Gest exploded into laughter. “It was the first time in
days that I’d laughed,” she says. “Humor can defuse
These are just a few of the key life lessons—and, yes,
key successful business lessons—that the Chicago native
plans to share with attendees at the 2016 NACS Show,
which takes place October 18-21 in Atlanta. Gest, who
is a keynote speaker by day and a stand-up comedian
by night, says she pulls many of her life lessons—and
comedy routines—from her personal spirt of adventure.
Aside from paragliding, she also has tried sky diving,
bungee jumping, scuba diving, ice climbing—and she
went backpacking around the world, too.
“It’s all about grabbing lessons from life in unexpected situations,” says Gest, who trains CEOs in
emotional intelligence and cultural transformation.
Those same lessons are no further away than the local
convenience store, she says.
“Most Vital Person”
How convenience store employees treat each customer
who walks in the door is absolutely critical. There simply
is no substitute for positive, human interaction. That,
of course, means hiring and properly training the right
employees, she says. “Sometimes, walking into a con-
venience store is the only real life, human interaction
that the customer will have all day,” she says. That’s
precisely what each c-store employee needs to ask them-
selves: “What if you knew that you were the only person
that I was going to interact with all day long?”
That’s the situation that Gest found herself in
recently when she stayed home, alone, for a long week-
end to edit a book manuscript that was overdue to the
publisher. She left her house just once each day that
weekend—to grab a coffee at her local convenience
store. Sure, she could have stayed home and brewed
her own coffee, but, she notes, “I just knew that I had
to get outside and make eyeball to eyeball contact with
another human being.”
Employees—particularly those behind the
counter—are the key to c-store success, or failure,
she says. Gest’s speech at the NACS Show, attesting
to that, is titled, “MVPs Everywhere.” But, in this case,
she says, MVP doesn’t stand for “Most Valuable
Player.” Instead her interpretation of MVP stands for
“Most Vital Person.” That’s the guy or gal who greets
guests with a smile and asks the customers if they
need any help.
After all, no one really has to make that convenience
store run. “You are competing with my kitchen and my
Keurig,” she says. “That’s even more convenient than
going to the convenient store.”
Your Humor Muscle
Success in any business, she says, is about establishing positive connections and building good relationships with customers and employees. That’s what
Merit did while she was senior vice president for
sales at a national sales training organization and
while she was the youngest general sales manager
at a start-up radio station in Chicago, the nation’s
third largest market.
The best way to connect she discovered: humor.
“Developing your humor muscle is critical,” she says.
How to do that? Mostly, she suggests, through obser-
vation. “When I write a joke for a comedy routine, I
don’t just sit down to write something funny. I write
very personal comedy about what I observe.” She calls
it “Seinfeld” comedy: “To be able to laugh about the
things that frustrate and hurt you is a good thing.”
Most c-store owners are so busy just trying to get
through the day, that the notion of developing and utilizing
a sense of humor on the job might seem a stretch. But it’s
that very stress of most c-store industry jobs that makes
a sense of humor even more critical, she says.
Humor on the job, however, isn’t about telling jokes.
It’s often more about just being yourself and allowing
yourself—and others—to laugh at your mistakes. “It’s
about bringing who you are into your job.”
Beyond humor, she says, there’s another important
way to help make employees happy: Prepare them to
be successful in your store. “Employees need tools,
training and understanding,” she says.