Investing in Employees at Coffee Cup Fuel Stop

At Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, cultivating long-term employees starts even before someone applies to the company.


At Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, cultivating long-term employees starts even before someone applies to the company.

“Every interaction I have with every person I meet is about selling us as a place they might want to work someday,” said Ericka Schapekahm, director of human resources and special projects for the company, adding that whether she is buying something in town, taking care of a transaction at the bank or getting involved in the community, she is laying the groundwork with future applicants. “We want to make sure we’re a place people want to work.”

Crafting the public’s image of the company is also part of Schapekahm’s long-term plan for building a strong employee base. “Getting the good people for us has been not acting like and looking like just a gas station. We want people with college degrees and we had to change the image of who we were to get those people applying,” Schapekahm said.

Coffee Cup Fuel Stops has branded itself as a travel plaza and focuses on the quality of its buildings. The company has added a Caribou Coffee, which has raised the quality of applicants in the entire store.

“Over half of our applicants come in for Caribou and if there isn’t a position there, we will tell them of other opportunities and that we will cross train them and transfer them over,” Schapekahm said, adding that once employees get in they aren’t necessarily so eager to get over. “They realize the feeling is the same throughout the store.”

Part of that feeling is the priority the location places on training and engaging employees. The company provides information and opportunities for those that would like to improve their skills. “When we’re trying to build potential leaders, it is a long game in our small community,” Schapekahm said, adding that it isn’t always possible to hire people who already have management experience. “In our little tiny communities, we don’t want to do damage and steal people from the other businesses around us.”

Schapekahm has tapped into younger talent and hires high school students. “We are looking for high schoolers who are in sports and honor roll and active in their church—just those that have some level of outreach,” she said, adding that once the students are onboard, it takes extra work. “It is hard on the front side because you’re teaching them life skills. You have to invest in them and be patient. It is like raising kids,” she said.

But that investment can pay off. “We like to promote from the bench and we’re always trying to build that bench,” Schapekahm said, adding that her managers have to like teaching and training. “They can’t just like coming in and getting a check. We work as a team.”

All employees receive training on how to lead. “We talk about how to present yourself to your com-

munity and your peers and consistently,” Schapekahm said. She encourages employees to think about how they are affecting those around them. “Ask yourself, ‘What kind of positive ripple effect am I having in my immediate position right now? Am I positively impacting my team around me right now?’”

Schapekahm dedicates about 10 hours a week to finding resources for training leaders. “I just put together ‘Ten Things Great Leaders Say Every Week.’ It is an article someone wrote, but I read it and put my own notes to it and made it into a training.”

The company also talks about the need to be predictable. “Your team should know what you want and know how you’re going to react if you don’t get it,” Schapekahm said.

For those employees who want to move up and take on more leadership responsibilities, Schapekahm tells them to be exceptional at their current job. “I have people who do leadership trainings and tell me about it, but they aren’t dazzling me with the job they have now. I am such an advocate of ‘show me what you are doing now because what you’re preparing for, I’ll be able to see,’” she said.

One of the most important things Schapekahm looks for in her employees is that they have a genuine interest in people. “We call it a two-minute relationship. Some people think we have good sales people because we hire them, but we don’t. People who are genuinely interested in those two-minute relationships become good sales people because they are genuinely interested in people who they talk to,” she said.

To help find those employees, Schapekahm utilizes behavioral interviews. She said, “Every question we ask starts with, “Tell me about a time....’”

She also will let applicants wait for about four or five minutes in the store before she gets them for the interview to see how well they can engage with the existing team.

To help ensure positive interaction between company leaders and employees, the shift leaders at the fuel desk, food leaders and fuel desk managers at Coffee Cup Fuel Stops are directly responsible for hiring their own people. “I say, ‘Do you want to spend 40 hours a week with that person?’ It gives them ownership of their team,” Schapekahm said.

As a final step, each applicant at Coffee Cup Fuel Stops undergoes two interviews—one with his or her direct supervisor and a second with a general manager. “The hiring decision is the most important thing they do,” Schapekahm said.


One Operator’s Go-To List for Leadership Information

Ericka Schapekahm, director of human resources and special projects for the Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, has a handful of blogs and web sites she turns to help her craft her leadership training. She shared her list with Stop Watch. They are:

SHRM-Society of Human Resource Managers

Harvard Business Review

Leadership and Influence Blog 



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations.

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