Life Before NACCU: How convenience store management contributed to a service mindset

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The year was 1991. At 22 years old, I had worked for over a year at AM/PM Mini Market. Despite my age, I had just been asked to enter the management training program. Typically, a trainee would move into an Assistant Manager role, but there was a shortage of store managers, so after just six weeks of training, I was plopped into a store as the manager. Looking back now, it was crazy and could have gone very wrong for those who made that decision.

I had to learn on the job – how to schedule shifts, how to interview, hire, and train new employees, and how to track and report gas prices and measurements. I had to pass health inspections and company inspections; to track inventory and order items to fill our shelves. And I had to learn to let employees go, which I never became good at. I let over 100 people go, and never did it without crying – even when they were being fired for stealing from the company.

There were parts of my job that I loved, but convenience store life is not for the faint of heart. I once got a 2 AM call from a customer who had walked into the store only to find our night-shift cashier in the walk-in cooler tied up with duct tape after being robbed. Another cashier was shot across the face during a robbery, and I helped get the company to approve her mental health care. I evacuated our store because a car flew into our parking lot from the road, ran into a gas pump, and started a fire. Once a teenage girl driving her dad’s car drove right through the front windows of the store while I stood behind the register. I have so many stories!

I managed AM/PM stores for nearly a decade. By the end of my convenience store management career, I had met so many people who enriched my life and expanded my understanding of humanity. I gave expiring burgers to a homeless veteran who would come every day at the same time to get them for himself and his dog. I helped employees who were struggling with medical and financial problems. I watched as a pair of moms took their crying shoplifting six-year-olds home. I sold a 40-ouncer to the same guy every afternoon on his way home from work, and though he seemed to be a deeply unhappy person, we developed inside jokes, and I knew he looked forward to his stop at the store every day.

Through it all, I was exposed to so many different types of people, many of them dealing with hardship, and though I was often unable to do much to make their lives better, there was one thing within my control. I could make their experience in my store a good one. I took this responsibility seriously and did my best to make things a little easier, to hopefully help them leave the store with a smile, or at a minimum leave feeling seen and cared about.

As I transitioned over to teaching myself web and graphic design on this new-fangled “internet” in the late 90s, the mindset I had built transitioned to that space as well. I did everything in my power to ensure my customers were happy with what I produced, even if I had to shake my head in disbelief while creating it.

I still approach my job with the same mindset, even after 16 years with NACCU. Whether it is answering an email right away, helping a member through a confusing task, or guiding conference attendees and making sure they feel welcomed and included, I see my job as primarily one of service. NACCU isn’t about me – it’s about YOU, our member. It’s about creating an association that gives you the space and opportunities to learn, grow, and make connections. I hope you feel that way about NACCU too. And if you don’t, hi, how can I help you today, and can I interest you in five cookies for $1.00?

Crystal Bazarnic has served as the NACCU Marketing & Communications Manager since 2005.