Our C-Store Champions discuss how they create engaged employees  who are respectful, hardworking and trustworthy team players 

Jonathan James, James Convenience Retail

Jonathan employs 600 staff across his business, where he says staff turnover is at an average of 4%

Raj Aggarwal, two Spar stores in Leicestershire and Sheffield

Raj employs 40 people and ensures every member is engaged for the good of the entire team

Satminder Deo, three Costcutter stores in Yorkshire

Sat likes to create a relaxed feel at work and believes that’s why his 30 staff members are so loyal

Ramesh Shingadia, two Londis stores in Southwater and Horsham, West Sussex

Ramesh sees his 30 staff members as part of an extended family, with rewards for longstanding employees

How long has your longest-serving employee worked for you?

Jonathan: Some team members have worked for the business for more than 25 years.

Raj: We took on a long-serving employee when we bought the Spar Hackenthorpe store about 18 months ago. She has been working for Spar for 25 years and she’s worked her way up from a sales assistant to a senior supervisor. She loves her job and knows it very well.

Sat: The longest-serving member of staff worked for my dad for two or three years, then I bought the store from my dad 20 years ago, so she’s worked for us for about 23 years. I think she’s stayed with us because of the non-corporate and relaxed feel of the job and because we are adaptable to her home needs, such as when she needs to pick up children and things like that.

Ramesh: The longest-serving member of staff has worked for us for 25 years. We’ve got three members of staff who have worked for us for between 22 and 25 years. The longest-serving member, Carol, is the store manager at the Southwater store. She’s an absolute gem. She’s my right-hand person as she really knows the store, her customers and the business inside out. You can rely on her to step in when you have a problem.

How engaged would you say your staff are with the job? What makes you think this?

Jonathan: They are very well engaged on the whole. Our staff turnover averages at 4%, which is incredible. I make a conscious effort to get to know as many members of staff as possible, but of course it’s difficult with 600! When I ask people what keeps them working for the company they tell me that the company is very fair and offers them lots of room for progression.

Raj: It’s always harder to tell how engaged newer members of staff are, but I would say my staff are very engaged.

Sat: I would say they are, as about 80% of my staff are long-termers, by which I mean they’ve worked for me for five to 10 years. I know my staff respect me and don’t want to leave me in the lurch. If they can’t make a shift then they will find someone else to cover for them rather than just telling me they can’t come in at the last minute. I do lead from the front and they know I run a tight ship.

Ramesh: They definitely are engaged, but it’s a good question – how do I know? It’s a bit of a subjective feeling, really, but we do have appraisals every six months and we carry out evaluations on how they are getting on and whether they have anything they need to talk about.

Why is employee engagement important to you?

Jonathan: It’s very important to me. I personally monitor staffing on a monthly basis as I think that a member of staff leaving can be an indication of a number of issuers, so it’s something I personally like to keep my eye on. We give people their own section to look after, which gives them ownership and pride in their work. We are a family-run company and we genuinely care about our staff. For example, if it’s someone’s birthday they get a card from me. We have also recently introduced Perkbox, which is designed to reward team members with discount vouchers and all sort sorts of perks such as mobile phone insurance. The staff really appreciate that.

Raj: It’s important for employee longevity to understand what your staff want to get out of the role. Training a new member of staff can take six months to a year to get them to how you want them, so you want to ensure you are investing your time and resources wisely. You might like them as an employee, but if they aren’t enjoying the job then you have to do something to fix that, or deal with the issue. It’s important for the team morale that everyone is working hard and enjoying working as part of the team as one person can pull the whole team down.

Sat: It’s important they are engaged with the job as it leads to them having a better understanding of the job and the business and how to run it correctly. If they are engaged then they will inform me if they think anything needs changing or improving, and they’ll be more likely to make useful suggestions. They also see the job as more than a job and feel a responsibility towards the store and the business as a whole, and so I know I can trust them to do the job properly when I’m not there. It’s also important that they are engaged with me as I need to have good communication with them so they can keep me abreast of what’s been happening in store, any issues during their shifts and any updates.

Ramesh: With staff engagement comes staff loyalty. If people work for us for several years they become part of our extended family and it becomes more a mutual support system rather than an employer-employee relationship. We know they will step in to help us when we need it and they know we will support them. One of the biggest problems that retailers have to deal with is staffing, as you are dealing with people who can vary greatly and who can cause problems, so I really value loyal and respectful employees. We make sure we reward those who have been loyal to us with different gifts such as bottles of wine and flowers for special occasions. We just sent Carol on holiday with her husband to celebrate their anniversary. We also reward the longer-standing members of staff with a private health reward.

How do you aim to attract and employ people who have a good work ethic and who will engage with the job? What experience, personality type and skills do you look for when recruiting?

Jonathan: Without exception the best way to recruit is via recommendations. Other than that, we do have quite a hands-on approach with a lot of people getting involved in the process to ensure we get several opinions. There’s also a video on our website with lots of clips of our staff saying what they love about their job and about the company; I always get a catch in my throat when I watch that.

Raj: It’s very difficult in this sector to say what are the personality traits that make a good employee. You get such a diverse range of people applying. In the job description we ask for someone highly-motivated, a people person, able to communicate with members of the public, work as a team and think outside the box. Those are the types of things we look for, but it’s hard to tell what they’ll be like until they’re doing the job.

Sat: I tend to look for flexible staff who don’t have too many ties. Once they start the job, I give them an induction and tell them what I expect and what the standard is, then I let staff take over and train them on the finer details.

Ramesh: We try to be as thorough as possible when recruiting to ensure we don’t waste our time and resources training people who aren’t right for the role. We advertise and ask people to send in their CVs, then we have an initial phone chat for about five or 10 minutes, then a formal interview, then a second interview with the shift managers, then they come in for a trial. This gives them time to realise when the role isn’t right for them. We don’t want to start formally training staff just to find they’ve decided the role isn’t what they thought it would be. After the trial they start the formal training.

How do you respond when you can tell a member of staff is not engaging?

Jonathan: It comes down to store level to encourage them to step up to the plate. There’s a great team ethic among the staff, which means no one wants to let their team down and everyone pulls their weight. If there’s one person not doing that then it will be obvious.

Raj: A senior member of the team will talk to them one-on-one and ask them what is making them unhappy and ultimately will ask them if this job is right for them. We will do what we can to make our staff happy, but if it’s not the right role for them then we have to consider letting them go.

Sat: I will have a one-on-one with the employee, or the supervisor will, and tell them what I expect from them and how I expect them to improve. Often staff don’t realise when they aren’t working hard enough and one chat will be all that’s needed.

Ramesh: Well, to begin with, they have a three-month probationary period where we will have a one-to-one review with them every four weeks, which gives them plenty of opportunity to let us know of any issues and for us to tell them if they need to improve any areas. We also have the option to extend this probationary period further if we’re not sure they’re getting on. Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses than to keep putting time into someone who isn’t right for the role.

Have the increases in the National Living Wage changed the hours you employ staff, and what you expect from them in return?

Jonathan: We’ve had to look at our staff hours and reduce them as there is no way we could keep them at the new level, which is really unfortunate.

Raj: It’s easy to say that you can reduce hours or make staff work harder, but when you’re already running a tight ship it’s hard to run a tighter ship. Also, the issue I have found is that staff don’t differentiate between the living wage and minimum wage. I pay them the living wage, but they see it as the minimum wage. The problem this creates is that staff don’t want to do anything more than their job role; they don’t think they should go above and beyond at all unless it means they get more money. I always think that offering them extra hours is like money in their pocket, but they seem to think they should get time-and-a-half for doing extra work.

Sat: Where we used to have a half-hour overlap during some shift changes, we don’t have that overlap any more. So by saving 15 minutes or half-an- hour here and there we’re saving 15 hours a week, which adds up to £100 a week.

Ramesh: We’ve had to start looking at how to slimline the way we work to reduce staff hours. It is a shame that we’re having to do that, but 
at the same time I think that the new generation of shoppers aren’t so interested in face-to-face conversation in the store and are happy to be served quickly and electronically.

Career progression

What opportunities do your staff have to develop their skills and responsibilities?

Jonathan: We always say that we don’t offer a job, we offer a career, and we like to stick to that mantra. The business is growing so there is always room for progression and we’ve had several members of staff start out on the checkouts and end up a store manager or similar.

Raj: If staff want to move into a higher role then we are happy for them to do that, but they have to show they are willing to work hard for it. They have to show initiative and that they can be trusted with the extra responsibilities.

Sat: If I can see potential in a member of staff then I will ask them if they want any extra responsibilities and if they are interested in training for a higher role. If they are then I will help them with the training.

Ramesh: There are always opportunities to increase responsibilities and skills. They can learn how to run the post office, then go through the ranks to be a supervisor and eventually store manager. If someone shows enthusiasm and motivation we will help them to do this.


How do you advertise vacancies?

Jonathan: There’s a section on our website with staff vacancies, plus we advertise through a couple of online recruitment sites.

Raj: We advertise vacancies on the Indeed recruitment firm’s website and we use local colleges to get in apprentices.

Sat: I used to put adverts in the local paper, but now I just use word of mouth and I keep a notice up in each store saying we are always taking CVs in case a vacancy comes up. That way we get in CVs throughout the year. This means that when someone leaves I’m not left short staffed and having to start recruiting from scratch.

Ramesh: Through Indeed and the Job Centre. No one really looks in local newspapers for jobs any more.