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[8 comments]

Employing a special workforce

June 20, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

VERC Enterprises Inc., an operator of 26 convenience stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, around the turn of the latest century began hiring workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and it's paid off in various ways.

"We started about a dozen years ago and we set goals for our company — five percent, 10 percent and today we're at 20 percent. So of 250-plus employees, about 20 percent consist of individuals with IDD," said Leo Vercollone, president and CEO. "And 20 percent is about the number because as we acquire stores and grow — and we grow about one store a year in the Boston market, we think that's the right number — we work with them and make sure they can do the job properly and that we can oversee it properly."

The outreach program shouldn't be confused with charity. Rather, it's a unique component of VERC's business plan that supports local residents with limited employment opportunities who want to work. IDD hires gain economic self-sufficiency and the ability to function independently.

"If you want to support the communities that you operate in, you have to support them financially so we support the churches, and the schools and the local police and fire, but you also have to support the residents, and some of these residents have issues, so you need to support them too," Mr. Vercollone said.

Potential IDD hires are vetted like all prospective applicants and many wind up becoming dedicated and capable employees. One IDD employee, John Burgess, just celebrated his 22nd year with the company. Another has ascended to the rank of assistant manager. Intangibles are tough to measure.

"It adds such a culture to our company because they are always smiling, they're happy, they're thrilled to be at work and that's infectious because it relays over to how our other employees feel," said Barry Ahern, director of operations and human resources.

Besides publicly recognized by state officials, VERC has won "Best Place to Work in Massachusetts" and "Leader in Diversity" by the Boston Business Journal and was named as a "Best Place to Work in Massachusetts" by The Boston Globe.

Though some of VERC's personnel concerns have been addressed via its strong partnerships with local nonprofits such as Best Buddies International and Minuteman Arc, the company hasn't profited financially from its singular hiring program. Then again, it was never about money.

"It's something that we want to do, and I think it's one of the reasons our company has continued to grow and prosper because people in the community recognize it," Mr. Vercollone said.

Discussion Questions:

How open are retailers in general to hiring people with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities)? Should retailers be more open to IDD hires?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How open are retailers in general to hiring people with IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities)?

Comments:

VERC is to be congratulated on their efforts. As they have demonstrated, IDD individuals can be very productive members of as workforce. Many companies are hesitant to hire IDD individuals because they are concerned they cannot do the work and/or that their customers will react negatively. VERC has proven that this need not be the case.

In our market, I have seen several companies who have successfully employed IDD individuals. Many supermarkets and other stores such as Office Depot have IDD team members. One of my friends' IDD son has been able to move out, live in his own apartment, etc., based on his employment with a local supermarket chain. It is something more companies should do.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

Though we don't see that much of it outside of grocery, or maybe that's just me, I believe that retail is very open to hiring any specialty group, as long as they have a job that fits. Bagging groceries just happens to be one of those jobs.

Not to sound callous but, those hiring practices get retailers a lot of good publicity and PR is PR. I'm just saying—for my two cents!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Some of my best retail experiences have happened with IDD individuals at my local Stop & Shop.

What I really respect and appreciate is that this is just part of VERC's connecting to the community. It's not about trying to fill open positions or save payroll, but rather by being a true community-minded retailer.

I also don't believe they do it for the publicity. They do it because it is the right thing to do. They're also successful at hiring IDD because they're entire leadership team supports and enables them to be successful.

Thank you VERC for making retail a better place to work and shop.

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Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner, Dynamic Experiences Group

This is critically important. This is the right thing to do. For business. For customer service. For society. I did it as a store manager in the '80s. It needs to be done even more now. Period.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Large retailers are missing the boat if they don't tap into this labor pool. Meijer, one of the largest private retailers in the country, has a specific outreach program to bring these associates on board. Kroger leaves the decision up to local managers, but encourages the program as well.

With a defined plan, the stores, other associates, and customers, the community and the company come out the winners. Retailers would do well to ask other merchants of their efforts to bring in IDD associates. It takes skill and patience at times, but it is inevitably worthwhile.

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Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

Retailers can be counted on to hire IDD if the community works to support the program. It is the right thing to do and retailers retain loyal employees who want to help customers all day long. Top-down management commitment and a local community that supports these efforts make a huge difference in the quality of life for these hard working individuals. We are grateful they are part of our San Diego community.

Anne Bieler, Sr. Associate, Packaging and Technology Integrated Solutions

I was casing a store recently and had parked my car quite far out in the parking lot. As I was approaching my car a young man with an obvious development disability comes running out of the store full speed to chase me down. He had forgotten to tell me thank you. I was kind of taken aback by that because I'm sure his supervisor told him to thank everyone and he took it very seriously. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone took their low level retail job that seriously? There is always room for someone like that in the store and I suppose just like any other employee, you need to find someone who fits in. I can tell you I will never forget him as long as I live.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Absolutely, retailers need to be more open. VERC must be congratulated for leading in this effort and showing the way to others.

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AmolRatna Srivastav, Asst. General Manager, Analytics and Insights, Tata Consultancy Services

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