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Keynote speaker Bruce Tulgan began his presentation at this year's Convenience Store News Future Forum by saying that his goal was to leave each audience member with just one good idea to bring back to their company. Well, by the end of the three-day event, held late last month in St. Petersburg, Fla., we'd conservatively estimate that the 120-plus retailers and suppliers in attendance brought home scores of good, actionable ideas for immediate use.
You could see the sense of urgency as attendees took copious notes and interacted energetically with each other and the speakers, asking questions and relating their own experiences grappling with similar issues. From viewing floor plans of Grady Gaubert's new Go-Bear casino truck stop to hearing Alon USA CEO Jeff Morris' explanation of an innovative way of financing acquisitions, and Kwik Trip's Jay Ellingson's description of that chain's food safety program, attendees were challenged to think creatively. Discussed were not only issues and challenges about the future, but on the key operational challenges of the day – including recruiting and retaining the best people and providing, as Jack Wilkie of Kum – Go put it, the "Ideal Customer Experience."
Tulgan, the author of numerous management books, thrilled the audience with his parody of what he called, "the myth of empowerment," portraying hands-off management as just a way to avoid actually managing people. Especially insightful was Tulgan's description of the motivations of Gen Yers, who constitute the backbone of most companies' workforces and are the future leaders of your organizations.
Indeed, all the speakers — especially the retailer panelists – were extremely generous in the quality and amount of information they shared about their companies and their experiences, such as how:
• Flash Foods' online job application network is helping the Waycross, Ga.-based c-store retailer recruit employees;
• Wawa realized it had to increase benefits and change its pay scale to stress merit increases for hourly employees to reduce turnover and drive performance;
• Sheetz utilizes a "blended learning approach" to target training specific to employees at specific stores and track their performance;
• Town and Country launched a new profit center around its Total Car Care concept;
• Nice N Easy drew inspiration from best-of-class grocery retailer Wegman's and created a winning produce department that generates as much as $1,500 per week at a 30 percent margin in its best stores; and,
• Valero turned customers' negative feedback from 60 percent to just 15 percent by implementing a new employee recognition and reward program to improve customer service.
Watch for upcoming issues of Convenience Store News, and visit our Web site, www.csnews.com, for detailed reports on all the presentations that so enthused our Future Forum audience.
Near the end of the conference, Stewart Spinks, CEO of The Spinx Co., told attendees that they must "dare to be different" if they want to be successful in today's competitive market. Future Forum provided one of the best venues to hear and see different ideas for the future as well as ideas that can, and should, be put into action right now.