Valley Wide embraces ‘authenticity’

Farm co-op's retail director welcomes Gen Z with open arms.
Cody Goeppner and Gen Z recruits
Cody Goeppner, (back right) retail regional manager at Valley Wide Cooperative, meets with the next generation of potential team members.

“A hardware business needs to cultivate a culture in which their employees can be their authentic selves.”

That’s from Cody Goeppner, the retail regional manager at farmer-owned Grandview, Wash.-based Valley Wide Cooperative.

Valley Wide made news last year when it merged operations with Bleyhl Farm Service of Nampa, Idaho, to better serve communities in the Pacific Northwest.

With authenticity, he said, “employees will be confident in creating an authentic customer experience which will result in loyalty beyond a manufactured or scripted experience.”

These words describe a positive work environment for independent hardware stores. Simply put, company cultures are defined by the thoughts, actions, and behaviors of their employees, said the retail regional manager. 

[Goeppner offered “Young Retailer Insights” during a panel discussion in 2021. Read about it here.]   

“A company’s culture, and its evolution, is in the hands of each individual employed at a company,” said Goeppner. “But today, it is truly the responsibility of the company to cultivate a positive company culture in which its employees can thrive.”

No two company cultures are going to be the exact same. But every company has a culture that is impacting their employees, which in turn will impact their customers and ultimately their bottom line.

He shared what he terms as some of his own “cool stats”—companies that welcome diversity are 1.7 times more innovative. And companies with gender-diverse executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.

“It is an owner-operator’s responsibility to nurture the company’s culture to be as strong as possible,” he said.

The onset of the next generation entering the workforce will shift the expectations of company culture in all industries, specifically the independent hardware industry.

“Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, and their expectations are much different from the generations that preceded them,” he said.

Gen Z—or “zoomers”—are described as the generation that follows Millennials and with birth years starting in the mid 1990s and ending in 2010.

Within the next 10 years, said Goeppner, “Gen Z will be the majority generation in the workforce which means their values will heavily outweigh those of the generations before them.”

”A company’s culture is in the hands of each individual employed at a company. But today, it is truly the responsibility of the company to cultivate a positive company culture in which its employees can thrive.“
Cody Goeppner

An admirable quality of this next generation, he said, is their resolve to never compromise their personal values in anything they do.

“The workplace is proving to be no exception to this rule as they expect companies to engage in social issues and prioritize diversity in everything they do,” he said. “These behaviors seem out of place to the previous generations as they had been asked for decades to leave their personal lives at home when going to work.”

This commitment to personal values and its new place in the workplace should have every company reviewing their policies to ensure they support a company culture that aligns with the next generation.

It is important that employees can identify with the company and are represented in several different ways, said Goeppner, including:

• The diversity of the employment pool;
• policies that support individuality; and
• encouraging a work-life balance.

Amended policies, he added, can support the employee’s individualism simply by not restricting areas in which they express themselves.

Cody Goeppner, margins
Cody Goeppner

Team members can still wear a company uniform and name badge that identifies them as an employee, said Goeppner, but with the policies supporting the individual, they have found their customers have engaged with them in new ways because they found them relatable.

“As independent businesses, our goal is to directly connect with the community we serve. It is more important now than ever that our employees represent them,” he said.

A company’s culture should touch every aspect of their business including job postings, the interview process, onboarding and training along with communications, accountability practices and the other day-to-day operations. Implementing this can be as simple as casting the overall vision for the direction of the company and nurturing it through the different aspects.

“Here’s the bottom line,” said Goeppner. “Historically, companies have expected employees to fit the mold of their employment, but moving into the future, candidates and employees will expect companies to adapt to the individualism of their teams.”

He said, “be willing to listen to their concerns and strategically answer their issues in a way that best supports them first, which in return will benefit the company.”

There are challenges along the way, as this retail regional manager is finding.

“The level of support for employees has increased significantly over the last decade,” said Goeppner, “and is going to continue to increase over the next few years.”

There isn’t a cookie cutter approach, or one size fits all method that owners and operators are able to lean into. He said operators must rely on the open and honest feedback from their employees and pivot in real time to address these areas of needed support. 

“Carve space for others as a practice of considering every employee’s perspective on any standard that they may agree or disagree with,” said Goeppner. This “collective voice,” as he calls it, helps business ensure they can provide a positive work environment that cultivates a culture encouraging individuals to be themselves while contributing to company goals.

Employee compensation, benefits, time off and work-life balance are all ways a company’s culture can either be challenged or praised, he said, and added: Lean into the uncomfortable measures that would have never fit in your old style of employment. 

“There was a lot of value in the previous model of employment and company cultures,” said Goeppner, “but moving forward, the old way isn’t going to work when soliciting dedicated, engaged employees.”

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