From EP magazine (May 2002). EP is a monthly publication providing
information and support for parents, families, physicians and professionals caring for people with special needs. For more information, please visit EP's
By Paul T. Burke
In the 1950s, America witnessed a phenomenon that it had not seen before in retail marketing – the advent of convenience stores. At first, these stores were open from early morning until just before midnight. They reflected the public’s growing desire to be able to purchase basic commodities quickly and inexpensively in a highly mobile post-World War II society. Milk, soda, beer, coffee and cigarettes were the commodities in principal demand.
In many cases, the names associated with these convenience stores expressed the colorful diversity of America. In the Southwest, a chain of stores named Utotem was among the most popular. Like similar enterprises throughout the United States, this chain provided quick service to a mobile constituency in a hurry. In 1984, Utotem was purchased by Circle K, and its stores subsumed into a network of more than 2,400 convenience stores nationwide. Today, Circle K stores are also part of many Mobil Oil service stations on major highways.
Fast, friendly and clean stores were and remain a cornerstone for success. From the start, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) learned to build rapport with customers who were in their stores for less than five minutes, seeking to make quick and inexpensive purchases from a multitude of categories. A cheery smile and helpful attitude—borrowed from a time when general stores served America—meant success in the convenience store business.
Good interpersonal skills translated into customer loyalty. Store managers also sought to establish their enterprises as places that made major contributions to the communities they served. The occasion of a customer being in a store for a short period of time with spare change from a recent purchase lent itself to an instant contribution opportunity. And so the Circle K – United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) relationship was born.
UCP is a nationwide network of more than 110 community-based affiliates that provide services to families and caregivers of infants, children and adults with disabilities. The direct services provided by UCP affiliates range from medical treatment to employment and social programs. Every year more than one million people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities receive assistance from UCP affiliates in 39 states. Interestingly, more than 65 percent of the people served by UCP have a disability other than cerebral palsy. Through the years, UCP has become a leader in the disability field, and is consistently ranked as one of America’s most financially responsible charities.
Circle K’s relationship with UCP started at a simple backyard barbecue. Gradually, Circle K stores began collecting coin donations from customers, sending the donations to UCP. Today, the Circle K brand of convenience stores continues a tradition of support that began in 1984 when The Circle K Corporation purchased the Utotem chain of convenience stores. After the acquisition, Circle K management adopted UCP as the company’s charity-of-choice. To date, the nationwide network of Circle K convenience stores has raised more than $36 million for UCP through coin canister collections and special events.
The most visible Circle K fundraising program is the annual holiday promotion in conjunction with Miller Brewing Company. Every November and December, Circle K customers are invited to make a one-dollar donation in exchange for recognition on a paper holiday wreath. Each personalized wreath is then displayed on Circle K walls throughout the holiday season. This successful program raised more than $500,000 in 2001.
But the Circle K store employees who meet the public on a daily basis are the heart and soul of this incredible philanthropic movement. They are committed to doing their share to support the independence of people with disabilities. As Lead Customer Service Representative Anna Hall says, “I have met children and their families that have been helped by UCP and my heart has been deeply touched…I truly believe in this [UCP canister collection] program.”
Wanting to be part of something larger than oneself and finding a way to help others are uppermost in the minds of many Circle K employees. “Our employees have great heads for business, large hearts for people,” says Mick Parker, manager of company operations for Circle K. “We’re very proud of them.” Circle K District Manager Ardie Killion confirms that appraisal in her description of outstanding UCP fundraiser Linda Reynolds, “Linda has been the number one collector of UCP funds in the company for the past five years. There is no other employee in the company that is as dedicated as this lady.”
Another store manager, from Circle K’s southern region (encompassing Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and New Jersey), has this appraisal of employee Trudy Parmeter: “Trudy has been employed by Circle K for nine years, and devotes most of her time to UCP fundraisers and events. Not only does she work full-time and go to school full-time, but she is a mother of three children . . . for the past two years, she has promoted car washes and food drives to benefit UCP.”
Circle K’s Albuquerque, NM District Manager Tom White has this to say about Hazel Phillips: “Hazel is 75 and never lets up – she asks customers every day to donate to UCP. Hazel also has raised the performance of her fellow employees by her example.”
“Leadership by example is the key for this tight-knit company and its compassionate employees, who think of others first while serving the public in their communities,” says UCP National Volunteer President E. Hal Nolan. So the next time you rush into a Circle K, in a hurry, to pick up that soda or loaf of bread, pause for a minute and look at the smiling face that asks you to share your change to make a difference in someone’s life.
UCP Executive Director Kirsten A. Nyrop adds: “Citizen Circle K is a shining example of how corporations, employees and responsible charitable organizations can really make a difference in the lives of the people they serve while still upholding and accentuating the company’s mission!”
Paul T. Burke is the director of marketing and communications for UCP.