The Problem with Grocery Store Recruiting

A recruiter for a unionized grocery chain in California is having a hard time recruiting individuals for store-level positions (i.e. service deli, meat clerks, grocery clerks.). This person has pretty much tried everything, such as schools, churches, unemployment agencies, referral programs, and many more, and is still having a hard time finding employees. The most common reason is that “they have too much money to work in a grocery store.”

This hits home for me since I use to work in a non-union grocery store in Florida, where I worked my way up to Assistant Grocery Manager. I eventually left when I realized that I have two Master’s degrees and I did not want work in grocery store this level of education. It was beneath me. Is this what I really want to do? Sure the money was great. I was making $60,000 per year plus bonuses. At one time, I was setting my sights at reaching the store manager position which makes $80,000 plus bonuses, which can put the salary for that position at over $100,000. Not bad for a grocery store.

Then I realized that it is not all about money. You have to be happy too. Where does your passion lie? I found my passion to be in human resources and rediscovered that passion. I decided to leave that job, take my degree in human resources and start up my own human resources consulting firm. What is better than working for yourself and not having to answer to anyone?

With that said, how would you go about recruiting quality applicants for store level positions in a retail grocery store?

One thought that occurs to me is that the problem may not be in the recruiting area. It may be in other human resource areas, or in other areas of the company. All of these may be significantly more involved in diagnosing and take longer to implement than finding a recruiter. Also, most if not all of what you will want to implement, will involve union negotiations since this particular company is unionized.

For the sake of discussion, what can you do in this case? For example, can you change the nature of the work?

From a compensation standpoint, perhaps the pay is too low for a more affluent area. Maybe some creative incentive pay system could help. From a benefits standpoint, perhaps college scholarships might be useful. In my area, Publix Super Markets is a top grocery employer that has made nationwide lists of one of the top employers to work for namely for their better than average wages and promotion from within system. Many store managers who make $80,000 per year have worked their way up the ranks from being a bagger. There was even a former store manager for Winn Dixie who started his career with Publix Super Markets as bagger, and worked his way up rather quickly to store manager. He points to knowing the opportunities that are available, such as when he would become eligible to submit a registration of interest, to his success.

Other contributing factors include:

  • The store might not be offering flex scheduling that might be attractive to prospective employees.
  • The store may not be physically appealing.

It is hard to say exactly why this person is having a hard time recruiting, but my point is that the issues may be in areas other than “recruiting” per se. Both the job and the employer itself need to be made more attractive, perhaps. What is the image of the company in the community?

Publix Super Markets is known for its employees for being the most generous. Every year they have a fundraising campaign for the United Way, and every year they consistently beat the previous years goals in money donated.

The company is also known for its flexible scheduling. They offer this and it has really become a huge benefit since the employees really appreciate this. It is one of the main reasons why they are successful in recruiting and hiring a lot of college and high school students as well as senior citizens and disabled individuals that work out really well. The hiring of disabled individuals really helps to improve the company image in the community. The employees even refer their friends to work the company.

So it is a matter of perception of your business. Publix Super Markets has a very good reputation of being a great supermarket with superior customer service as well as being an employer of choice that treats and pays their employees well. As in the case of this recruiter for a unionized grocery chain, they may need to focus on this before they can be successful in recruiting.

At Publix Super Markets, they take time to listen to what customers and employees are saying about their business and what employees say about working conditions and issues they have. This is how they have stayed union free to date, although the unions continue to fight a losing battle. They act on problems and don’t just brush them under the rug.

In the case of the unionized grocery chain in California, does this company conduct any exit interviews? Do they have meetings with their employees to get their feedback on operations and other issues? You have to realize that your employees are your greatest asset and treat them likewise. Your employees can make or break the daily operations as far as stocking, store appearance, and most importantly customer service. Customer service is an attitude, and if you treat your employees like dirt, they will treat your customers like dirt. Why do you think Winn Dixie has struggled in the areas of store appearance and customer service, whereas Publix Super Markets is known for its super clean stores and friendly associates?

They also make it fun by doing little things. Stock clerks clean the backroom together, they gang stock an aisle when an associate calls in sick. They decorate the break room, let them wear costumes for big sales events, wear their favorite costumes for Halloween, and let them wear local team sporting wear when they are in season playing. There is nothing to stop a committed team in an atmosphere that is friendly and conducive to learning and development. The atmosphere you create can make all the difference in the world in the success or failure of any business, not just in the retail grocery business. It is the little things that can make big differences.

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