How Working in a Convenience Store Could Be the Best Career Move You’ll Ever Make

We’ve all had jobs that paid well but left us feeling hollow and probably most of us have stayed a long time at jobs that paid next to nothing because we simply loved doing it. Everyone has hopes and dreams of what kind of job they’ll spend the rest of their lives doing and they’re all as different as the people who daydream about them. Regardless of how close we ever come to those goals, I think we can all agree that we mostly just want to be happy doing what we’re doing.

The first time I met with William Manzanares we spent a long time talking about employees. Not just his employees, but the whole concept of what employees mean to a business. I’ve worked for a few companies that focused primarily on the more tangible aspects of business like sales and expansion while disregarding major issues like poor retention and low moral. In other words, employees were treated more as a means to an end, rather than the core of the company itself. When we started talking about the employees of Smokin’ Willy’s, I couldn’t believe how passionate he was about them. 

I mean that literally.

I could not, at that point, imagine how the owner of a local chain of drive through convenience stores could genuinely care that much about the staff. It’s not that I assumed a business owner would be indifferent to the happiness of his employees but that the employees of that type of business would not be invested enough in the company to warrant that much personal attention from the owner. To put it bluntly, it seemed like the type of business where employees were understood to be expendable. I mean, no one says, “When I grow up, I want to work in a convenience store,” right?

True as that may be, plenty of people do grow up and end up saying to themselves, “I want to work somewhere where I’m appreciated.” Studies have proven that engaged employees are not only happier and more committed to their work but are more confident in themselves, more inspired, and thus more productive for the company as a whole.

After spending a couple weeks talking to the Smokin’ Willy’s crew, I slowly realized that Will’s attitude toward his employees actually has a profound effect on the business as a whole. Across the board, everyone I spoke to who had been there for more than a few weeks talked about the company with a notable sense of pride. They understood that they didn’t just work for the company, they were the company.

When I asked the employees what kinds of things they had learned while working there, I expected to hear mostly work-related things like product knowledge and customer service. I did hear those things but I was surprised to find that most of them shared stories of personal growth. People talked about patience, assertiveness, responsibility, acceptance of failure, even becoming a better parent.

The General Manager at Smokin’ Willy’s told me about a number of former employees who had left to pursue other careers, only to ask for their jobs back some time later. Over the years some of them even found positions in their dream jobs but soon after found that the quality of work they had grown accustomed to was actually missing there.

If the skills and opportunities provided to an employee of Smokin’ Willy’s end up being the stepping stones to their dream job elsewhere, they’ll have no greater supporter than Will. And that’s the point of all of this: A good company doesn’t hold people back, it encourages them to be better. It provides them the opportunity to grow and decide for themselves what kind of career they want to have, not just what kind of job they can get.

An employee at Smokin’ Willy’s started with a goal of staying for one month. It would be the first time she had ever kept a job that long. Once that milestone was passed, she set a goal of six months, then a year. It’s now been more than two years and she’s only heading up. She had overcome a number of personal struggles before starting work and had no idea how much impact this job would have on her life. While not every story is quite so dramatic, the core message is the same: Give people the opportunity to excel in their work and they will.

  1. I think that is amazing! I just lost my job of almost 34 years that I loved because it closed down! Now I am looking for a new job and my main goal is to be happy doing whatever it is I end up doing! Life is too short to be anything but happy! It is great to see owners who truly value their employees! Way to go smoking Willy’s!

  2. I love that you can work in a good positive job where you can feel welcomed and express yourself to the fullest I would recommend this as a job!

  3. I enjoy working a job where everyone is comfortable and I can look forward to going yo work! I loved working as a coffee barista & birthday hostess, it was so hands on and kept me busy.

  4. Although I have not yet been hired (hopefully I will be) after reading these articles and seeing how passionate he is about his employees and just the environment…well it seems like an awesome place to work.

    1. This is exactly what I am looking for in a job, or a place to feel like myself and support of fantastic business/company. I hope to have an opportunity to experience this!!!

  5. Customer service is one of my biggest attributes. I’m friendly with everyone. I always make sure customers feel welcome and want to come back.

  6. this job seems like very positive energy and good mindsets to be around. i would love to work here!

  7. This company sounds like exactly what I am looking for. I am always striving to learn more. Do more. I feel limited in so many ways, professionally and personally. I feel this would the place where I can truly achieve some goals.

  8. I enjoyed watching the video where the retired executive vp of Disney was referring to his career books.
    Test employees right, they’ll treat you right. Such a true statement.

  9. The management and employee support that you give is awesome and that’s how you learn to be positive on the job and have good positive people working around you that’s what I love about this company it’s not about the paycheck it’s about to people.

  10. It’s kinda like marriage….happy wife, happy life! Same goes for a company. When you walk in as a customer you know right away what kind of owner/manager they have running the company. The company as a whole puts off a vibe and it’s in the atmosphere of the entire company. It’s like the dominos effect.Treat your employees correct with respect and get to personally know each of them and in return you will have happy employees and then those employees are coming in and are the face of your company for you and if they’re happy then in return this rubs off to the customer which as a whole creates a Happy,Positive,inviting vibe. This now creates a atmosphere that no one can resist. 💜💜💜💜 I have applied to Smoking Willies because this company puts off the exact vibe/atmosphere
    That I’ve been looking for. 💜💜💜

  11. This sounds exactly 💯 what I am meant to do! I encompass customer service I believe in treating others how you want to be treated! I thrive within it and strive to always achieve my best everyday!

  12. I really support the idea and the way smokin willys operates. I would be more than happy to join a team like you guys and grow within the company!

  13. A company with commonsense, teaching rather than “bossing” employees, and putting employees first is so important and rare these days. Smokin Willys sounds like a great place to work and be a part of the family!

  14. Good Lord, i thought this was a unicorn of a concept, never thought i would find one, let alone TWO such things in one business (they have espresso, and im a Barista by training)

    1. For the first time in my life, im finding that my main goal at the job im seeking is that i am happy doing it. For me, this means positive atmosphere, not being bored, and learning things that have always challenged me, such as conflict, delegating, and management skills. I love, from the comments and stories, how this employer hires people with a chance to grow in their problem areas; and not expecting them to come in with it all figured out.

  15. I find it interesting when you said that it has been proven that employees are happier and become more committed when they feel confident and appreciated in their company. I guess this can also be applied to convenience store operations which can be learned by owners when they consult with experts. It can definitely translate to their customers when their employees are well-cared for which can make the consumers feel that they are a company that can be trusted and has to be supported.

  16. This sounds like the type a place I could call home. Money is important, but being treated like a person and not a number is exactly what I want and need

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