Are you prepared for a disaster? Pre-planning is vital to protect yourself, your employees, your customers and your business. Outline exactly what should happen in the event of a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood or tornado.
There are two essentials when creating a disaster plan:
- Protect your employees. Different parts of the country face different kinds of disasters. Talk to your employees about what they should do to protect themselves against whatever they might face in your area. For example, if earthquakes hit your town, where should everyone go — the restroom where there are no windows? The walk-in cooler? Determine the best spot and inform your team.
- Protect your store. Clearly post the address of your store near the phone with a 911 label. Also write down where the emergency pump switches, main water shut off and fire extinguishers are located. Even with lots of preparation, sometimes the simplest things are forgotten in a moment of panic so write it down.
Just as important as all the "dos" is one very important "don’t": Don’t price gouge. You will not only lose customers and ruin your business fast, but also destroy the credibility of the industry.
Even after New York’s Attorney General issued a warning that it is against the law to inflate prices during a natural disaster, it still happened in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last fall. At least seven gasoline stations are now being sued for raising prices as high as $15 a gallon. Don’t be known as the bad apple in the bunch. Instead, look to be a superhero for customers.
Offer free coffee when a crisis hits your area, place donation buckets near the register to support community needs, or schedule a day where you will donate a percentage of all sales to the Red Cross. Anything you do to assist customers will go a long way toward building goodwill and making your business more profitable in the future.
Take the time to review disaster plans as each new season approaches. For many convenience store retailers, fall brings with it some major storm systems. Re-train employees on how to react to what they may encounter. Also, stock up on anticipated customer needs such as gallons of water.
If you operate in an area prone to power outages, consider investing in a generator. This will ensure your store has the power to dispense fuel and keep registers and coolers operating. You will be able to continue to conduct business during a power outage and save money by preventing lost perishable merchandise.
If you do not have a generator, consider explaining that to customers when a big storm is approaching. Rutter’s Farm Stores in York, Pa., did just that in the days before Hurricane Sandy. The company explained to local reporters that it did not have generators and would not be able to operate stores without power, so stores would close when power failed. Customers were told clearly if a store loses power, it will close. Rutter’s customers were encouraged to fill up their gasoline tanks and stock up on essentials before the storm hit.
That is another option in preparing for a disaster — announcing in advance that your store will close. You won’t always know exactly when a disaster is coming, but if you do, use that extra knowledge to prepare your employees and customers.
Terry Lambert is an instructor for the CBC Learning Center and a c-store owner.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.