By Kim Stewart
MIAMI BEACH, Fla.—Contrary to headlines, retail isn’t dead or dying. It’s vibrant and important to the American economy, Sarah Kalloch, executive director of the Good Jobs Institute, told attendees at Wednesday’s opening session of the NACS Leadership Forum.
Retailers who invest in their workforce and make consistent, concerted efforts to empower and energize them are ahead of the game when it comes to finding high-quality staff and retaining them, which translates into superior value for employees, customers and investors. It’s what’s called the Good Jobs Strategy, and it’s based on decades of research from MIT professor Zeynep Ton, who headlined a Super Session at the 2019 NACS Show in Atlanta. The nonprofit works directly with companies who want to offer better jobs and studies companies who offer the best jobs in retail.
Continuing the conversation begun last year at the Show, NACS invited Kalloch and Chet Cadieux, chairman and CEO of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based QuikTrip, to the Leadership Forum to discuss how QuikTrip has implemented Good Jobs principles in its business. High investment in the company’s employees has translated into lower costs, higher profits and greater customer satisfaction.
“The theme of the LF is customer experience, and I’m a huge believer that customer experience is grounded on great employees,” said Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO, who joined Kalloch and Cadieux on stage for the intimate Q&A. “If you don’t have the right people behind your counter serving your customers, you’re not going to have a good customer experience.”
In her work, Kalloch sees a lot of retailers who are stuck in a viscous cycle of struggling with labor issues, profitability, dirty stores and losing customers to the competition. “Companies that really get out of this viscous cycle invest in people. They have great training. They have great schedules.”
The four pillars of the Good Jobs strategy are:
- Focus and simplify;
- Standardize and empower;
- Cross-train employees;
- Operate with slack (in terms of having extra employees on hand to shift among tasks as needs arise)
The base of the Good Jobs strategy is values and leadership, Kalloch explained. “The best employers are 100% committed to their customers and they see the value in their employees.”
QuikTrip sets clear expectations for employees, Cadieux said. “Every employee knows exactly what success looks like and what failure looks like,” he said. Employees cross-train on jobs throughout the store, there are standard procedures for things like cleaning countertops, and store layouts are standardized across the chain. Paperwork is sent to headquarters.
“We operate with 30% slack on every shift,” Cadieux said. The chain has about 24,000 employees, and about a third are relief employees or floaters who can quickly step in to fill in for absent employees, no matter the store location.
“Thirty percent of our workforce doesn’t know what store they are going to work in that day,” Cadieux said. “Because the stores are the same, they know what to do when they get there.”
QuikTrip has a rigorous hiring, onboarding and training process. The chain only hires about 1% of everyone who applies. Once on board, every new hire is assigned a trainer who shadows them in the store. Trainers’ success is intertwined with those of the employees they are showing the ropes.
“We’re big believers in performance-based pay,” Cadieux said. “So those trainers are on a reward system that rewards them for generating good employees,” but “they aren’t punished for pulling the plug on somebody” who isn’t working out. “They are also compensated based on the turnover of that employee,” he added.
Armour asked Cadieux to share the moral reason behind QuikTrip’s embrace of the Good Jobs Strategy.
“For me that’s very very personal,” said Cadieux, whose father, Chester, founded the company with former classmate Burt Holmes in 1958.
“My family is incredibly financially successful,” he said. “I grew up working in the stores with these guys and gals. We are so blessed with people for staying so long,” he said. “I have a huge sense of debt owed to our store team members. I feel like we owe them an opportunity at success. That’s our purpose. That’s the reason I get out of bed each morning…I feel that’s a debt that’s owed by QuikTrip and personally by my family.”
For more on the Good Jobs Strategy, see NACS Magazine’s coverage of Ton’s Super Session at the 2019 NACS Show and listen to the Convenience Matters podcast Good Jobs Strategy interview with Ton.
Kim Stewart is editor in chief of NACS Magazine and editorial director of NACS.