CSD: Putting the Community to Work

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Oct 19, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

VERC Enterprises, which operates 21 convenience stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, has reached a new milestone by including challenged/disabled individuals as 20 percent of its 200-member strong employee team. With its goal reached, the company is now setting its sights on helping former non-violent prisoners get a new start as a way to further assist its local community.

Leo Vercollone, CEO of VERC Enterprises, said he embarked on the process of reaching out to local individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) eight years ago. Positions filled by disabled/challenged employees include stocking, landscaping and helping to bag products from counter sales. While it takes patience by managers and front-line people with these individuals “to help them succeed,” he credits the program with keeping the chain’s turnover rate at 35 percent on average over the last three years and boosting the chain’s overall morale.

“It’s not just an altruistic thing we’re doing,” he stated. The IDD employee numbers are expected to remain in the 20 percent range going forward due to the financial investment involved.

VERC is now working with Massachusetts’ Department of Corrections to hire reformed individuals exiting the prison program. Unlike with the IDD individuals, VERC doesn’t need to provide as much financial support to assist the former prisoners. Former prisoners can also do more of the daily job of associates, including working the cash register.

The c-store store is only looking at individuals that have committed non-violent crimes and the company has strong procedures in place against theft. He adds, “I personally don’t think people that have a prison background are going to be at a greater risk for shrink than our other employees.”

But the program also addresses the struggles individuals that come from the prison system often find gaining employment. As it slowly assesses the program, VERC has hired four former prisoners, two of which it has retained.

“Some people in everyone’s family have challenges, and that doesn’t make them bad people — that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive members of society,” said Mr. Vercollone. “We’re a company that views itself as a family, and we’re going to have some members that have challenges. They deserve a second or a third chance to work it out and we should be there to support them, especially when they live in our community.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of VERC’s hiring initiatives? Should retailers be more open to hiring disabled/challenged individuals as well as non-violent ex-convicts?

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8 Comments on "CSD: Putting the Community to Work"


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Doron Levy
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Doron Levy
9 years 6 months ago

This is great but isn’t there an unemployment problem with people that have no trouble with the law? While I understand that it’s tough to sell a job in the CS industry, there has to be able bodied non-incarcerated people who are looking for work in any capacity. From my own experience, when I was a director at Toys “R” Us, we used to hire transitional people for the night shift and I can honestly say that the job abandonment ratio was very high. VERC needs to make sure that they have a strict program with qualifying criteria before they extend job offers to anyone reentering society.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

My hat is off to VERC. Sounds like they have a realistic and well-thought-out plan with checks and balances, and it is paying dividends for all. When I lived in NYC I spent a lot of time working in the homeless shelters. Those folk had a desperate time finding work; many were unemployable, but those who really could work rarely got a break. There are stores everywhere who hire people with Downs syndrome, and it’s obvious to me that they are some of the most reliable and hardworking.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I congratulate VERC on reaching this milestone. The c-store industry has historically experienced 100%+ turnover in non-management positions (down recent to under 90%). Unfortunately like a lot of retail it is not seen as a “real” job. To achieve the numbers it has would indicate that its hiring practices have had a very positive impact on its overall company turnover. This is indicative of the very positive effect this has had on VERC’s non-IDD employees.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Although it seems that everyone is looking for a job or is underemployed, bringing this workforce more into the market actually gives the hiring company a greater pool of potential employees. Even this group in question contains many positive, productive workers and everyone deserves a second chance.

Donna Brockway
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Donna Brockway
9 years 6 months ago

I think it is not only smart business, but good for the country that they would initiate this kind of program. Once people pay their dues in prison, to just let them join the ranks of the unemployed and drift back into crime, is unsustainable in our society today. I applaud this effort, it’s well thought out and well managed. Let’s hope other retailers catch on to the possibilities of employing this resource.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

This is a good program for VERC and for the communities that they do business within. To often those that find themselves in this position have been sentenced to the ‘death penalty’ of another sort. Thus, they become shut out of what you might think we would hope best for them. That is, to become good and decent members of society and contributing to making it better.

I believe in the opportunity of redemption. I respect and applaud what VERC is doing. It’s a good thing. They are doing it with eyes wide open and they are doing it from a foundation. They already know the benefit of helping others through employment. They understand what that means. They can make a real difference in the lives of these persons, their families and their communities as well.

It’s a far cry from the ‘death penalty’ of another sort that these persons receive when attempting to do the right thing. There is nothing wrong with doing right.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 6 months ago

When I was National Ad Mgr for Southland Corp. 7-Eleven back in the 80s, the average length of employment for store clerks was 32 days due to pilferage. When you hire them, you start to fire them. I can’t imagine the situation is much different today, except in family-owned-and-run C-Stores where loyalty and honesty are much more prevalent.

To Leo Vercollone’s specialized employment pool, I’m betting that the jobs he provides are almost as valuable as life itself, and worth treasuring and protecting. I love this story, and hope to see it flourish and be replicated across our country. Way to go, Leo!

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 6 months ago

Kudos to VERC. These hiring initiatives obviously work on multiple, feel-good levels. But other retailers should note that VERC is upfront about the lack of altruism, i.e., the initiatives are helping stabilize employee retention. VERC’s program could serve as a template for other merchants seeking to give a leg up to challenged consumers while also helping the brand to more loyal employees and more loyal shoppers who want to patronize brands that give back to the community.

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