chances for advancement within the company can boost morale and have a significant impact on retention.
“People want to come in and know there's a path,” Schlenker said. “They want the ability to start off at a clerk level and very quickly be able to become certified to do other things in the store that will advance their pay [and] give them some variety.”
Supporting associates in their career growth is “one of the most important and effective ways” Pilot retains its employees, Landis said. The company offers a variety of opportunities on this front, including its General Managers Leadership Development class and a rotational development program, both of which feature hands-on training, e-learning, self-study and classroom work, according to the retailer’s website.
“We recognize talent, loyalty and dedication and provide paths for these team members to grow their careers with us, providing long-term stability and opportunity,” Landis said.
At Weigel’s, employees in corporate or management positions are hired “mostly internally,” meaning they’ve learned the business “from the ground up,” Disney said. The retailer has a management development program, Weigel’s University, that enrolls new store associates at the nomination of said store’s district manager.
“We've got a lot of opportunities out there,” Disney said.
As Weigel’s increasingly focuses on hiring, retention and career growth this year, the company is going to start setting benchmarks to track its performance in these areas, Disney said.
“That's our big focus for this year,” she said.
Meanwhile, the team at Pilot is choosing to focus on the things it can control — such as how it treats its team members — as there’s no telling how the labor situation will evolve this year, Landis said.
“When team members feel valued, they become some of our longest-serving team members,” she said. “Those team members also are likely to recommend Pilot to family and friends as a great place to work.”