Managing staff can be a tough job, but our C-Store Champions agree that having a motivated workforce is well worth a headache or two

Gregory Cochrane, Eurospar Binnian Fresh Foods and Fresh Food Centre, Kilkeel

Gregory has just rebranded from Spar to Eurospar and taken on more staff in the process

Raj Chandegra, six Londis stores in South and West London

Raj says the new living wage is likely to cost his business £50,000 
over the next year

Dan Cock, Premier Whitstone Stores, Devon

Dan works closely with his staff and makes an effort to create a close-knit team through social gatherings and staff rewards

Binny Amin, Blean Village Londis and Binny’s, in St George’s Centre, Canterbury

Binny is trying to think creatively
to create sales and outweigh the cost of increasing wages

How many members of staff do you employ?

Gregory: We employ 83 people across our two stores. Recent investment at both our sites has seen each transform from the Spar to Eurospar brand, which has brought with it additional services and an extensive range. This has created a significant number of new jobs within the local community. At Eurospar Knockchree we have employed an additional 19 staff and Eurospar Newcastle Road has an additional 10.

Raj: Across all six stores we have about 50 members of staff. Obviously, with the living wage now in operation this might have to be altered.

Dan: We have nine, including all the part-time staff. That number has pretty much stayed the same for a while, although we have to increase a little during the summer because of the additional trade we get from the holiday season. We are also thinking about expansion so that could result in some additional staff.

Binny: I employ about 12 people across the two stores. We’ve just increased the number of staff in the old Village Londis store because we had a big refit and have taken on a few new people for the new store.

How has the living wage affected your business and staffing structure?

Gregory: We aren’t changing the staff model or the number of staff at all because we’re confident that the relaunch of our stores to the Eurospar brand will build upon our existing business and offset the changes the living wage will bring. 

Raj: Over the next year, across all the stores, the new wage will cost our business an extra £50,000. Obviously, we have to look at how to preserve the business by cutting costs in one way or another. We don’t want to cut back staff hours because this could have a negative impact on the service we provide. We will monitor it over the next few months and try to make cutbacks in other areas – such as reducing bills – but we may decide that cutting hours is necessary. It may be that we have to increase prices, but with the market being so competitive I don’t know if that’s an option.

Dan: Not really. We try, where possible, to pay above the minimum wage so it hasn’t been too big a problem. I’ve learnt over the years that it’s better to pay a higher salary and get better work rather than pay peanuts and get monkeys. It helps the staff feel valued and makes them more understanding if you need to give them more work or put more responsibility on them. The only issue is that the government has created a pay divide between the under-25s and over-25s doing exactly the same job.

Binny: We are open until 10pm in the new shop and doing takeaways on the deli counter, so we are looking to have a good evening trade to  make up for the extra cost of the living wage. I’m going to have to reduce the staff by one or two employees unless I can juggle hours instead.

How have staff reacted to the new wage?

Gregory: They are positive about it. We were able to sit down with them and talk them through the fact it won’t impact the business or their jobs as we know some people were worried about it causing cutbacks.

Dan: The under-25s have been very understanding and know it’s not my fault if someone over 25 is earning more than them for doing the same job. The over-25s are pleased, but not jumping for joy because I think they felt they were well paid before.

Raj: It’s extra money in their pocket so they are grateful for that, but at the same time they know we will be expecting a lot more of them and there may be other changes further down the line so it’s not all good news.

Binny: I’ve heard nothing from the staff. The majority get a good wage anyway so it hasn’t made much difference. The store manager is now earning less than other members of staff because he is 24 and the others are well over 25 so I have had to re-structure his salary and bonus structure to make up for that.

How do you recruit new staff?

Gregory: We advertise in-store, online, in local newspapers and on our social media channels, to attract a diverse range of high-
calibre staff.

Raj: We don’t ever advertise vacancies; it’s all word of mouth. A member of staff will recommend a friend, or a customer will come in and ask if we have any vacancies. We can take their name and number and let them know when we have a vacancy. We tend to get a better response from just letting people know we have a vacancy than we do through advertising.

Dan: It’s word of mouth and Facebook. Experience isn’t as important as being the right sort of person – the right character, pleasant, polite, smiley, hard-working. My partner and I will carry out the first interview and once we’ve shortlisted the candidates the second interview will be them spending a few hours with the team on the shop floor. It’s important that they connect with the existing staff.

Binny: We always speak to customers and ask staff for their recommendations, and we always recruit local people who know the community. I have advertised through local media and recruitment agencies in the past, but I’ve found if I just speak to them when they come in the store then I can tell straight-away if they will fit into the team and are the type of person we want.

What is your staff training process?

Gregory: We have an in-store training department led by our dedicated people champions. Champions are responsible for taking the new member of staff through their induction process and helping them in completing the online learning programme. The online learning programme has 12 modules which will be completed in the first two months of employment. Those modules educate them on everything from customer safety, to interaction with shoppers. They also benefit from the Henderson Group Training Academy which offers additional training.

Raj: We have a three-month induction and training period. New members go through a 20-point process, including health and safety, explaining how the store operates, retail laws and so on. I train the senior and managerial members of staff, but the less senior members are trained by the store manager.

Dan: Other than all the legally required training, we break the training into different areas of the business. We pair them with another employee who they will learn from by following. We have a daily list of duties and tasks, which is a great reference point for new and existing staff. They can look to see what needs to be done and ask for help if they haven’t already been shown how to do a certain task.

Binny: I show them all the back office and business management stuff before I even get them working on the shop floor. The shop floor is the easy part, but I want them to understand why they are doing things the way they are. I throw them in at the deep end and then we can see their strengths for ourselves, rather than just going by what they‘ve told us. If they can get through that week with me then they should be able to get through other things. There are also online training modules which they have to complete within a set time.

What do you find difficult about being an employer?

Gregory: The biggest challenge is communicating to individuals that retail can be a really exciting, diverse career option that offers a rewarding career opportunity.

Raj: The difficult thing is being on call 24/7. It’s a big responsibility; people are relying on you. There are times when you don’t want to have to be responsible, but the reward of running your own business and the pride of having great stores makes it worth it. 

Dan: Everything; it’s the hardest part of the business. When it runs smoothly it’s brilliant, but when you get a dispute between staff, or a complaint from a customer, it takes up a lot of time. There’s also all the admin, all the compliance issues and legal requirements. Our team are a great asset as they make the store what it is, but they are also the biggest job for me. I always make plenty of time to sort out issues with them face-to-face in order to get to the root of issues quickly.

Binny: The biggest thing that bugs me is the lack of reliability of employees. If I have to be at work at a certain time then I will be there no matter what, but employees don’t think the same. I have created a new pay structure now which takes into account things such as sick days and late arrivals.

How do you assess staff’s work and pay?

Gregory: We have a set payment model structure across both stores where pay increment is based on the position the employee holds and level of responsibility. I review employees’ individual growth models in one-on-one meetings on a regular basis, to ensure they are aware of the targets.

Raj: Wages are reviewed every April and I ensure the longer they’ve been working for the company, the more they earn. I can’t see what every member of staff is doing so I go by what the store manager tells me.

Dan: I know from working alongside them how they are doing and where their skills lie. I’m able to ask them questions and see how they think.

Binny: I do it with the help of the managers. I base bonuses on store profitability, which takes into account theft, damages, waste and so on.

Do you give people responsibility for particular departments?

Gregory: We have champions for the different sections and those are the people who do a particularly good job in that area. One member, Danielle, is our coffee champion. She wears an armband saying she’s the coffee champion, so the customers know who to go to if they have any issues. I think it’s important to give staff ownership throughout the store so they become experts in their fields. It also makes my job easier if I can trust them to look after that category.

Raj: Giving them their own category to look after gives them some self-motivation, so I do it when possible. In the smaller teams or during quieter shifts it’s not practical for each person to have their own areas, because they have to be able to multi-task and help with all sections. Also, if the staff weren’t able to help out in all areas of the business then we would run into trouble when someone went on holiday.

Dan: There’s one lad who’s very clued up with computers and has an eye for detail, so I’ve got him looking after epos. I’ve put another lady in charge of food hygiene as she showed a particular skill for that. Being given a responsibility can really give them a sense of empowerment and helps them to feel valued.

Binny: Giving staff their own categories works up to a point - until someone calls in sick and you haven’t got anyone to cover. I like them to be able to look after all areas of the store and work as a team. We’ve set up WhatsApp groups for them so they can communicate with each other and keep each other up to date.

How do you keep your staff motivated?

Gregory: One example is our value reward scheme, which sees staff members exceeding expectations rewarded with a voucher. We also conduct a six-week review after employees commence employment with us, to review their progression and to ensure that the role they are in is best matched to their skills.

Raj: Praising them, giving them a pat on the back when they’ve done a good job, as well as giving them their own categories of responsibility where possible.

Dan: If I feel someone has gone above and beyond then I will slip them some extra in their pay packet, but it’s not just about money - there are lots of rewards for my staff. Some of the guys rent a flat we own and get a discount for rent; they get a chance to take home short-dated products; and we try to go out socially. These things help them to feel valued and appreciated. Also, the fact that I’m on the shop floor working with them is motivating for them as they can see that I am practising what I preach.

Binny: I never have any issues with their motivation. Sometimes you have to be strict and make sure they are doing things the right way. If they are not inclined to be motivated they don’t generally last that long, but most of my staff have been with me for years.