Surviving Sandy

Retailers, jobbers serve community in aftermath of "Superstorm"

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

WAWA, Pa. -- The worst of times sometimes brings out the best. "Superstorm" Sandy, which tore through the Eastern Seaboard and into Pennsylvania and other Mid-Atlantic states early this week, put everyone to the test.

Of the many chains in the path of this so-called "perfect" storm, Wawa Inc. was probably one of the most affected. Posting on its website that it had to close 157 stores on Tuesday, the Wawa, Pa., company and its employees did their best to properly close then reopen stores as soon as power and other safety concerns were addressed.

In a written statement to CSP Daily News, Sal Mattera, vice president of operations for Wawa, acknowledged its associates and their efforts to remain open during challenging conditions.

"While we continue to recover and reopen stores, we want to thank the Wawa team," Mattera said. "They truly exemplified the Wawa spirit of 'friends and neighbors serving friends and neighbors' by helping their communities weather the storm."

He said Wawa's operations, facilities and supply teams continue to focus on reopening its stores.

And reports of retailers serving the storm-affected communities under adverse conditions are beginning to emerge.

7-Eleven Inc. highlighted for CSP Daily News a couple examples that have already popped up on social media, and which will certainly be repeated throughout the affected region.

The Interfaith Center of New York (@ICNY) tweeted: "Throughout the storm, pizza delivery guys, 7-11 counter staff, endless taxi drivers - all heroes," and described on its blog:

"Looking out at all this, it occurred to me that, in times like these, workers that we take for granted--such as store clerks, delivery people, and taxi drivers--are revealed for their true value. These people weren't just providing services to the neighborhood last night, they were performing a ministry. They kept the lights on, and not just in a literal way. I could not count the number of neighbors who were helped in some way by these people who kept working through the night. There's a kind of heroism in that" (click here to read the full blog post).

And several tweeters referred to a 7-Eleven location in New York City that did what it could to help in the crisis:

  • "Shout out to @7eleven on 5th Ave and 26th for setting up phone chargers" (@JoshMoskowitz).
  • "7 Eleven gets a 10 for customer service. Charging stations set up outside" (@ZachUdko).
  • "@7Eleven also offered free charging stations for New Yorker" (@samir).

Efforts at helping area residents have been coming in many forms. Atlas Oil, Taylor, Mich., will be sending trucks and fuel to assist with Sandy relief efforts. Atlas is partnering with one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) primary emergency fuel contractors to provide needed fuel trucks to assist with relief efforts in the New Jersey area.

"We are pleased that we are able to help in this relief effort," Sam Simon, CEO and owner of Atlas, said. "We have the equipment and the fuel expertise to assist in this massive restoration effort and our team members are rallying behind this."

In related news, other companies extended their support to disaster victims in a variety of ways. Houston-based Phillips 66 contributed $500,000 to the American Red Cross to assist local relief efforts, as well as support employees who experienced extensive damage to their homes. The company will also match individual employee contributions through its matching gift program.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected by the storm, especially our employees and their families at the Bayway refinery and our three storage terminals nearby," said Greg Garland, chariman and CEO of Phillips. "Assisting our employees and our community is consistent with our values of safety, honor and commitment."

A non-profit group that supplies free fuel to those in need, Fuel Relief Fund, Sacramento, Calif., is organizing monetary contributions and volunteers as it coordinates a relief response to New Jersey residents. The group is also sending a truck loaded with gasoline and diesel to the coastline.

Looking forward, issues of cleanup will eventually evolve into lessons learned and an eye towards disaster preparedness, noted David Zahn, vice president of marketing, FuelQuest, Houston. He said much of the work must happen long before a brewing hurricane menaces the shoreline.

"From our perspective, if we know a hurricane is coming through, we make sure our customers can ride it out and be ready for the demand that picks up again--and for longer-term supply disruptions," Zahn told CSP Daily News. "I think maybe we're seeing better preparedness [these days. Retailers] are sensitive to what happened with Hurricanes Katrina and Ike."

Zahn of FuelQuest gave some advice: Retailers should diversify their fuel-supply portfolio. If a retailer only buys off the spot market, a disruption may leave that retailer without fuel. A balanced portfolio around contract and spot purchasing can alleviate the pressure.

Develop strong logistics plans. Make sure to fill up tanks to the fullest, but consider the logistics of fuel delivery. Think of when lines of customers may form, blocking refueling areas. In times of emergency, carriers are also burdened, so consider that complexity, especially if pulling product from multiple sources and terminals that are far apart.

Think beyond customers. Emergency services and municipalities may call on c-stores to provide product and services, putting a strain on scant resources.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
View More Articles By Angel Abcede