Keeping on Task

The Pantry adds task management to prioritize store operations

The Pantry has advanced it goal of providing “fast, friendly, clean” service across its network of convenience stores by implementing a task management solution. The solution, which is designed to help the chain deliver consistent task messages to its store managers and prioritize tasks based on importance, will support the chain’s efforts to better serve its shoppers. 


The new task management system is a far cry from the e-mail messages the chain was using to communicate store-level tasks and deadlines. Under the old system, it wasn’t uncommon for managers to receive up to five messages weekly, all containing task details, deadlines and other proprietary information such as surveys, operational updates and reminders. The abundance of information also made it difficult for store managers to decipher which tasks were paramount or ancillary. 


The Pantry did its best to slash the amount of e-mails and within three years had reduced the five messages to one all-encompassing weekly message. However, these weekly e-mails did not help managers prioritize their workloads.


Eager to get on the right path, The Pantry’s management team instituted a new philosophy to help set the tone for its managers to complete tasks and still provide its shoppers with “fast, friendly service and clean stores.” 


The chain first created a set of corporate standards and accompanying guidebooks and policies to support these operations. But the key ingredient was adopting technology “that could point us in the right direction and enable consistency across the chain,” explained Michael Ursini, director of operations and support, The Pantry, Cary, N.C., which operates 1,642 convenience stores (the majority under the Kangaroo Express banner). 


Since the retailer was eager to improve guest relations and ensure it had the best associates on the front line ready to serve customers, The Pantry began evaluating time and attendance and labor scheduling systems. As Ursini began to learn more about task management solutions, however, he shifted his focus.


Task management software measures productivity and plans and communicates business objectives and store-level operations across the enterprise. The Pantry’s ideal solution had to meet a rigorous set of prerequisites, such as ease-of-use and flawless integration within the chain’s labor scheduling solution. The chain also wanted to monitor store progress through a Web-based portal. After reviewing its options, The Pantry selected Task Manager from Dedham, Mass.-based Reflexis Systems.


Here’s how it works: As store managers log on to the portal at the beginning of their shifts, they receive a message illustrating all tasks planned for the day.


“Messages are weighted by importance, allowing managers to focus on priorities first and allocate the best resources needed to complete these operations,” Ursini explained. “When nothing is filtered, everything seems to be a priority. That was the problem with our e-mails — managers had trouble distinguishing critical projects. Too many would struggle to complete as many tasks as possible.”


As tasks are completed, managers input this information into the portal, and data is transmitted to the company’s support center at corporate, where all information is monitored on an hourly basis. While the process may suggest a “Big Brother” undertone, Ursini reported that the solution is purely to make its associates’ jobs easier.


“Our goal is to gain better control of the consumer experience and generate more service and store sales,” he said. “If our managers and associates spend their time on paperwork and manually monitor whether tasks were completed, then our customer experience suffers. We believe this [technology] provides better visibility into the operations sent to stores, and we have a benchmark to determine if they are truly adding value to our operations.” 


The chain has been piloting the solution since October 2010 and plans to go live with the solution chainwide later this month. The Pantry is currently working on the next phase of the project, which encompasses the addition of labor scheduling and time and attendance modules.

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