C-Store Managers Are Facing Challenges

Image of an open c-store which is a main challenge for many operators with tight labor markets

C-store managers are facing challenges of shortage, overload and isolation. Customers and vendors create a highly dynamic set of daily, small transactions. Each requires focus and accuracy. This demands a high level of energy to maintain a level of good work all day long. Labor and supply issues force hard decisions and require more management time than ever. This high activity level does not provide much time for thoughtful and deep conversations. This constant contact paradoxically leaves a feeling of isolation. As such, it is important to address the manager’s need for support.

Store Managers Deal with Reality

Keeping a store fully staffed means making decisions about hiring and firing. All too often, enforcing rules for attendance, theft, respectful dialogue can test a manager’s resolve. The pressure to increase sales, avoid overtime and monitor theft creates stress to achieve seemingly competing goals. Many store managers deal with staff that have hard life choices where money is insufficient to meet their daily needs. Many must address addiction, depression, abuse and other parts of life’s roughest and toughest situations.

Managers deal with death from overdose, staff that are abused, and single parents trying to raise children without baby sitters. The pressure to make decisions and keep the store on track can be overwhelming. In the midst of this reality is the demand to perform and manage the store. These pressures mixed into the regular demands of operating a functional store that is growing sales, ensuring profits and maintaining the long-term customer relationships can be daunting. Providing the right support, tools and guidance is critically important to a store manager’s success.

C-Store Managers Are Key to Growth

The manager in a c-store is one of the most important aspects of a store’s performance which may be actively influenced. Once a store is purchased, built/renovated, reset, and established, the on-going performance is impacted most by the store manager. Obviously, changing the location, branding and setup is not quick nor easy. The store manager, however, can significantly impact store operations on a daily basis. Therefore, ensuring the store manager has the right information, the correct priorities and the skill to execute is a crucial responsibility.

Leaders must provide the necessary resources and provide sufficient time to do the work. Training and work balance is dynamic. Too much training, paperwork, or supervisor interaction may increase the feeling of  overload. Too little support and the store manager control is dependent on individual capability, desire and execution. Increasing store manager effectiveness can greatly impact c-store growth while also reducing c-store manager overload.

C-Store Managers Overload

Typically the first one to open the store each weekday, a store manager has a full set of work just like all cashiers. Additionally, they must hire, coach, order, follow-up, train, analyze and notify owners of the important stuff. Of course, managers never want to bug supervisors with the small items they get paid to handle. So they must have the ability to assess the importance of the job and how it will impact overall customers service and store profitability.

In addition to the normal challenges, each day brings a host of issues to address. Sick days, bad attitudes, staff turnover, out of stock items, truck day, and upset customers are often just a ‘normal’ part of the day. The work days has so many small tasks that require immediate action, it can be hard to find time for the more challenging work of hiring, training, analysis or those things that require more thoughtful review or assessments.

The ability (skills) needed to work with customers all day, assess the right hire, address incorrect work, promote the right person to a different job is hard enough. Add to those items the detailed thinking work to assess and resolve store growth or shrink makes every day a challenge. It takes people skills, industry experience, a good ‘BS’ alarm, detailed money handling, inventory tracking and overall common sense to keep all the store systems and facilities up and running.

Coachable Insights Reduce Overload

Providing a set of data that is easy to read and comprehend in 5-10 minutes while also addressing the numerous areas of concern is one way to keep the managers work load balanced. However, this can add more work initially and create stress for those that do not handle change or new technology easily.

Ideally, a store manager will get a short set of items that can be scanned quickly (3-8 minutes). A list of  potential problems, top performing products, and staff that deserve recognition or may need coaching. Delivery must be easy and convenient. Email, texts, internal display screens or simple employee web sites allow managers to receive data without having to remember or schedule time to pull the reports.

The key is to keep the information short (lists of 5-8 items). Show the things that matter most. Highlight opportunities for training. Ensure upper management reviews and uses the same data that store managers receive. When looking at the same data in the same format, with the same frequency, the management discussions can be simplified. Having everyone on the same page, reduces miscommunication and makes it easier to establish a set of expectations. Overload is reduced by saving time looking for problems.  There is less frustration  when everyone can see the same issues quickly.

C-Store Labor Shortages & Back Orders

Keeping the stores open requires enough staff to cover the working hours. Short term issues can be addressed with overtime and even sharing staff from other stores. However, these solutions add both expenses and additional stress for both the staff and the managers. C-store staffing typically has high turnover relative to other industries. Tight labor shortage and competition from other  industries reduces the fear of job security among staff. When employees have lots of job options, the risk of antagonizing team members with necessary corrective seems greater. So now,  managers have the extra stress of avoiding further staff turnover due to management or personal mistakes. Keeping strong relationships and having great communication skills are crucial.

The frequent unfilled orders add extra work load as well. Following up with vendors for key products, and ordering extra stock takes extra time. In addition to the extra work tracking products, missing products can significantly reduce sales. When key products are not available, customers may turn to other stores or just buy less.

Management Coaching

It is important to set guidelines and provide support to managers to address the extra work along with the demand for even greater professional interactions. The pandemic has left us with more family emergencies and less help for sick kids and elderly family members. Nonetheless, certain work behaviors must be addressed. Finding the right way to coach and assist that helps the staff as well as the store operations can be achieved. It takes skill and patience. Providing training, bringing in upper management for difficult meetings and just allowing the managers a chance to share their issues all keeps the work in balance. Managers are key to having staff feel appreciated as well as helping them to learn and practice new skills.

C-Store Managers Isolation

C-stores are active places with lots of visitors and opportunities to talk and share. Hundreds of customers, numerous vendors and several employees all come in each day. These interactions are mostly quick or require instructions to staff, however. Managers, move from one task to another and have lots of checking and paperwork to address. This means a continuous flow of small decisions along with several bigger issues depending on staffing, stocking or other emergencies that happen on a frequent basis. So even though there is so much contact, the store managers often report a feeling of isolation.

They do not have a lot of contact with peers that are doing the same job. It can be useful to arrange for meetings or events to allow the managers to share their stories and hear from others. Often the chance to confirm their decisions or learn new ideas provides a break and a sense of belonging.

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