Business

Northern Lights: Meet the Warm-Hearted Associates of Alaska

It takes a special team to stay happy in one of the coldest, darkest places in the country.

Even at temperatures of -30 F, associates in Alaska keep customers — and each other — smiling by taking outstanding customer service to the extreme.

Braving the Elements
At -30 F, common tasks like unloading trucks become an arctic adventure. Five minutes into the job, icicles are already forming on the flushed faces of these associates.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant manager or a sales associate,” said department manager for fabrics, crafts, and stationery, Chelsea Campbell. “We all share the responsibility of getting the job done for our customers.”

Service for Those Who Serve
This February marked 30 years of service for Command Sgt. Maj. Vento Collins, customer host at Store 2722 in Fairbanks, who started at the store in September as part of his transition away from active duty. The area’s strong military presence means that many families in Fairbanks are from other places.

“They’re not used to the conditions up here,” Vento said. “So they count on us to help them prepare for life in Alaska’s interior. We’re here for them, day and night.”

Ever-ready
Automotive associate Jessie Smith helps customer Cynthia King with 150 pounds of dog food for her three large-breed dogs.

“These associates are always ready to help,” Cynthia said. “That’s why I shop here.”


“I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 75 years,” said Pat Johnson, customer (shown left), with Dominique Green, department manager, furniture. “The associates here are so helpful.”


Alaska Bush Program
Across the state, many people – especially native populations – live in areas that can't be reached by road or ferry. Many don’t have access to the internet, and even for those who do, typical online shipping services wouldn’t make it to their homes.

That’s where the Bush Program comes in, serving customers who need everyday products — or even help with Christmas shopping — in these remote areas. Store 2722 in Fairbanks, Store 2071 in Anchorage, and Store 2710 in Ketchikan all have Bush programs.

“We serve the entire state,” says Trish Stipe, Bush department sales associate in Fairbanks. “The farthest customer would probably be about 600 miles from Fairbanks on the tiny island of Little Diomede.”

The Bush team in Fairbanks can take orders by phone, fax or email. Associates pick the requested items from the floor, ring them up, package them and process them through postage. They then divide the packages into zones by ZIP code, put them on a pallet, and wrap the pallet. The U.S. Postal Service delivers the pallets by plane or boat. (Except to places like Little Diomede Island, where planes don’t go — a helicopter or boat-plane has to deliver those packages.)

“Mostly, we are shipping nonperishable items,” Trish said. “Many of the people in these areas survive by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries.”

The team takes about 10 to 20 orders by phone each day. Another 10 or so Bush customers self-shop—that is, they make their own way to the store to shop and then have the Bush team ship their items back to their homes. Store 2710 in Ketchikan offers self-shop, takes phone orders, and typically serves customers closer to its specific region of the state. Store 2071 in Anchorage processes self-shop orders only and tends to serve the whole state, like the Fairbanks store does.

The Bush team’s favorite part of the program?

“We get to shop for customers,” Trish said. “One customer calls every December and asks us to Christmas shop for his family. He tells us the ages of his children, gives us a budget, and we take care of the rest. We’ll even stuff stockings!”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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Sustainability

One Company is Helping Keep Walmart and Our Communities in the ‘Green’

Glenn H. Garrett set a standard for protecting community waterways long before “going green” became a common refrain.

In 1996, after witnessing the damage left behind by hurricanes earlier that year, the disabled Marine Corps veteran launched his own business, Retention Pond Services, in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C.

The storms had destroyed the basins that hold stormwater and they were overflowing. Glenn decided to do something about it. Luckily, four years in the Marine Corps – from 1980 to 1984 – prepared him for the hard work ahead.

“It’s not glamorous, not high tech. It’s done with good, old-fashioned manpower,” he said of his business.

Glenn developed a relationship with Walmart in 2002 when a store in Wilmington had a runoff issue in the parking lot. Walmart’s construction division called the state’s stormwater regulators and asked for a recommendation on whom to hire for help. Retention Pond Services was their answer.

When the same issue happened again, this time at another store, Walmart decided to expand the maintenance procedures developed with Glenn’s company. From there, it went nationwide.

Retention Pond Services now repairs, maintains and services stormwater systems for 1,200 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs across the U.S. The goal is to help Walmart meet rules and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency and reduce the risk of water pollution.

“I remember my first meeting with Walmart [representatives], and they started talking about being ‘green’. I had never heard anyone talk about green – being environmentally conscious,” he said, adding that the retailer encourages suppliers to be responsible by leading by example.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but Glenn and his company would play a major role in bringing that to fruition. He said Walmart has become a standard bearer of stormwater maintenance for big-box retailers throughout the U.S.

Retention Pond Services began with 16 employees. Fast-forward 20 years and it now employs as many as 250 workers each year, including Glenn and three other senior leaders, with clients ranging from retailers to municipalities. The number fluctuates with the seasons, but one thing remains constant – there are always military veterans like Glenn on staff. Several veterans started in junior positions and moved up through the ranks.

The business was hiring veterans before Walmart introduced its Veterans Welcome Home Commitment in 2013, but Glenn said the initiative is a great encouragement for suppliers and veterans alike. “It goes back to [Walmart] recognizing our service and appreciating what we’ve done,” he said. As a veteran himself, Glenn knows that the skills and can-do attitude learned in the military easily transfer over to civilian jobs. Glenn takes pride in his team – “I’m only as good as my worst employee” – and in protecting the environment. Much of that pride stems from his childhood in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

“My grandfather used to tell me how great fishing was – about catching massive fish. When I was growing up, there were no fish. The bay was essentially dead, killed by pollution and runoff.”

In the 1970s, Maryland got involved in a save-the-bay campaign, and the federal government’s Water Quality Act followed in 1987. Those actions helped return fishing in the bay to its former glory.

Caring for the environment comes at a cost, whether it be time or money, but the results are well worth it. As U.S. businesses continue to grow, Glenn and his team are ready to step in and protect our communities.

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Business

‘Outside the Box’ Breaks Down Blockchain

“Blockchain” is one of the latest business buzzwords making its way around the internet. But this is one word you won’t want to ignore.

Technology is improving the retail experience in ways you may have never imagined. And when it comes to food safety, we can see the way of the future. In Episode 2 of our podcast, Outside the Box, our guests will help break down how blockchain is improving supply chain – and in some cases, saving lives.

“Breaking Down Blockchain” features Brigid McDermott, Vice President of Business Development for Blockchain at IBM. She’s responsible for driving the growth of blockchain, an emerging platform that can radically improve banking, supply chain and other transaction networks. You’ll also hear from Frank Yiannas, Vice President of Food Safety at Walmart.

Outside the Box is our chance to bring together some of today’s most brilliant thought leaders, innovators and visionaries to talk about the retail industry and the roles it plays in society and the global economy.

Future episodes will explore topics such as “The Workforce of the Future,” where industry experts dissect the issues that will face employees in the coming years, and “U.S. Manufacturing, where we’ll talk to a business analyst, a merchandise supplier and a government official about the challenges and benefits of making products in the United States.

If you’re a business owner, an entrepreneur, a maker, a doer, a consumer – anyone! — this podcast is for you.

Learn more about the series and subscribe, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

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Opportunity

Retired Store Manager Fashions Second Career Out of Dreams and Opportunity

Sometimes it’s not enough to follow your dreams. You also need someone else to see your potential.

My career at Walmart was a dream – so unanticipated! And that set me up to follow yet another dream. After nearly 20 years, I retired Feb. 17 as manager of supercenter #2914 in Massillon, Ohio, to start my own business as a fashion stylist – something I’ve been passionate about for years – and to spend more time with my precious family.

I have long had an interest in fashion, starting back when my mother was a seamstress and would create her own designs as I was growing up. Most of my wardrobe was handmade by her! I always loved how wearing something special made me feel. Working at Walmart, particularly with women, rekindled a passion in me to witness the impact of dressing well. Increased confidence, better communication, direct eye contact – we all know how that feels. Feeling positive about ourselves can be transformational.

My retail career had simple beginnings in 1997, when I was a stay-at-home mom with five small children in a single-income family. That August I was looking to get a little extra money for Christmas and applied for the first clock-in-and-out job of my life. Walmart hired me as a temporary associate despite my having dropped out of college to start a family and having zero experience in retail. I never would have dreamed I’d take a job stocking store shelves overnight and end up managing 500 people.

This company backed me every step of the way, seeing and believing in a potential I didn't recognize. One of my first store managers took a significant interest in challenging and pushing me to see opportunities that existed. It taught me how important the human touch can be.

I remember one young man who was doing a really good job as an hourly supervisor at my store. Not long after we talked about his potential, he put his job in jeopardy by clocking in late on multiple days. Instead of giving up on him, his direct supervisor asked him what was going on. He shared that his car had broken down, and with no other transportation he’d had to walk the four miles to and from the store. After hearing this, I bought him a bicycle to help put him back on the right track. He ended up going into a management program and is doing really well today.

As for me, my story has come full circle. Walmart not only gave me the acumen and process to run my own business, it also gave my husband and me the financial security to start this second phase of our lives. My baby was in kindergarten when I started my career, and now all my children are grown and college-educated. Freedom in my schedule allows me to be a stay-at-home grandma to five grandchildren.

Having been at the Massillon supercenter for the last four years, it was bittersweet to turn over my keys and the responsibility. But, I’m excited to continue being a cheerleader from the outside. The people I hired are going to go even further than I did with the belief they can have limitless careers.

Photos courtesy of Massillon Independent.

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Business

How Gulf Coast Walmart Stores Ride the Summer Wave

I don’t know about you, but when I take a vacation to the coast, my clock changes to beach time.

I want to be able to relax and take it easy—and part of that means having everything I need, from essentials like beach towels and sunscreen, to fun toys and food for my family.

That’s why Walmart teams in stores across the Gulf Coast work hard throughout the year to ensure that our summertime customers can quickly access the items that help them achieve the vacation experience they’re looking for.

With nearly 60,000 tourists adding to the population of Destin, Florida, every summer, it’s no surprise that people compare the energy of the area’s store to Black Friday. Families and large groups pour in weekly to stock their condos and beach houses, and with so many of the same items in high demand, timing is essential to ensure that the products people want are easily available.

Because we know the summer rush lasts about 10 weeks (and, unlike Black Friday, isn’t over after one day), it’s important that we start preparing for the season early. Even though hometown customers are still relying on their local store for other big seasonal needs like Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the associates begin preparing for beach season right after it ends – in October – so we can be sure that each location is able to supply enough of the right items at the right time.

Something that makes this goal especially challenging is the simple fact that these beach stores can’t just copy the one in the next state over – there is no blueprint, and the needs of our customers are unlike those of other stores across the U.S. We make sure to keep the shelves stocked with the items you’d expect, such as beach toys and boogie boards, but we also need to work closely with our buyers to make sure we’re staying on top of the changing needs of each year’s vacationers.

Some of the most popular items are almost tradition, and we can expect a lot of requests for them every year – like small fishing nets and flashlights that kids use to scavenge for sand crabs at night with their families. However, we’re also constantly looking for popular newer items: Paying attention to trends, we can expect that our customers won’t play music on the beach with portable radios, but will be looking for Bluetooth technology items. Even typical items found in any store can be unexpectedly important to our summer shoppers, with grocery staples like pineapple juice becoming a quickly moving part of our inventory.

All the thought and preparation it takes to make beach season run smoothly wouldn’t be possible without the tremendous amount of teamwork and positivity that comes from the associates who work in our stores. In fact, our Gulf Shores, Alabama, supercenter team won an award for outstanding performance in the region just two years back. When you’re proud to be a team and work together, you’ve got what it takes to meet a crazy challenge like beach season on the Gulf Coast—and to make sure that Sam Walton’s philosophy that the customer is No. 1 is still the foundation of our system.

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