The second day of the National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference, held Sept. 8-11 in Minneapolis, kicked off with a burning issue educational session on the importance of family values in the convenience store industry.
John Lofstock, the executive director of NAG, welcomed attendees to the conference in an opening address.
“I’d like to thank you all for joining us here in Minneapolis,” Lofstock said. “This year’s conference features speakers from 23 leading convenience store industry chains, the most we’ve had to date at the NAG Conference. With this world-class agenda comes a renewed interest in NAG. This year we have 73 convenience store chains registered and 26 new-to-NAG chains.”
He added, “When you leave here, you will be a better retailer. The friendships and networking you do over the next few days will be building blocks as you move your company into the future.”
Lofstock introduced the incoming NAG Board Chairman Doug Galli, vice president and general manager of Reid Stores Inc./Crosby’s. “Welcome to what I understand is the 40th NAG Conference … and from what I’ve heard the most awaited c-store event of the year,” he said. Galli thanked outgoing NAG Chairman Bob O’Connor, former owner of JETZ convenience stores and current consulting advisor to Riiser Fuels, for his service to the organization.
Family-owned businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, noted Lofstock as he introduced the first burning issue session on family values in the c-store industry, featuring speakers Margaret Dinneny, chief people officer of Wawa Inc.; Mathew Spackman, vice president of Grow People, Kum & Go; and Leo Vercollone, CEO, VERC Enterprises.
Wawa traces its roots back 200+ years in American business. It serves 1.7 million customers, 615,000 cups of coffee and 365,000 hoagies every day, and operates almost 900 stores. Dinneny shared the key aspects of the company’s philosophy that have allowed Wawa to stay strong throughout the years. What makes Wawa unique, she said, is the connection employees have with customers. Wawa, “leads with people first. In many ways this has made us successful. We call it the ‘share of heart.’”
Wawa’s purpose is “fulfilling lives every day for our customers, communities and each other.” The company depends on servant leadership. Consistency is key to Wawa living by its values, and its purpose informs everything it does, including an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
The chain’s six core values — value people, delight customers, embrace change, do the right thing, do things right, passion for winning — remain consistent. “These are who we are. They are our road map. Our core values have never changed,” Dinneny said.
Dinneny shared Wawa’s plans for the future and how the chain is adapting for tomorrow.
Kum & Go’s Spackman spoke about how family values impact business at Kum & Go.
Kum & Go was founded in 1959 in Hampton, Iowa. It now operates 400 stores in 11 states. Passion, Integrity, Teamwork, Caring and Excellence have been the core values of the chain throughout four generations. In addition to its values, Kum & Go is a purpose-based organization, and its purpose is making people’s lives better. That includes employees.
Following research around turnover, Kum & Go identified three key areas where it could make improvements to reduce employee turnover at the chain and created a ‘store structure initiative’ to reduce turnover. Those areas included consistent scheduling/consistent income, access to benefits and creating a clear career path. Previously, associates were scheduled when it was convenient for Kum & Go, but not necessarily when it worked with their own schedules, and not all employees had benefits or a career path with the chain. Some 30% of employees worked full-time while 70% worked part-time.
With the store structure initiative, which began in January and is scheduled to be completed by this November, 70% of employees are now full-time and 30% are part-time. That shift means associates now have a consistent source of income and consistent schedules. The change allows the chain to offer more benefits to 70% of employees. “Because we’re hiring into specific positions, we were able to create a very methodical career path for all associates. They know it. They can work toward it, and we can help them work toward it,” Spackman said.
Spackman also spoke about how Kum & Go is committed to being environmentally friendly and giving back to the communities in which it operates.
VERC Enterprises is a family-owned and operated company with 31 convenience stores in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.
“The business you run is who you are,” said Vercollone. “The individual is the business…the business is the individual. It’s important that my business represents the life I want to lead.”
VERC Enterprices stresses four things: employees, customers, community and vendors/suppliers.
“Employees are No. 1,” Vercollone said. “We let them know they’re No. 1. We know if they know they’re valued, they will take care of the customer.”
As a result, VERC Enterprises’ turnover is only 30%, which is low compared to industry turnover of 100%. VERC Enterprises works to bring fun into the stores through activities like its Great Gas Giveaway and employee appreciation month. Vercollone monitors why employees leave when they leave the company. If they’re leaving to go to a similar type of company, Vercollone knows management needs to work harder at the culture.
VERC Enterprises is a leader in hiring disabled individuals. Twenty percent of the chain’s workforce consists of individuals who are intellectually developmentally disabled individuals. “That community is underemployed by 70%,” Vercollone said. “There are a number of organizations looking to place individuals.”
In addition, 3% of VERC’s workforce is from the re-entry program (former inmates) with a goal of growing that to 5%.
Doing the right thing by people is not only the good thing to do, it also pays off from a business perspective, Vercollone said.
“Be bold, be brave, be smart,” Vercollone said. He spoke of other initiatives VERC Enterprises is embarking on today including introducing CBD products.
He noted smaller, family-owned chains can move more quickly in terms of launching new initiatives than larger organizations, which is a big advantage.