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DALLAS – Emphasizing cleanliness as a key attribute of its business isn't a new thing for Alon Brands Inc. The Dallas-based supplier and marketer of branded fuels and the largest 7-Eleven licensee in North America first launched its Clean TEAM initiative in 2010 to provide measurable standards of excellence on a store level. This year, however, marks the first time that Alon is making a public declaration to customers that they can depend on the cleanliness and organization of all its stores.
This declaration comes in the form of Alon’s new yearlong Clean 13 campaign.
In previous years, Alon evaluated stores on certain attributes, such as clean bathrooms and organized, stocked shelves, and awarded a new car to the manager of the store with the highest Clean TEAM Score. Under Clean 13, the company is giving away 13 brand-new cars this year. Five store managers will win a free ride, plus Alon will award four cars to local non-profit groups through "Cars 4 Cause," and four cars to store customers who use a special "Load the Code" card online to enter a drawing.
More than just reassuring customers about Alon's cleanliness, Clean 13 is about honoring the Clean TEAM members who make it all possible, Alon Brands President and CEO Kyle McKeen told CSNews Online. "Keeping stores clean is hard work,” he said. “Probably one of the hardest jobs is retail, and one of hardest retail jobs is convenience."
The company’s Clean TEAM initiative began by going back to the basics. Before Clean TEAM was conceived, Alon assessed its strategy and found that there was opportunity to improve its customer service and cleanliness practices. The challenge was coming up with a program that actually recognized the employees who achieved the levels of excellence Alon wanted.
While plenty of cleanliness-based programs existed, most featured punitive measures to punish employees for mistakes instead of rewarding good work. "That just doesn't really yield the results you want," McKeen explained.
Instead, Alon decided to provide incentives for good work and generate a level of friendly competition and a performance culture that McKeen said has become a part of the company. It's not just an annual giveaway that temporarily improves conditions. Many of McKeen's weekly company newsletters update employees on Clean TEAM rankings. Additionally, while the fundamentals of the program remain the same, the criteria on which stores are scored rotates on a quarterly basis.
This keeps things fresh for managers and their subordinates, and prevents them from working for points alone. "We want performance in all areas, not just some areas," McKeen noted.
While some store managers were hesistant about the program at first, they quickly adapted and embraced the initiative, helping it become the “largest cultural influence on the company” in the past three years, McKeen said. "It's made a big difference. It's part of our vernacular now; it's how people describe store-readiness," he said.
With the assimilation of Clean TEAM now completed, this year's Clean 13 campaign highlights the employee skills already in place. The campaign serves as a reminder of Alon's continued focus on cleanliness and organization, and gives context to the window decals and in-store plaques awarded to any store that scores a 90 or higher on an annual basis, making them Clean TEAM certified.
It's about going back to the basics of operating a well-run convenience store, which according to McKeen is something customers are interested in. As he pointed out, any good c-store should be clean, with organized stock and friendly employees, but not all c-stores can promise consistency in these areas.
"It's easy to talk about it; it's hard to execute it," the chief executive said.
GOODWILL HITS THE ROAD
As the Clean 13 campaign rolls out this year, customers will have more than just decals and plaques to remind them about Clean TEAM. For each free "Load the Code" card they get from a company-owned or distributor store in the Alon network, customers have the chance to win one of the four cars to be given away, free gasoline and other prizes at www.myalon.com/loadthecode.
Customers also get a major say in which non-profit groups will receive a free car. After doing some research and getting local input, Alon selected finalists from each region that customers can vote for when they redeem their "Load the Code" cards. Eligible organizations serve causes ranging from helping the homeless, to funding scholarships, to providing multiple resources to children in need.
The process has been eye-opening to the level of need that exists, McKeen said, and being able to help is important to Alon's internal organization.
"Nothing's more important in our business than the communities that we're in," he added. Considering the response to Clean TEAM and now Clean 13, Alon Brands will most likely expand the program going forward. It's already exceeded the company's initial expectations, McKeen told CSNews Online. In other words, there's a good chance customers will see Clean 14 next year -- and so on.