The Oklahoma City division of Ben E. Keith Co. — a food and beverage distribution company with operations in 15 states — rolled out a pilot program to help with worker retention in their OKC warehouse. The company has had almost no staffing issues over the past 20-plus years, until recently, and then only on the overnight shift.
“The team is composed primarily of young adults, and we’ve seen crazy levels of turnover,” assistant general manager Michael Powers said. “We spent months racking our brains to figure out a solution, and someone finally suggested that maybe this demographic needs a human connection.”
The company decided to bring the team together for an evening event that involved guest speakers and videos from customers detailing the real world impact of the jobs the warehouse team does overnight.
“We had notes from customers, members of the sales team, thank you notes from accounts, and a video from a school kitchen management company headquartered in St. Louis that feeds approximately 320,000 kids daily,” Powers said. “Many of those kids wouldn’t get a meal if not for the work that company does, and our warehouse team is a critical part of that process.”
Powers also invited J. Mays, founding and operating partner of Killer Squid Hospitality and a former Ben E. Keith sales rep before he opened Cafe 7, to talk about the supply chain and his company’s reliance on the smooth operation. Mays told a story about a “mispick” that had occurred at one of his other concepts, The Hamilton, that very morning.
“We got a one-gallon bottle of maple syrup — price $30 but invoiced at $12 — instead of a gallon of olive oil — price $12 — that morning because someone picked the wrong product from the shelf,” Mays said. “The morning crew opened the bottle without checking, so now we have an unreturnable product that we can’t use. Everyone loses money.”
After he told the story, a Ben E. Keith employee raised his hand in the back of the room. “Sorry. That was me,” he said. The moment provided some humor to the process, and allowed Mays to make his main point.
“We talk about supply chain all the time, and we’ve heard it more than ever since COVID disrupted the supply chains, but it’s not a chain; it’s people, and we all make mistakes,” he said. “We have to work together as a team to make sure that everything runs smoothly. My business is dependent on what you do.”
The goal, of course, is to make work meaningful. It’s one thing to say “I have a warehouse job,” and quite another to say “My job ensures that 320,000 school kids get a meal today,” or “This small business owner relies on my diligence to run his business, serve his customers, pay his staff, and take care of his family.”
Powers said feedback from everyone has been very encouraging, and that days later, the overnight team is still talking about the testimonies they heard. “It’s a pilot program, and we’re first, but this was a great start. Our truckers and sales reps see the human face, but our warehouse team doesn’t always, so it was important to connect them with the faces of the people we serve.”