By Carol Radice
Throughout its many years in business, Fareway has worked hard to establish a culture that encourages and motivates employees to do well.
One could say, in fact, that being an employee-focused company is a central part of Fareway’s overall store mission. According to Garrett Piklapp, president, Fareway’s people, extensive training programs and outstanding customer service are all part of its “secret sauce.”
At the same time, the customer-focused company is not shy about letting prospective employees know it is looking for team members who truly enjoy serving others.
“One of our core goals is treating customers like family and offering the best customer experience possible,” Piklapp said. “To ensure we accomplish this, we continuously invest in our people, and we will continue to do so.”
With so many retailers struggling to attract and retain employees today, the leadership team at Fareway understands attracting talent starts with offering a strong comprehensive benefit package and building from there.
The base attractors are competitive wages and rounded benefits, but it is also important to company leaders that lifestyle benefits and training options are widely available. For instance, Fareway was among the first companies to offer a student loan repayment program to employees who pursue additional development opportunities through secondary education.
Likewise, the company frequently analyzes its approach to scheduling to see how best to accommodate employee needs. In addition, it offers a 401k match and awards numerous scholarships every year. It also created a discount program, The Gold Card, which gives employees weekly store discounts.
“We live by five tenants when it comes to our employees – recruit, invest, engage, train, listen. Repeat,” Piklapp said.
With five generations in its workplace, Fareway uses a variety of tactics in its retention strategy to be viewed as an employer of choice. Theresa McLaughlin, VP of human resources, said the strategy is continually evolving. Rather than be the responsibility of one person or department, it is an ongoing partnership and focus among multiple areas of the business.
“We strive to create a positive work environment by having a culture that values and facilitates employee satisfaction and engagement through teamwork, career and personal development, as well as open communication,” McLaughlin said.
She added that, by creating an environment of belonging, employees feel more connected to their co-workers, customers, community and the organization.
In addition, compensation and benefits are continually reviewed to ensure they are competitive in the industry and in the geographical areas Fareway operates. As McLaughlin expressed, providing a variety of benefit offerings and perks allows employees to choose which offerings align with their needs and expectations.
“Having a work-life balance has become critical in today’s world,” she said. “Providing flexible work arrangements, especially in regard to scheduling, is important to our employees because it allows them to better manage their personal and work responsibilities.”
Investing in staff
Among the many growth and development opportunities for employees are on-the-job training, internships, mentorships and the company’s own management training program.
“Fareway values our dedicated employees beyond measure and firmly believes they are the reason for our success,” said Rob Stevenson, director of corporate outreach and employee engagement. “We make it a priority to invest in our employees in many ways beyond the basic compensation package.”
Among the extras the company offers are the Fareway Family Scholarships (more than 50 of them), a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program, plus numerous recognition programs.
“During the past year, we began offering milestone service awards that honor continued service to Fareway, invited our employees to tailgate at local college football games, enhanced our employee discount program during peak times such as holidays and recognized stellar contributors at our Supermarket Employee Day events,” Stevenson said.
The focus on recognition, engagement and motivation is evident in all Fareway does, but its employees have also earned a reputation for being an asset to the communities in which they live, helping their neighbors and businesses through volunteerism.
“Fareway and its employees are proud to support local, charitable organizations through direct involvement and donated resources. This commitment to the communities we live and work is what incentivizes our employees every day,” Stevenson said.
One of the secrets to attracting employees at Fareway, according to CEO Reynolds Cramer, is welcoming 14- to 17-year-olds.
“We are open to hiring younger workers with no experience, training them and helping them establish a good work ethic,” he said.
This stable foundation and positive work experience, he added, results in many workers staying on beyond high school. In fact, Cramer noted more than 70 percent of Fareway’s store managers joined the company as teenagers.
“One of our biggest strengths is to hire young people and teach them what it is like to be an employee,” Cramer said. “Taking the time to set a good foundation with our employees pays off in the long run.”
He added that the effort is a two-way street. “When someone joins the Fareway family, they will have a place in our company for as long as they want.”
Having open conversations about what employees need to thrive in their work and home environment is another key to keeping good workers. Gone, Cramer said, are the rigid terms of how to manage employees. The win comes when Fareway works with each employee to determine what will be best for the individual.
Calling it an evolving process, Cramer said it has taken seeing what does and does not work and adjusting its hiring and retention approach accordingly.
“Over time, we realized it is more valuable for all of us to work together to determine what the best path is for individual employees, whether that is a manager who needs the ability to leave at a certain time each day to pick up their child from daycare or someone who needs time off to go to a medical appointment,” he said.
In addition, the staff knows Cramer’s door is always open as he believes keeping the lines of communication open is critical. “Anyone at the company has access to me to have a conversation any time of the day or night,” he said.
Promoting from within is one of the best ways to identify talent and Fareway offers several in-house opportunities to help employees hone their skills.
The company’s internship and mentorship programs are two great examples.
Roxanne Kanne-Roush, VP of training and development, pointed out that more than 40 people in 2023 participated in the company’s corporate internship program within a variety of departments, including accounting, purchasing, category management/analytics, engineering, human resources and marketing.
Fareway also offers a unique type of internship for retail employees seeking to enhance and develop their management skills. In-Location Internships are a 30-to-90-day objective based, structured learning opportunity for qualified part-time and full-time employees. The program lets them dive into the back-end management side of a store. Nearly 200 employees participated last year.
In addition, Fareway partners with several high schools to offer qualified 16- and 17-year-old students an opportunity to participate in a registered meat-cutting apprenticeship program where they can gain experience in a market environment typically not available due to age restrictions.
Recognizing the best learning often comes from peers, Fareway’s Retail Mentorship program is open to full-time employees who are considering participating in its Management Training Program.
“Our mentorships provide an opportunity for an employee to focus on specific learning objectives in a location other than their home store,” Kanne-Roush said.
As she explained, the mentee is assigned to a mentor for six to eight weeks, allowing the employee to experience a new store environment and management team, different volume and customer demographics, as well as other nuances.
Lastly, the company’s Fast Forward Program is designed to assist full-time employees with qualified student loan debt. Those eligible can receive $100 per month toward their student loans, up to a lifetime maximum benefit of $5,000.
Read more from The Shelby Report’s Retailer of the Year section.