Cultivating C-Store Jobs Into Careers of Choice

The NCCRRC offers an action plan for how convenience retailers can attract prospective employees.

Cultivating C-Store Jobs Into Careers of Choice

May 2024   minute read

By: Lauren Shanesy

Only 17% of people would be interested in taking a job at a c-store today or have previously worked at one. Considering that convenience retailers are facing a recruitment and retention problem, and hiring is both costly and time consuming, this stat is staggering for many business owners.

The number came out of the most recent NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (NCCRRC) action plan. The NCCRRC brings together convenience retail industry leaders to examine the biggest issues facing the industry and how they can be addressed. Released in February, “Convenience Industry Action Plan for Becoming an Employer of Choice” looked at ways to attract and retain talent in c-stores.

“Imagine if that was 83% of consumers saying they have no interest in buying your products,” Kevin Lewis, chief growth officer at Alimentation Couche-Tard, said at the 2024 NACS Leadership Forum. “If that isn’t a call to action, then I don’t know what is.”

Through interviews with frontline workers and a survey of 45,000 participants, the action plan uncovered a handful of pain points—competing with the gig economy, misconceptions around safety at work, concerns about the viability of a long-term career and other barriers to entry for employment—that have positioned c-store jobs as unappealing for many workers.

But by addressing these issues, individually at the company level and together as an industry, retailers can broaden the funnel of “If you can just move that [17%] number a little, then you’re now talking about millions of people suddenly becoming prospective employees,” said Michael Sansolo, research director for the NCCRRC.

There’s a long way to go to remove the barriers to entry for c-store jobs, but the good news is the problems are solvable. The NCCRRC action plan offers retailers a blueprint for addressing the top concerns of prospective employees considering (or not considering) a job in convenience retail.

“When I see the opportunity compared to where we are now, I can look on the bright side and say, wow, what an incredible future we will have when we solve this piece,” said Lewis. “This is why all of us in the industry can hold hands together to address these things, because they’re solvable problems. We just need to acknowledge that they exist and realize that there are opportunities for us to get better.”

Safety Solutions

Apart from wages, a perceived lack of safety at work is the top deterrent for people who said that they aren’t interested in a convenience retail job, with 49% of people citing it as one of their top three reasons.

“We always assume when we ask employees what makes them want to work for us, and keep working for us, that pay is number one,” said Lewis. “But it wasn’t number one, and when you look more broadly at the responses of our direct workforce, safety was the single largest reason people said that they were opting in or out of this industry. We have an opportunity to increase our labor pool by addressing this head on and it’s in all of our collective interest to make that happen.”

Physical Safety

Respondents were most concerned about physical safety from robberies, with 48% of males and 61% of females saying they believed a robbery could occur while working.

Increasing safety should be top of mind for c-store owners, and the report offered several possible solutions: increasing anti-theft legislation, working more closely with local law enforcement and investing in employee de-escalation training, among others.

“The industry must address both the reality and the perception of safety—the reality being how we take concrete steps to make the store’s shopping and work experience safer,” said Sansolo, citing examples like better relationships with local law enforcement, increasing lighting around store areas and improving the exterior of stores with safety reinforcements. “And then, how do we communicate those improved safety measures to people?”

Safety was the single largest reason people said that they were opting in or out of this industry.”

Technology can also play a role in mitigating crime and enhancing physical safety for frontline workers by detecting potential threats before they occur.

“The technologies include the scraping of both social media and proprietary data sources, as well as nascent artificial intelligence solutions designed to identify intent as people enter a store,” said the action plan, cautioning that safeguards are key when implementing these technologies to make sure they’re being used in ethical ways.

With industry-wide implementation, “smaller operators would benefit both from help in curating which technology solutions to deploy and from collectively negotiated rates, and larger operators would benefit from an industry-wide scan of nascent technologies and the sharing of common practices,” the action plan wrote.

Verbal Harassment

Safety includes physical safety in the traditional sense, but the research surfaced the need for a better feeling of emotional safety from anti-social behavior, bullying, harassment and customers just being frankly unpleasant to employees.

Verbal abuse was the second safety concern for respondents, with 40% of women and 46% of men saying they believed it could occur while working.

“There has been a level of anger and rudeness, however we want to call it, in convenience stores, where the clerk merely might say to our customer, ‘we can’t sell beer at this hour of the day,’ and they get yelled at, or the confrontation turns much uglier than it should,” described Sansolo.

Circle K decided to take a stand and try and do somethiing. Several years ago, the company implemented a Kindness Day across its European stores and has seen a positive effect from connecting customers with the staff who serve them.

“The idea was to set a tone in our stores that we expect you to respect each other and respect the folks that are working. It sounds like such a basic idea, but our employees told us this wasn’t happening,” said Lewis.

The initiative focused on PR campaigns and media messaging about what’s acceptable behavior in stores and what’s not. Specifics varied by market and employee feedback about what a Kindness Day would mean to them in practice, but included things like in-store promotions, contests and giveaways for recognition and signage around stores about kindness and treating employees with respect.

“This was a way of getting the message out to our customers and to the public, but by taking the microphone and talking about it, our folks felt like we had their backs,” explained Lewis. “What we found was that our employees were thankful for the acknowledgement that this was going on and that we were doing something about it. They felt appreciated and listened to, and customers who may have been engaging in those behaviors stopped to a large extent. So we had higher employee and customer satisfaction and lower incidents.”

When frontline employees do have to bear the brunt of aggressive customers, the NCCRRC action plan calls for retailers to provide employees with safety training. “Employees would benefit from both de-escalation skills and formalized procedures for bringing in help to address customer issues. Training programs on Civility, Respect and Dignity (CRD) and in conflict avoidance could include both positive engagement and diversion techniques to address anti-social behavior,” the action plan stated.


The disconnect between perceptions of c-store safety and reality is also vast. While safety concerns are not to be dismissed, only 21% of people said they actually left a c-store job due to safety concerns, compared to the almost 50% that said they believed crime could occur in the store while working.

The perceived lack of safety stems from media coverage of c-stores, which often zeros in on negative events without promoting the positives, deterring potential employees from the field.

News stories on convenience stores regularly highlight crime. The top five search results for a late 2023 Google search on convenience stores were all crime-related, a sharp contrast with results for searches of grocery stores. According to the report, a Google search for grocery stores tended to highlight weekly sales, new products and new store locations.

Additionally, in movies or tv shows, convenience stores are regularly used as a setting for robberies.

“Safety is a basic need for humans, and you need to feel comfortable and safe in your work environment. If the perception is that you won’t get that at your place of work, then of course you’re not going to want to be part of that,” said Melanie Isbill, chief marketing officer at RaceTrac, at NACS Leadership Forum. “Yes, we have to acknowledge that crime generally is at an all-time high, but unfortunately, in some cases, we get blamed in a larger way than is the reality. We have to figure out how to change that perception, and need to lean into doing some campaigning around the positive things that happen to balance all of the negative things you see.”

With so much positive work being done in their communities, convenience retailers need to be the ones telling their own story, the council said, and work to make sure the countless positive stories about working in the industry get promoted. Campaigns that reshape c-store narratives in a positive light, like Circle K’s Kindness Day, could go a long way in both improving everyday interactions with customers and with improving perceptions of the job.

“The survey respondents told us we’re doing a really good job in some areas, like career trajectory. There’s a deep base of things that people recognize us for, and the quality of work is something that people really enjoy,” said Lewis.

Holding Hands

It’s easy to talk about the individual initiatives a company can implement to help with recruitment and retention, but what’s more important to council members is how the industry can work together to tackle the problems that no one company can solve single-handedly.

A combined industry-wide campaign, as well as continual efforts from individual retailers, will be critical to “achieving the goal of convenience retail being viewed as an employer of choice,” the report wrote.

“Everyone can figure out how to pay more or offer better benefits. But the industry needs to hold hands on the same things, like transport, access to labor pools that are traditionally disenfranchised from working with us, safety and security, media messaging, definitions of transferable skills and regulatory changes,” said Lewis.

A Bright Future

While only 17% of people said they’d consider a job in convenience retail, the news isn’t all grim. Based on the survey, 23% of people are “persuadable.” These potential employees could be swayed by factors like if the job were close to home and if they had a better understanding of safety, pay and benefits, and opportunities for career progression.

As broadening the funnel of potential employees is a key initiative to solving convenience retail’s labor problem, tapping into this pool of potential employees is paramount.

Culturally, those that work in the broader healthcare and hospitality sectors “care a lot about the same mission that we have of helping others and serving our communities,” said Lewis. “I was surprised at how willing they were to listen to our message and how we have historically not talked to them as potential employees in this industry.”

Messaging is at the root of reaching the next wave of c-store workers if retailers want to become an employer of choice.

“There’s an incredible opportunity for us, because there’s so many people that really enjoy not just the job, but the career in convenience retail. And we have not been successful in bringing that message to a lot of folks. And as a result, they’re barely interested in hearing from us,” said Lewis. “But if you look under the covers at what they really care about, which is a dynamic work environment, working with people they care about, making a difference in their community, helping and caring for people … all the raw materials are there for them to have a really meaningful job and career, but they don’t naturally think of us as the place for that.”

Download the full action plan.

Lauren Shanesy

Lauren Shanesy

Lauren Shanesy is a writer and editor at NACS, and has worked in business journalism for a decade. She can be reached at [email protected].

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