Mystery Shop Part 1: For the Team

Cumberland Farms transforms from an '80s chain into an industry leader

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor
Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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Talk about an upset!

Had Vegas placed odds on the 10th annual CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop, Cumberland Farms’ unseating of two-time defending champ Kwik Trip would have been as preposterous as the long-cursed Boston Red Sox winning the World Series before 2004.

Much like its hometown team, the Framingham, Mass.-based chain readily admits it had not kept pace with the best of the pack.

“Most of our stores were built in the ’80s and early ’90s. It had been nearly two decades since we did anything really big to our stores,” says Randy Boutell, a store manager of 25 years.

Amid constant threats of takeovers, plus battling the universally declining spiral of cigarettes and gas, the Cumberland Farms of 10 years ago, despite its scale as the largest c-store chain in New England, was a midlevel performer in industrywide rankings such as the mystery shop. Click here to see the mystery-shop results.

So what changed in 2014? A conscious reset, not just in operations, but also in culture. With a new store prototype that shifts attention from tobacco to foodservice and a genuine companywide philosophy that puts associates first, Cumberland is undergoing the kind of transformation rarely seen among larger chains.

“There’s a dramatic change that’s felt from top to bottom,” says vice president of marketing Gwen Forman. “People get a bit of a high [when] you know you’re going places.”

Boutell agrees. “It’s a whole different business now,” he says. “Seeing us at the top of the awards list, instead of the middle, it just shows what we’ve achieved as a team over the last five or six years.”

It was six years ago that Ari Haseotes took the reins as president of Cumberland Farms. While Haseotes (who recently added the title of CEO of Cumberland Gulf Group) set the pace, for him, success begins and ends with the Cumberland team. Were it just about him, Haseotes would keep quiet.

“As a private company, we tend to shy away from media attention,” he says. “But frankly, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to showcase the great work of our team. It feels really good to be able to have them get some credit for the tremendous work they do.”

The following is the story of how one chain, long considered standard and “in the box,” is working to create a team-first business culture that portends an auspicious future.

CONTINUED: The Power of Positivity

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