How to Create Convenience Store MVPs

Merit Gest challenges retailers to engage their associates and turn them into the most vital people within their operations.

October 18, 2016

ATLANTA – In today’s business climate, where labor regulations and wage hikes are creating new and unique challenges, NACS Show opening general session speaker Merit Gest helped attendees better understand how leading teams and consciously creating a business culture establishes MVPs, as in a convenience store’s most vital people.

To meet your best future, “you would need MVPs everywhere,” said Gest, a 20-year veteran of helping companies grow their revenue, increase profitability and reduce turnover. “When I talk about MVPs, to meet your future you need the most vital people, processes and people, she said, noting that MVPs grow out of challenging situations that drive companies to improve their businesses.

She cited three myths within the convenience and fuel retailing industry, which if left to become a reality can cripple the company’s culture and overall productivity:

  • Myth 1: Nobody matters but the customer.
  • Myth 2: Nobody wants to work hard or stay long.
  • Myth 3: Nobody notices, so why bother?

To challenge Myth 1, which sabotages a company’s leader, Gest asked participants to consider the “why” behind what they do every day. In a nutshell, sell yourself, make it clear what compels you to get out of bed in the morning. “Why is the why so important?” she asked, noting that the “why” is not set in stone. “if you’re not connected to what you do, then you’re just going through the motions … To be successful, you have to know what gives you meaning before anything else.”

Gest engaged the audience, asking them to turn to the person next to them and ask each other what drives them each day, and what’s important to them. Responses were resoundingly for money and to support their family. However, for most, she said that the meaning of work goes beyond money.

“If you feel like you are going through motions, do one of two things: First, your most important job is to sell yourself; identify what you want to create in your own kingdom. Second is to sell your team on what’s in it for them. The third sale is to the customer.

By “selling” your employees, Gest noted that it’s about keeping them engaged, treating them like the front-line ambassadors of your company and brand, finding out what inspires them, sharing big ideas with them and making them feel valued and appreciated.

“I know what you’re thinking, I gave them a job, isn’t that enough? No. It’s not anymore,” said Gest. “Welcome to leadership in 2016 and beyond—it is absolutely your responsibility to engage your employees.” 

Gest advised that leaders must first sell themselves on the company’s culture, then bring in their team and sell them what’s possible for the company. “Shift your thinking that nobody matters but the customer and embrace the fact that you are one of the most vital people” but not the only one. 

“How you treat yourself and the people around you will impact your ability to grow MVPs everywhere,” she said.

For Myth #2, Gest recognized that retailers have real challenges with hiring and retaining great employees, but invited participants to shift their thinking about the myth that nobody wants to work hard in relation to generations within the workforce. 

“Avoiding work is a human thing” and not a generational thing, she said, noting that people want to work, just not harder than they have to. To shift your thinking about this myth, focus on putting MVPs—the most vital processes—in place to set people up so they can do a good job, Gest suggested. “When they feel good about the work they are doing, they’ll come back and do it again and again.”  

For Myth #3, which undermines a company’s culture, Gest suggested that it’s human nature to think that nobody notices what we’re doing on the job. “So why bother?” she asked, noting that the reality is people do notice, and they notice quickly.

Citing the three minutes and 33 seconds of time it takes for customers to park, walk into the store, make a purchase and return their car, Gest said convenience store customers do in fact notice a lot: cleanliness, well-stocked coffee bars, clean restrooms, smiles on sales associates. She advised not to treat customers like they are a transaction. “There is plenty of room to make business relational” by greeting customers, remembering their names, and creating what she calls the most vital principles for service and interacting with guests.

“You can do transactional things in a relational way,” she said, noting that retailers have the power to make a customer’s day, or ruin it. “Ask yourself: What is it you want your store to be known for?”

She left participants with some food for thought:

  • “Work without meaning is the fast lane to burnout.”
  • “Employees join companies and leave managers.”
  • “If you treat people as transitional, you may be fueling the very myth you complain about.”

And lastly: “You provide convenience in a busy world, and convenience is excellent. And while convenience is excellent, excellence is not always convenient.”