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From cashier to manager: Sarah's career journey at Zehrs

June 26, 2024

Sarah standing behind the desk inside of the garden centre at her store.

When 18-year-old Sarah Tompkins rang in the first customer at the new Zehrs on Bayfield Street in Barrie, ON, she never would’ve expected to be doing it again almost 23 years later when the store re-opened once again as a Zehrs after converting to a Loblaws in 2014. 

“I can’t believe I’m back to where it all started. All I can think about is how much I have grown, how much I have watched others grow, how many people I have met and learned from, and all the friends I’ve made along the way.” 

Since the start of Sarah’s career with Loblaw, she’s found herself looking for ways to learn and grow. After spending two years as a cashier at the front end, she transferred to the Photolab where she’d work for the next eight years. Working her way around the store, Sarah’s had opportunities in various departments, including Garden Centre, and Health & Beauty; while also being a Union Steward for 15 years, joining the Health & Safety Committee and social committees. Eventually, she found her way back to the front end and it was here that she felt she truly belonged within the business. With the encouragement of her Store Manager – Sarah became the Front-End Manager, which included PC Express (PCX) and Bookkeeping. 

“I learned to drive a forklift before I ever learned to drive a car!” Sarah shares. 

Sarah’s always found it exciting to learn new aspects of the business. Throughout her career, she’s been fortunate enough to have mentors and leaders that have encouraged her development. She now believes that as a team, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and tries to empower her colleagues so they can truly be the best. 

“When COVID hit, I found myself thrown into a challenge that I wasn’t prepared for. I was running two departments and admin, 156 PCX orders a day, and front-end line ups that would wrap around the store. I had more than 100 staff weekly I was scheduling, including a night crew, hiring, and training. But having a great team is what got me through. Being part of a team that can persevere through unprecedented times makes me love what I do.” 

Sarah has come a long way from being the 18-year-old cashier she was when she first joined the company. 

“When I started at Zehrs, I was very self-conscious and didn’t think I was good at anything.  I was literally a troubled teen with mental health issues at a time when mental health wasn’t so recognized. The company helped me build confidence and showed me I was capable of anything I put my mind to. I had leaders that believed in me and helped me to succeed and overcome my mental health challenges. I was given opportunity after opportunity to expand on my skills, take courses, learn, develop skills, and ultimately build a career. I learned that it’s so much more than the work you do. I focused on improving my overall wellbeing, meeting new people, colleagues, customers, and supporting our store to be a pillar in the community through fundraising, helping local causes and more.” 

She wants others to know that a person’s value goes beyond their day-to-day tasks and feels Loblaw – her Store Manager and Assistant Store Managers in particular – emphasize the importance of supporting a person’s growth. 

“Give people opportunities, they may surprise you. Everyone has something to offer, make sure to work with their strengths. Motivate and challenge colleagues and encourage them to reach heights they didn’t think they could.” 

For colleagues looking to find their place and grow within the company, Sarah has one piece of advice: 

“Don’t just come to work to come to work, come to work to improve yourself, never stop learning, and always stay involved!”