C-Stores Cope With C-C-C-Cold

"Polar vortex" freezes much of nation; retailers keep gas, hot coffee flowing

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Polar Vortex

He added, "The biggest pain in the butt for us right now is that Governor Cuomo arbitrarily shut down I-81 right through the heart of our marketing area."

In a comment that goes to the heart of the challenge of retailing in severe weather, when reached by CSP Daily News, the spokesperson for one major retailer with affected locations said candidly, "Our sites have worked hard and much longer shifts than normal to accommodate our customers and the challenges this severe weather has brought. As a result, I do not intend to interrupt them in that effort to ask about what they are doing to face these challenges. We know our customers are being taken care of, and that's all that really matters to us and to them. ... We're more concerned about facing these hurdles and overcoming the weather than to toot our horn about how well we are doing."

The industry--as it has been doing more frequently--took to social media to keep customers apprised of the status of their facilities. Many also didn't let the opportunity pass to tout their hot coffee and food: "Everyone's tweeting about the weather & we're just over here like 'Mmmm … fresh, hot Sheetz coffee!'," the retailer posted, a refrain echoed by chains large and small, far and wide.

Truckstop chains with locations across the affected regions used social media to update drivers about fuel availability.

"Due to the extreme weather conditions we are experiencing across much of the country, some TA locations are experiencing issues that may impact our customers," TravelCenters of America/Petro Stopping Centers, Westlake, Ohio, said on Facebook. "We are working diligently to get these fixed as quickly as possible. Please know that our locations all remain open and ready to serve you and help you stay warm and safe!"

It also provided lists of sites with reduced availability of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) "due to nozzles freezing up; however, DEF in containers is available in the store."
Pilot Flying J, Knoxville, Tenn., posted, "Due to severe winter weather conditions, diesel is currently unavailable at the [listed] locations. We will continue to post updates regarding store closings as well as reopenings."

Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, Oklahoma City, posted: "Update: Throughout the extreme temperatures, Love's has continued to make sure all of our locations are supplied with fuel and we are able to serve our customers. Currently, we are not experiencing fuel outages at any of our locations."

Meanwhile, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delta Sonic tweeted, "Just a reminder, all car washes & detail shops in the Buffalo region are closed today. Gas, convenience store & lube are open."

As usual, local conditions dictated retailer action. Corporate-level executives for several chains, for example Ann Mann, spokesperson for Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based CHS Inc./Cenex, said that "decision-making at outlying CHS locations is made by local management team based on local conditions."

Meanwhile, Michael Evans, president and COO of Taylor, Mich.-based Atlas Oil, told CSP Daily News, "State of emergencies were declared in parts of Indiana and Illinois so things were are a standstill for two days. Terminals are down and supply is sketchy."

The extreme weather is also resulting in some problems at refineries in the Midwest, according to GasBuddy.com.

Several key units at Marathon's refinery in Detroit were shut down Jan. 6, it said. And ExxonMobil and CITGO refineries near Chicago also suffered from the low temperatures. BP and Husky's joint refinery in Toledo, Ohio, saw a unit shut earlier this week, and production of gasoline likely took a hit.

Spot gasoline prices traded higher in the Great Lakes as a result of the many issues that developed because the cold weather. While these issues are temporary, shutdowns or process upsets can have a very swift impact on retail gasoline prices, said GasBuddy, and motorists in these areas may see short-term price adjustments as a result of the temporary loss of some gasoline production.

Click here to read the full report.

For how the polar vortex affected the restaurant industry, click here to read a Restaurant Business report.