Focus on Quick Chek, Part 2: Following Its Brand

From Facebook to private label to green initiatives, "Q" leads way for N.J. retailer

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. -- Don't mess with the "Q."

When Quick Chek Corp. created its new corporate branding in 2008, it did so with the same level of conviction and commitment that has characterized all of its retail initiatives. John Schaninger, vice president of marketing, can be considered the gatekeeper for the brand. He describes himself as "rigid" and "fanatical" about not only how the Quick Chek logo appears--it must have the right shades of green--but also where it is used.

Take, for example, private label.

"For private label, we have very strict [image-nocss] guidelines," he told CSP Daily News in an exclusive interview. The retailer has already offered private-label milk, bottled water and refrigerated teas and is now expanding the brand into another area: candy and snacks. The lineup will include peg-bag candy, trail mixes and nuts. It's a range of products that the retailer carefully controls: It must be a high-volume category, and it must be an area where a major brand does not already master the product--such as energy drinks or chips.

"For me, it has to be about quality, and to me, paper towels aren't quality," said Schaninger. "We're rolling out candy. When we benchmark against everyone else, we're going to have the best candy out there."

That's because research has proven to Quick Chek that once customers visit the store or try a product, they fully embrace the brand. "They're sold," said Schaninger. "So there are a lot of efforts on getting the brand out so people see us more and see us as top-of-the-line."

This includes Quick Chek's Facebook initiative.

"The best thing on Facebook is a customer complaint," said Schaninger. "You're either on there because you love us or hate us." When a customer has a legitimate complaint, the response is immediate. Quick Chek's Q mascot--either Schaninger or the social media agency that assists the retailer--will request that the customer e-mail the details.

"If it's something I know is just not true, I won't respond because other fans will respond, and I'll know they'll take care of it for me," said Schaninger. Twitter may be a 2011 project for Quick Chek; until now, the retailer hasn't embraced the microblogging website because, from their perspective, it requires a dedicated person. While an app does not seem practical to Schaninger, a mobile website did make the cut and was released this past fall.

Sometimes the brand leads Quick Chek to unexpected places. When the retailer first designed the company logo--a big green "Q" with a leaf as the tail of the letter--it had one clear message to send: fresh. This was to further highlight Quick Chek's foodservice efforts.

But soon, the retailer began hearing customer compliments on the other message it was sending: environmental friendliness.

"When that happened, I said, 'We've got to do something, because people now expect it, because we came out with a logo that I thought communicated fresh, but people read it as fresh and environmentally friendly," recalled Schaninger. "So now we had a commitment with the customer, and you have to perform when you have a commitment."

Quick Chek responded on two fronts: It installed solar panels at its Whitehouse Station headquarters and support center, and in August 2010, it opened a store with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification credentials in Bayonne, N.J. The store's green features include LED lighting, low-flow plumbing and use of low-VOC construction materials. More than 80% of construction waste was recycled.

Besides providing a certain marketing cache, the green program also had to provide a payback--a Quick Chek hallmark. Thus, every new store will feature some degree of environmentally conscious construction, if not LEED certification--but only if it hits the return on investment (ROI).

The solar panels, meanwhile, have already proven a two-year ROI. A large-screen TV in the company lunchroom projects how much energy the panels are capturing and the savings in utility costs.

From the perspective of Quick Chek president and CEO Dean Durling, the embrace of green could be seen as either serendipity or inspired thinking--something for which as CSP's Retail Leader of the Year, he has become famous.

"Somebody once said, innovation is taking a small idea and exaggerating it and making it really big," he said. "If a customer perceives, 'Hey, this is a green company, or this is a fresh convenience company, they must be more than Cokes and smokes, a dirty little c-store,' we raise their expectations and then our own expectations of ourselves. That's kind of how we move."

See the December 2010 issue of CSP magazine for more on Dean Durling and Quick Chek's innovative team.