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For 19 years, I worked for a business publisher that required all its editors and reporters to spend time regularly at the headquarters of a major retailer they covered in order to learn how the retail industry works.
Typically, this meant spending at least two days shadowing executives from various departments, from merchandising to finance. This experience was critical in helping editors and reporters report intelligently and with substance on the companies and industries they covered.
I recall my first field work when I was an editor at a publication that covered the home improvement retail industry. It was 24 years ago. This young, inexperienced reporter spent two days at a now-defunct home improvement chain. I soaked up every bit of information that I could about this good-sized regional retailer. On the last day of my visit, the vice president of marketing -- who was serving as my "guide" -- took me to see the CEO of the company (who happened to be his father).
The CEO, an "older" man (at least he seemed old to me at the time), looked me up and down, then turned to his son and sneered, "What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you giving this ... this reporter an inside look at our company? What do we get out of this?"
As his son sputtered, I somehow got up the nerve to cut in and explain how I'd recently been made the beat reporter for his company and that any help he could provide in educating me about the history, culture and strategic direction of the chain will result in more accurate coverage in our publication. I was still holding my breath when the CEO motioned to a chair in front of his huge desk. "Okay, sit down and let's get this over with." He then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes talking non-stop about how he and his two brothers founded a small paint company and turned it into a multi-million home center chain, and how they were planning to grow even bigger.
Field work like this helped make me a better retail reporter and editor.
Convenience Store News' industry-exclusive A Day in the Life series produces similar benefits. By embedding our editors inside a major convenience retailer for two days every year, we gain a wealth of knowledge and information about key retail disciplines -- much deeper insight than can be gleaned from the usual telephone, or even in-person interviews that make up most of the reporting you read in other industry media sources. We've been doing Day in the Life reports for four years, and they contribute to CSNews' being the No. 1 industry media brand, based on a poll of the entire industry, not just our readers.
A Day in the Life also benefits the c-store industry at large by providing a glimpse into the working lives of c-store industry professionals. C-stores, perhaps more than any other retail sector, suffer from a poor public perception as a place to build a dynamic career. Anyone who reads our Day in the Life of Valero report in this issue cannot help but be impressed with the people skills, intelligence and work ethic of the Valero managers we followed.
Happily, Gary Arthur, Steve Motz and others at Valero were a lot more hospitable to us than the crusty CEO of that home center retailer. Touring Valero's San Antonio corporate campus, CSNews came to understand why the company was named on Fortune's 2009 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, and was the 2009 No. 1 Best Big Company to Work For in the magazine as well.
During the visit, CSNews editors were struck by the visible signs of appreciation Valero has for its employees, and their resulting dedication to the company. Beyond salary and benefits, Valero offers all its employees access to an on-site childcare facility; an expansive cafeteria; an in-house gym; and even an on-campus medical clinic.
"Valero has outstanding benefits and treats its employees fairly and with respect. We stand behind this not just with words, but with actions. That's at the core of what makes us a great company to work for," Arthur said.
I want to express special thanks to our subjects who let CSNews peek inside their work lives, and kudos to Valero for fostering a positive environment that appears to permeate the company from the top down.