Focus on Quick Chek, Part 1: Getting Tech Right

Touchscreen kiosks, self-checkout help chain create winning store experiences

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. -- An embrace of technology defines Quick Chek Corp. for much of the industry. The retailer was one of the first to install touchscreen kiosks for foodservice, and most recently, it has been testing self-serve checkouts at four sites, an offering until now mostly limited to supermarkets and home-improvement stores.

But as Dean Durling, president and CEO of the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based, privately owned company contends, technology is simply a means to a greater end: providing a great shopping experience for customers and a great working environment [image-nocss] for team members that, in turn, spin Quick Chek's retail engines.

"What we do is look to technology to be a facilitator and to accelerate our business model," Durling told CSP Daily News in an exclusive interview. "I think that's what's key, and it's different. Leaders in technology are out there for the sake of adopting something new and great and exciting. We're using specific tools in technology to drive our business model, whether it be speed of service, our foodservice or our people processes.

"Being first, I don't think that's important; being right is what's important," he said. It's that vision that has transformed Quick Chek into an industry leader, despite its relatively small, 125-store count. It has also earned Durling recognition as CSP's 2010 Retail Leader of the Year (Click here to see CSPTV coverage of Durling's recognition at the 2010 NACS Show.)

That focus on staying true to Quick Chek's mission includes ensuring that any new technological investment does not interfere with the customer experience inside Quick Chek stores. One might expect that a greater degree of self-service means a lesser degree of customer service. But the retailer is intent on avoiding that tradeoff.

"It's no different than foodservice," said Mike Murphy, senior vice president of operations, alluding to Quick Chek's made-to-order sub program, which features the ability to customize the sandwich via touchscreen. "If you look at that, the customer is still ordering it themselves, but the employee is engaged with the customer. With self-checkout--there is more time for the team member we have back there facilitating those three to four transactions to engage with the customer because they're not ringing up the register."

That team member's job essentially becomes "ambassador of Quick Chek," he said, tasked not only with greeting the customer but also engaging them in conversation and ensuring their shopping experience has been satisfactory.

It's a new skill for Quick Chek team members to learn, but crucial to the success of the test.

"This isn't about disengaging from the customer," said Murphy. "If you look at some supermarkets, home-improvement stores, the huge mistake they've made with self checkout is there is no engagement with their team. They're standing by a different kiosk, and they don't look up unless there's a mistake with the customer. Then when there's a mistake, they come over like it's your fault. We try to get beyond that."

The philosophy extends to corporate's relationship with Quick Chek's team members. Murphy and Durling visit each Quick Chek store twice a year with an inspection sheet detailing their standards for the site. These visits complement the usual monthly mystery shop of each store's shift.

"It's about catching people doing it right," said Murphy, who noted that the team members know when he and Durling are going to visit.

"We inspect the stores to make sure they understand what our expectations are and what the standard should be," he explained. "Dean will roll up his sleeves and make sure the coffee is made right, that the temperature is right. We go into foodservice, making sure portion control is right. By doing that, it tells people, we know what it's supposed to be and we're going to make sure it's right because we have expectations on what gets delivered to our customers."

When a store does not meet the standard, the Quick Chek operations team quickly gets to the root cause of the issue to correct it and prevent it from reoccurring. For example, the accuracy of sandwich orders has been a current focus for the retailer in some stores. Research showed that the biggest reason a sandwich is made incorrectly is that the store was out of stock on an ingredient.

"We're out of stock on an olive, and instead of telling the customer up front, they just make the sandwich and hope they don't notice," said Murphy. "We've grown a business where the customer can get the sandwich they want; people get upset about it."

So, in addition to addressing any issues with replenishment, Quick Chek made sandwich order accuracy carry a greater point weight in mystery shops of that store. "And we tell them we're changing it," Murphy said. "We try to be very upfront--here's the change we're making; here's why we're making the change. They might not always agree, but at least they'll get the understanding of why we're doing what we did."

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