DAY IN THE LIFE: Convenience store employees work tirelessly to make customers' stops quick, easy
It’s not even 4 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 13, and convenience store clerk Mary Maske knows she’s in for a tougher than average shift at SuperAmerica. From her nearly 20 years of experience, she knows that the thin layer of snow on the ground along with the flakes still flying as her husband drives her to work will result in a wet, messy store floor requiring multiple moppings per hour.
Maske’s longstanding experience at the store, which began in the 1990s when it was known as Conoco, makes her the go-to employee for store manager Roger Lindloff. She works during some of the store’s busiest rushes, from 4 to 11:30 a.m. every weekday, except for holidays.
“My body wakes up at quarter-to-three,” Maske said.
She lives just east of the city limits, and her husband drives her to the store each morning. As Maske unlocks the door and begins going down the items on her daily store opening checklist, a gas tanker truck pulls into the gas station to deliver the unleaded gasoline that motorists will pump into their cars throughout the day.
Fuel truck driver Ed Hanson woke up hours before Maske today. He left his home in Clear Lake at about 1 a.m. to fill the truck in St. Paul. He prefers driving his route in the middle of the night when roads are the least busy with traffic. His day won’t be over until he completes his deliveries to Skoglund Oil SuperAmerica stations in New Richmond, Somerset, Amery and St. Croix Falls.
The cold, snow and wind kick up a notch or two during the 20 minutes or so Hanson spends hooking hoses to the underground tanks and watching as his meter tallies the amount of gas he’s pouring. Once it spins to the number he’s looking for, he turns off the flow, removes the hoses from the underground tanks and tucks them into the undercarriage of his truck before heading inside to warm up and chat with Maske.
By now, Maske has just about plowed through the 21 store-opening duties on her checklist, which begin with turning off the alarm system. Then, she turns on the various ovens and food heating equipment, and counts everything from the cash in her register to cigarettes behind the counter to the previous day’s unsold newspapers.
As the store’s 5 a.m. opening time draws near, Maske starts brewing seven pots of coffee, which will sit right in front of the entrance and greet dozens of early morning commuters, some of whom keep alarmingly rigid morning routines.
In fact, Maske knows that Tim Sullivan, an Andersen Windows employee, will stop in between 10 and 15 minutes before the store’s posted opening time. So, she gives him friendly and fast service, with most of the store’s lights still off.
To get a jump on things, Maske even sets up the food prep area for deli manager LeeAnn Heeren.
Heeren is slated to start her shift at 5 a.m., and she is responsible for making all the warm goodies regular customers expect in the morning, from breakfast burritos and pizzas to sausage/egg/cheese muffins, to miniature cinnamon buns. She’ll even fix up special requests for customers who crave something specific and have a few minutes to wait.
On this particular morning, Heeren walks in about seven minutes ahead of her scheduled shift start time. With all her equipment up and running and her workstation already prepped by Maske, she’s able to get right down to work and have food ready as the doors officially open and the lights go on.
“The goal is to get all the food out and keep up, and keep things fresh and hot,” Heeren said.
Heeren has been working at the shop for about seven years, ever since she was in high school, and she knows her entire shift will be a juggling act for her and Maske.
While Maske typically mans the cash register, and Heeren typically cooks food to fill the deli warmers, it is essential for them both to help each other and take on additional tasks.
No sooner does Heeren fill the deli warmer with food than she puts on her coat and heads outside to shovel the sidewalk in front of the store. While she’s doing that, Maske is continuing the task of ensuring the coffee in all seven pots near the entrance is as fresh as possible while tidying up after customers who leave messes on countertops.
When Heeren comes back inside, she finds customers backed up at Maske’s register, so she quickly opens the second register to ease the burden on Maske. The goal is to have fewer than three customers waiting at any time. Mornings are the busiest with under-caffeinated customers in a hurry to get to work.
Maske and Heeren are busy ringing up coffee, sugary soda, energy drinks, hot breakfast burritos and muffins, and of course, gas.
The ability to pay at the pump for fuel purchases greatly eases the burden on the clerks inside the store, but they also must be vigilant of any gas drive-offs.
As hundreds of customers come and go in the first hour of the day, the floors, as predicted, are taking a beating. Maske and Heeren take turns ringing up customers, changing coffee pots, preparing more hot food and mopping the wet, dirty floor.
“We have to mop at least every hour or so on days like this,” Maske said.
Lindloff, the store manager for the past six years, arrives at 6:35 a.m. to provide some relief for the duo while performing his daily managerial tasks. He’ll be on hand until about 4:30 or 5 p.m., or until there’s a fire call. Lindloff also serves as a firefighter with the New Richmond Fire Department, and when his pager goes off he high-tails it to the fire hall.
His morning duties include checking the lottery ticket counts, ordering products from various vendors, wrapping up paperwork on the previous day and making a trip to the bank to drop off deposits.
As the morning commute rush slows down at about 9 a.m., the store cuts back from seven pots of coffee to just four, and at about 9:30 the store begins preparing for the lunch rush. Eventually, Heeren stops making breakfast burritos and breakfast pizzas in favor of cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizzas.
Lindloff and his crew also take advantage of the slow period to restock products and put away items from various deliveries. On this particular morning, the store is also visited by a representative from the Wisconsin Lottery who is touring stores in the region in preparation for a new game that will soon be available.
As the clock nears 11 a.m., Maske counts the cash in her drawer and hands over her duties to part-timer Sarah Janssen. While Maske is busy wrapping things up, Janssen heads out to the island of 18 gas pumps to empty the trash bins alongside each one.
In the midst of the lunch rush, Jade Klemmensen, a pre-law student at UW-Stout, starts her shift and works alongside Heeren in the deli to ensure a smooth shift transition. By 1 p.m., Heeren has clocked out as well leaving the store in the hands of Janssen up front, Klemmensen in the deli and Lindloff roving around.
By 4 p.m., Stacy Willert, the closing cashier has clocked in and Janssen has clocked out. The duo of Willert and Klemmensen are left to handle the after-work rush, while Lindloff wraps up his day around 5 p.m.
Klemmensen grew up in New Richmond and began working at SuperAmerica while in high school. In addition to being a full-time law student, she puts in 35 to 40 hours per week at the store.
Willert, who also grew up in New Richmond, is busy as well. She has only been at the store for the past two months, but she also works at the Goodwill store in Hudson.
At about 8 p.m., Klemmensen finishes her shift, and Willert runs the store by herself for the rest of the evening. By 9 p.m., the SuperAmerica delivery has arrived leaving a stack of products to be put away, including the next morning’s doughnuts.
Even though Willert has no help, it isn’t very busy. She takes advantage of the long lulls to put away the products and get a jump start on her closing checklist, which includes restocking just about everything the morning crew will need.
At 10:30 p.m., it’s closing time. She locks the door and dims the lights. The only things left for her to do now are to count the cigarettes, count the cash in her drawer, thoroughly mop the floor for a last time, turn on the alarm, lock the door and take out the trash.
Just as the clock strikes 11 p.m., her day is over.