In his fifth and final day of training, 18-year-old David Knighten says he has a good grasp of what it takes to work at QuikTrip.

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So far he’s survived the company’s training process.

QT clerks could pass for some of the hardest-working folks in the convenience-store industry. They must be able to count change in their heads without relying on the register. They must do store upkeeps every 30 minutes, which involve everything from keeping the restrooms clean to stocking coolers and filling coffee and tea dispensers to making sure hot dogs are on the grill.

Knighten even learned how to find nutritional information on a food item in case a customer asks.

“You have to think on your feet,” said Knighten, a student at Tulsa Community College with a goal of majoring in business. “You have to move around and just basically get used to doing things how QuikTrip wants you to do them. It’s not that hard as long as you have a good trainer.”

The hiring process is one that QuikTrip takes very seriously, and it’s a key reason why the Tulsa-based convenience store chain consistently ranks among the best companies to work for in the United States. The company offers competitive pay — store managers earn $70,000 a year — and benefits, advancement opportunities and college tuition assistance.

Every year since 2003 the company has made Fortune magazine’s top 100 companies to work for, coming in at No. 54 this year.

Forbes ranked QuikTrip 304th out of 500 companies in its list of “America’s Best Employers.” Other agencies have ranked the company similarly.

One reason for that is its personnel. The company’s hiring process is as detailed as a clerk’s job description, and only the best are hired. QuikTrip is so selective that it hires a little more than 1 out of every 100 applicants.

With more than 700 stores in 11 states, QuikTrip instills its culture of high standards — such as calculating change faster than the cash register or being quick on your feet while juggling a myriad of tasks — once a worker is hired.

Personnel is a big key to the company’s overall success.

“It’s a place where you feel comfortable (as a customer),” said Jeff Lenard with the National Association of Convenience Stores. “It’s a place where you feel you belong, and to do that, you start with people. You start with people that greet you and mean it. And they like their jobs.”

‘Career instead of a job’

According to spokesman Mike Thornbrugh, QuikTrip received more than 200,000 job applications last year. From the start of 2014 to the end of March 2015, the company added 3,100 to its payroll of about 18,000 workers nationwide. Those numbers break down like this: Just under 17,000 people seek employment each month at QuikTrip but only 206 are hired.

Don’t count on regular job vacancies. Its voluntary employee turnover rate of 8 percent is one of the lowest in the industry, Thornbrugh said.

You want job security? The company hasn’t laid off an employee since it was founded in 1958.

“We do get a lot of job applicants, and because of that we really take our time on selection,” Thornbrugh said. “You’ve got to be outgoing because you’re dealing with a lot of people on a daily basis and a lot of different kinds of people. ... The other thing is you’ve got to be able to multitask and be in perpetual motion. It’s nonstop the moment you get into that front door.”

The company provides good benefits and pays competitive wages. QuikTrip takes care of its employees. Last year, the average annual pay for store managers ranged from $70,000 up while second assistants earned just over $50,000.

QuikTrip helps employees with college tuition. Full-time employees can be reimbursed up to $2,200 per semester, and part-timers can receive up to $1,200 or $2,200 per semester, depending on the number of hours worked.

All employees qualify for a paid 30-day sabbatical after working for the company 25 years and then every five years thereafter.

Those are details Knighten found appealing. Although he is only a part-time employee, he hopes to move up to full time after college.

“QuikTrip is a career instead of a daily job,” he said. “You can always move up the scale instead of staying where you are. You can always upgrade.”

‘We’re really selective’

Prospective employees must first take a test, be interviewed and go through a four- to eight-hour orientation, depending on their position. Part-time employees are paired with a trainer for one to two weeks before they are assigned to a store.

Although new employees aren’t expected to be as fast as someone who’s been on the job for months, they should keep up with the store’s fast pace, multitask and provide good customer service.

“We have a pretty intensive screening process,” said Brady Walker, Tulsa division personnel manager. “We’re really selective of the employees we bring on. If you can find the people who have that personality — that ability to work hard and multitask and take care of customers — that makes the training a whole lot easier.”

Brittney Ogans has been with QuikTrip for 10 years, starting as a part-time clerk and now managing the store at 46th Street North and Lewis Avenue. Within a few days, she says, the trainees can determine whether they will work out.

“Training can be pretty intense,” Ogans said. “Especially from the outside looking in, you don’t know we work as hard as we do. It’s pretty awesome, but it’s not as simple as people may think.”

Store employees have to be able to count return change in their head rather than depend on a register.

Employees have to be ready to stop whatever they’re doing to help someone or check out a customer. QuikTrip aims to have no more than three customers waiting in line at a register.

‘Every customer is important’

To promote good customer service, QuikTrip rewards employees with bonuses. The company sends in secret shoppers to evaluate the store’s merchandise and employees, said Walker.

The company uses that information to help award bonuses to employees. A big part of the QT culture is how many of its high-ranking employees were once clerks in a neighborhood QuikTrip.

“How we treat each other is extremely important,” Walker said. “One of the big things that helps our culture is that we promote entirely from within. When someone does ask you to go perform a task or stock the cooler, that person has walked in your shoes and sat in the same orientation class and done the same jobs. And that helps when a manager is delegating tasks.”

Derek Dziurda, who manages a QT in south Tulsa, has worked for the company for nearly 24 years. He acknowledged that while the job is fast-paced, it teaches employees about life, communication skills, leadership skills and money management.

“It’s constantly changing, but it’s very rewarding,” he said. “Our company is a real giving company, and it’s no surprise that the employees recognize that. QuikTrip as a whole is a giving company, and you can’t help but want to give 100 percent back when you’re treated that well as an employee.”

Ogans, who has a psychology degree and considered becoming a doctor or clinical psychologist, said she likes the social aspect of the job. Both her co-workers and customers have become like family — “it’s enjoyable and they pay you well,” she said.

Vinita resident Lori Lee Everley said she visits a QT at least three times a month. She and her husband usually search for a QuikTrip while traveling because they know it will be clean, welcoming and safe.

“I like the people” she said. “They are friendly. They treat you as if every customer is important, whether you’re buying a candy bar or gasoline. It doesn’t matter. They say ‘Hi’ to you. I never have to wait in line, and I don’t know of any other convenience store where you can go and get every variety of everything in a clean environment.”

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Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466

laurie.winslow@tulsaworld.com