LUBBOCK, Texas & KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The hectic, often repetitive nature of convenience store life on its surface may not inspire a lifelong career commitment, but for employees who have been at the same chain for 10, 15 or 20 years or more, the story is about the energy that surrounds a successful store, the influence one has over a new generation and the importance of being the face of a community.
CSP interviewed five individuals with more than 20 years at their respective chains to ask them what was behind their career choices.
Two of the interviews appear here in CSP Daily News. To read the other three, see the April issue of CSP magazine, or see Related Content below.
What was common was a sense of purpose, a sense of place, a feeling that the effort reaps reward, and most importantly that what one does really matters.
When Leticia Robleto, 50, started working at a c-store over 25 years ago, they had time to take merchandise off the shelves, dust everything off and put them back.
Today, the stores are twice as big and traffic is almost nonstop. But the assistant manager has her routines down like clockwork, knowing how to prepare.
For her, the customers are the reason she gets excited about work. "I had this customer who got into an accident trying to get to my store," Robleto told CSP Daily News. "The customer said I had the best coffee and on the way over, had a car accident."
Robleto said she sees many of the same customers two or three times a day. They tell her their stories, such as the woman whose husband passed away. The widow said whenever they came in the store, Robleto always made them feel welcome and loved and made them laugh.
It was about 10 years into her 26-year career in c-stores--most of which spent at Southwest Convenience Stores which is now owned by Dallas-based ALON--that her passion for her work and the people around her kicked in. "Like with my customers, when I'm on vacation, they ask for me."
Robleto has many of the qualities necessary for life in a bustling, retail environment. "It's not for everybody," she says. "I try to make sure anyone interested in working for a c-store likes cleaning and can show patience with customers."
She says she's the type who likes everything clean and organized. "I'm the kind of person who needs all my money facing in one direction."
But ultimately, the job is about people, engaging them and having lively interaction. "If I wasn't doing what I'm doing now, I'd be a lawyer," she said. "I like making my point."
And for someone who's made a career out of convenience, that point would be about building community.
Back in 1977 when Pat Ross was 16, QuikTrip was already considered something special. With Lamar, its shaggy, canine mascot and the chain's family-friendly, quality appeal, employment at a store near his home in the Kansas City, Mo., area was a no brainer--and a 30-cent-per-hour difference in pay from his alternative as a lifeguard.
Returning to QuikTrip after college was a natural choice, as Ross recognized the Tulsa-based chain's growth track. He got married and by 1985, he made supervisor. The following year was a milestone in that he helped open up QuikTrip's "Generation 2" stores, with a prominent emphasis on gasoline.
"From that point, the company began changing," Ross recalled for CSP Daily News. "We clearly became a gasoline retailer."
In the 1990s, the company began to expand its personnel department and needed help in the main office with hiring and training. He did that for 10 years before returning to the operations side for another five years. Today, Ross is a training manager out of QuikTrip's Kansas City division office, coordinating the training for all new hires and promoted employees.
That doesn't mean he's far from the sales floor. While training managers, he's works shifts with them twice a week. He works elbow to elbow with scheduling and all duties are necessary during the entire shift.
His division covers 76 stores in the Kansas City metro area, with the furthest store being 30 miles away.
For Ross, an important part of his success is knowing the customer. These days, his customer is the employee. "It's worthwhile for me to know that I'm helping them be successful."
Over time, Ross watched the company develop as an employer of choice, today offering competitive salaries, tuition reimbursement and the opportunity for college students to return to work in the summer.
Maintaining a highly motivated workforce is no easy task. "People always ask us how we train people to do the job," Ross said. "A big part of it is hiring that person. We're looking for someone outgoing, personable, somebody who's going to present themselves well to the customer."
That customer-centric attitude is a Hallmark for QuikTrip. He has met with founder Chester Cadieux on several occasions and had the opportunity to voice his concerns and goals. "Year in and year out, for me, and talking with friends talking, I know I'm working for a company with good, solid leadership. We care about people and are committed to doing the right thing. It really has become a long-term calling."