Notes from NACS 2021: The Future’s C-Stores are Innovative and Resilient

October 14, 2021

When it comes to c-stores, maintaining the status quo is a death sentence. That’s why we were so excited to head to Chicago for The 2021 NACS show, where industry leaders came together to share innovative ideas, solve problems, and seize new opportunities.

We are so excited to be members of the National Association of Convenience Stores and to continue to support industry trailblazers in the C-store vertical! We had some amazing conversations and attended some amazing sessions… and we can’t wait to share our notes with you!

Here’s a first-hand look at how communication and engagement are the key elements that drive C-store execution:

When it comes to new tech, the last piece is the most important 🧩 

There has been rapid change in the c-store space which has prompted many to enhance their checkout processes. Dash-In, a chain of more than 50 stores based in Maryland, has been testing self-checkout kiosks in several of their locations. Sammy Gupta, Dash-In’s Product Manager, spoke about some of the benefits and challenges with the initial roll-out. 

“One thing we did have to change is how we’re engaging with our associates during their training,” he said. To encourage adoption and to ensure associates can properly troubleshoot issues for customers, Dash-In is now building a multi-day training program during which employees can familiarize themselves with the new technology. 

During the talk, Gupta also mentioned how self-checkout kiosks don’t necessarily replace Associates, but rather help repurpose their labor hours. “Associates can actually be a part of the self-checkout transaction by facilitating an up-sell or cross-sell,” he explained. However, these employees will continue to need comprehensive training to know how to interact with a customer who is transacting in this manner. 

Even the most innovative retailers don’t take changes in technology lightly. As C-stores take huge strides in technology, there’s one more piece to the puzzle. The last piece is as important as all the other steps combined: rolling the new technology out to the stores. If store teams don’t properly execute tasks to roll out, the new technology won’t reach its full potential and could even cause problems that detract from the customer experience.

So how do C-stores ensure proper execution and training when rolling out new technology?

We’ve seen it work. First, you map out every step of the process and thinking about what the store teams need to know or do at each step. Then, you work with store comms to develop a communication campaign that will make it happen. 🪄

Employees want more than just a paycheck 💰

Two family-owned companies came together on stage to discuss the importance of a strong employee culture. Jenny Love Meyer, Chief Culture Officer of Love’s, and Travis Sheetz, President and COO of Sheetz discussed how employee engagement is directly tied to customer loyalty.

In a time when hiring is bleak and c-stores are experiencing unprecedented turnover, Meyer stressed the importance of differentiating your employment brand. “Frequently it’s not about the paycheck, but what else is there: what kind of purpose and value I can gain from working for your organization,” she explained.

Love’s believes that “culture is what defines your employees’ behaviors” and uses surveys to measure that culture on a regular basis. The feedback they receive from their field teams is then funneled into strategies aimed at increasing retention and decreasing turnover. These surveys also help pinpoint weak spots in the fleet and help Love’s understand which stores may not be fully aligned with the company’s culture.

Both Sheetz and Love’s said that Covid-19 helped them better understand the value of frequent communication to employees. With in-person events and celebrations on hold, Sheetz said he had to learn how to become a better communicator to help drive culture remotely. The company implemented a cadence of virtual events and video messages to ensure their field employees felt connected to the company’s leadership and vision. 

It’s high time to rethink how we engage employees ⌛

It’s no secret that right now is a turbulent time for the workforce, particularly in retail. As a result, we’ve all been talking about “employee engagement” even more than before. Is it a business trend, or is it something that we should explore? Just how important is employee engagement in retail customer service?

Here at Zipline, we think that employee engagement is crucial for every C-store brand to invest in. Engaged employees are the link between the innovative ideas your brand has created and the customers you’re trying to reach.

It’s no question that boosting retail employee engagement ultimately improves the customer experience. By setting up your frontline workers for success, they will feel empowered to represent the brand and be the voice of the company.

With robust communication tools that provide context, your employees understand their role in accomplishing the greater mission at hand. We all know that when we understand how our job tasks, even the most mundane of duties, make us part of a bigger picture we are eager to go the extra mile and contribute our very best work. A platform that connects the dots for your people to create a sense of purpose and encourages discussion and feedback will improve the customer experience, ultimately reflected in your company’s bottom line.

It’s time to stop sending communications to stores through obsolete channels and start communicating directly with your people. Bringing a brand to life means aligning the people who make up an organization, from HQ to the storefront. Since employee happiness drives better store engagement, Zipline prioritizes people-first communication that promotes engagement throughout your team.

Reach out to learn more about how you can improve vital communication between your stores and retail associates. 

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