For Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin Inc., it’s not enough to simply offer new and innovative products to its dynamic consumer base. The variety has to be punctuated with exceptional customer service. To achieve its goal, the Pleasant Prairie, Wis. chain has always focused on hiring outstanding personnel. Last month, the company took the additional step of naming Jim Schutz vice president of people assets.
Schutz joined Open Pantry five years ago after it acquired eight BP sites in the Milwaukee market. He immediately stood out for his extraordinarily high standards. "[Schutz’s] work ethic and loyalty is respected not only by Open Pantry’s management and board, but also all of the people he leads," said Robert Buhler, president and CEO of the 26-store chain. "As such, we are pleased to have Jim additionally focus on the development of our people."
The people assets job is combination of human resources and operations. "Look at HR and you’ll see it ties neatly into operations, so it makes sense to have these two roles combined," Schutz said. "Decisions need to be made quickly and, in this role, I’ll be able to react instantly to any issues that arise."
Schutz overseas about 300 employees in his new position, a responsibility he has been preparing for his entire career. "The people aspect of this job can not be understated," he said. "In fact, it’s among the most important aspects in this industry. While it’s also the most challenging, it can be the most rewarding."
Open Panty stores are known for their progressive, stylish designs that attract a core group of customers that have escaped other retailers, most notably women and students. With high-end coffee bars, oversized lounge chairs and marble bathrooms, stores have evolved into a daily destination for these important demographics. While great for sales, the look has also been a good source for recruiting top employees.
For example, in four of its Wisconsin markets, Milwaukee, Madison, Oshkosh and Crystal Lake, the company promotes store recruiting days to attract potential new talent. About a week prior to the event, Schutz and his team begin promoting the job fair in stores, on college campuses and on the Internet. "We invite all prospective applicants in to interview and immediately make decisions on whether or not we are going to hire that person or pass," he said.
Additionally, Schutz will attend focus groups at colleges and universities and recruit directly from business classes to enroll top students in Open Pantry’s Management Leadership Program that not only helps fill immediate voids at the store level, but potentially stocks the company with the managers and regional managers of tomorrow.
"The competitive nature of our business means you have to be proactive. You just can’t sit around and wait for the right applicant to come through the door," Schutz said. "That means you have to be active in presenting the company and the brand and what we stand for, which is providing outstanding service and taking care of the needs of our employees. Once candidates get a better picture of the c-store and how committed we are to helping them grow their careers, they realize just how much we have to offer. But it all starts by recruiting them into the store."
While Schutz conceded turnover is always a going to be an issue retailers have to deal with, the key is understanding why you lose employees. For example, the company conducts exit interviews with every employee that leaves the company and often learns about issues it was unaware of, such as not enough time to study or problems with a co-worker—issues the company is always willing to work with the employee to rectify.
"Controlling turnover begins during the hiring process," Schutz said. "You have to deliver what you promise and continue coaching and supporting employees to ensure their success. It’s our responsibility to help with any issues that may be hindering them so we spend a great deal of time training and motivating. Employees are the most valuable asset we have and our face to consumers. We need to keep them happy."