Be Kind, Be Kind, Be Kind

How the c-store industry can come together to support frontline employees.

February 15, 2024

“It’s become harder on frontline people lately,” said Hunter Williams, partner–retail and consumer goods at Oliver Wyman. Convenience retailers and industry suppliers attending this week’s NACS Leadership Forum nodded in agreement.

Williams shared new research from the NACS Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (NCCRRC) that highlights how convenience retailers can become employers of choice amid negative perceptions of the c-store industry. He shared an AI-generated image of a “typical American convenience retail employee.” The image, which represents the aggregate of countless images and words on the Internet, didn’t “look super happy with this job. And so there's action needed at an industry level to address these challenges.”

The research is a call to action that the entire c-store industry can embrace, including by:

  • Delivering on employee safety and investing in ways that benefit everyone in the industry.
  • Making sure laws are enforced when it comes to protecting employee safety and the workplace.
  • Investing in training and development to expand career opportunities and move beyond “just a job.”
  • Changing the perception of convenience retail among the media and general public. 

If you’re watching a TV show or a movie that shows a convenience store, more often than not, a crime is taking place. “That’s going to contribute to the perception of our industry, and in some cases, we get blamed in a way that is not the reality,” said Melanie Isbill, chief marketing officer at RaceTrac and NCCRRC member.

The tough reality today, however, is that some people are jerks, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, these individuals are taking it out on frontline employees. According to the report, safety was a top reason why people said they were opting out of working in convenience.

“We have an opportunity to increase our labor pool by addressing this head-on,” said Kevin Lewis, chief growth officer at Alimentation Couche-Tard, parent company of Circle K.

On January 25, Circle K held its second Kindness Day in Europe, an initiative launched in 2023 to address harassment frontline workers face. Lewis shared how something similar could transpire across the entire c-store industry.

“It is in all of our collective interests to make that happen. … How can we hold hands as an industry and do this together? Because none of us, big or small, can do this on our own.”