Lessons from Sandy: QuickChek’s Power Struggles

Chain learns tribulations, politics of getting stores back in business after Sandy

Traci Carneal, Freelance writer

Being prepared is a QuickChek corporate mantra. After Hurricane Sandy cut off power to nearly 85% of the chain’s New Jersey stores last fall, it took only a week after the storm’s exit for all 130 sites to be up and running, even in the midst of a record-setting power outage.

QuickChek made it look easy, but as company counsel Suzanne DelVecchio shares with CSP, the epic storm presented the retailer with an unfamiliar set of challenges and power struggles.

Following typical emergency preparedness procedures, QuickChek alerted its generator contractor that it would need units. Once the storm hit and 110 stores lost power, the chain moved generators from stores where power was regained to others that needed power. The system worked: All stores had power within days after the power loss.

But then the company faced a new, unforeseen challenge: getting fuel to the pumps.

“QuickChek stations had power, but no one else did—the utility providers, the government, the citizens or businesses. Even the refineries were under water,” DelVecchio says. “It was a domino effect, as our stations were open for business and pumps were ready to dispense, but we couldn’t get the fuel.” Seeking to bring in fuel from other states, this chain that had successfully weathered many storms embarked on a new journey of discovery, learning, quite frankly, what they didn’t know.

“We didn’t know what we needed to do or whom to talk to about obtaining fuel from other states,” DelVecchio says. “Turns out we needed various waivers to do this, but it took us a while to figure this out.”

She advises other retailers to be prepared by building relationships with government officials in the vicinities of store locations, and determining whom to go to and what to ask for. Having these partnerships in place before a crisis can make the difference between being back in business and staying out of luck. In fact, DelVecchio says, those who know someone in the local government will get fuel 100% faster than anyone else.

She encourages other retailers to “be proactive and build connections in your government, trade associations, suppliers and/or with industry peers, so you have a support system in place when crisis strikes. Don’t wait for the government to come bail you out. Take the lead.” DelVecchio adds that knowing the local government contact also comes in handy when power is restored after an outage. It’s who you know, so to speak, because the colloquial totem pole of prioritizing reigns.

“Let’s face it—the government needs power and fuel more than you do, and then the hospitals and nursing homes, for example,” she says. “There are priorities being set, and if you know who to call and make your needs known, more likely you’ll move up the totem pole a notch.”

With an intense hurricane season predicted this year, DelVecchio feels QuickChek is more prepared for the next big one due to its Sandy experiences. And what of the New York State generator mandate? Will it really help? While it may assist some convenience stores in obtaining access to a generator they otherwise would not have, DelVecchio says it won’t do much good if the stations can’t get fuel for the pumps.