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Grocery panel tackles the highs and woes of recruitment

Save-On-Foods, Eataly and Longo’s discuss the importance of talent and creating a safe working environment during Canadian Grocer’s Thought Leadership conference

Consumer expectations are rising in tandem with the pace of digitization. Tech has become the gateway to convenience and has conditioned consumers to expect access to products, services and experiences when and where they want them--and these are typically accessed from the palm of their hand.

As grocery continues to move into the tech fray, there's one important tool Save-On-Foods president Darrell Jones feels will keep shoppers coming back: well-trained staff. Yes, consumers have the power to order any item from any store, he said, but "as much as the grocery business has changed, one thing has remained consistent--outstanding service is always the one thing that will bring customers back." Give customers a reason to choose your store, he added.

Jones was one of three retail executives who took part in a panel discussion at Canadians Grocer's annual Thought Leadership conference at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto earlier this month. He was joined by Eataly’s Ennio Perrone and Anthony Longo of Longo’s, who throughout the one-hour sessions touched on such topics as data, tech and the importance of customer experience.

Whether its frontline staff or drivers making home deliveries, team members are a vital touchpoint for any grocery store brand. "For example, we don't hire drivers, we hire customer service specialists, train them and then teach them how to drive the vehicles," said Jones. "That's the approach I think you have to take."

Recruiting retail staff, however, can be a challenge--turnover rates are high and attracting the right candidates can be difficult. In today’s job market, some of the candidates are part of a generation accustomed to interacting through their phones. This is why it's important to set the expectation that employees need to interact with customers, said Longo. "You need to find people who truly enjoy other people and truly enjoy being with guests," said Longo.

Sometimes it's about hiring someone based on their attributes and not their competency, he said. "The generation coming up is curious, they're asking great questions and it's more than about the job, it's about what does your company stand for, what's the purpose of the organization. I think the future is really bright for the people coming up."

And, with the onslaught of mounting stressors and increased awareness of mental health, the panellists discussed the importance of creating a healthy work environment. Because work is where people spend the majority of their time, Perrone said it was important to create an environment where employees feel safe and have the opportunity to speak what's on their mind.

"Take care of your staff as much as you do the customer," said Perrone. "For us, it's really making sure they feel they belong to a place they feel passionate about, so it's really not a job."

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