By John Lofstock, Editor
Total Customer Dedication. It’s a phrase retailers like to use, but extremely difficult to execute. Not for QuickChek.
For Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek, Total Customer Dedication is the company mission and, when combined with strong leadership, creates one of the best convenience store chains in the industry…and it shows.
Over the past year, QuickChek was named a Best Place to Work in New Jersey and New York for the eighth time, it raised its minimum starting salary to $10 an hour and is helping to redefine convenience with the rollout of the QuickChek mobile app, which allows customers to use their smartphones to order, customize and select a convenient pick-up time for menu items.
The company has been a model of consistency for nearly five decades and continues to be a shining example of the best the convenience store industry has to offer. For its ongoing commitment to retail excellence, its dedicated employees and the communities it serves, Convenience Store Decisions is proud to honor QuickChek as the 2016 Convenience Store Chain of the Year.
“Our mission is to be a ‘Great Place to Work, a Great Place to Shop and a Great Place to Invest,’” said QuickChek President and CEO Dean Durling. “This is a tremendous honor that reflects the hard work and dedication of more than 3,700 team members who take great pride in delivering what we call TCD, or Total Customer Dedication, each and every day.”
Maintaining its family culture, QuickChek’s retail strategy is guided by these core values.
“When you come into any of our stores, the store leader manages that store as if it is their own,” added Durling, a second-generation leader for family-owned QuickChek. “This helps them connect with our customers on a personal level, to create that neighborhood shopping experience, and provide the outstanding customer service for which we are known.”
The Chain of the Year award, now in its 27th year, is the oldest and most prestigious award for convenience retailing in the industry. QuickChek follows Family Express Corp. as Chain of the Year, considered by many as the gold standard in convenience store retailing.
Just a year shy of its 50th anniversary, QuickChek was founded in 1967. It is regarded as a leader in the industry in key areas such as technology, foodservice, team engagement and innovation. Over the past year the company has wrapped up a major investment in a mobile app that will allow consumers to order custom-made sandwiches, subs, salads, breakfast and handcrafted beverages and pick up the order at any of the chain’s 147 locations throughout New Jersey, New York’s Hudson Valley and Long Island, N.Y.
But what makes QuickChek special is the connection it has with its customers. In markets throughout New Jersey and New York, QuickChek stores are a beacon of innovation, freshness and quality with their upscale foodservice programs. QuickChek offers a host of made-to-order, fully-customizable subs, salads, soups, sandwiches and beverages that appeal to a wide-range of consumers. All this delivered by engaged team members focused on delighting their guests.
Throughout the process of vetting QuickChek for Chain of the Year, the company proved not only to thrive off of innovation, but learned long ago to listen to its customers. In fact, customers are helping to drive the innovation for which the company is being recognized.
For example, as far back as 1967, QuickChek had developed a foodservice business through its deli program, which focused on cold cuts and take-home foods. “Around 1979,” Durling said, “this focus started to change as customers’ needs changed. More and more customers wanted fresh sandwiches for immediate consumption.”
So QuickChek adapted its stores to meet this growing demand. Within a short time, customers indicated that fresh bread was as important as the cold cuts and again the company responded by adding bakeries to all of its stores.
Soon customers began asking for line extensions, such as fresh soups and salads, and the foundation for QuickChek’s award-winning foodservice program was formed.
“Our evolution shows that we are very much a company that not only listens to our customers, but values their input and goes the extra mile to serve their needs,” said John Schaninger, vice president, sales and marketing for QuickChek. “Everything we do is to satisfy our customers so our business has evolved organically as our customers’ needs have evolved.”
Evolution is also evident in QuickChek’s fuel program, which wasn’t launched until 2000 in New York’s Hudson Valley. “We were some of the last guys to get into fuel, but, again, it was our customers who asked for it,” Durling said. “They wanted a one-stop shopping experience where they could get great food and coffee and fuel up as well. As a result, QuickChek fuel was born.”
QuickChek prides itself on its Q Café coffee program, which consumers voted the best coffee in America in a recent national survey. Renowned for its high quality, QuickChek was among the first in the industry to guarantee its coffee would be served fresh 24 hours a day and feature an expansive toppings bar enabling customers to customize their brew around the clock.
Given its service-first culture, Mike Murphy, QuickChek’s senior vice president, said it was difficult to describe who QuickChek is in his own words because the company is constantly learning and evolving. The shopping tendencies of Millennials, for example, are a radical departure from those of their parents. However, there are two constants that define the QuickChek brand: its loyalty to employees and its commitment to the customers it serves.
“When it comes right down to it, we do an excellent job of analyzing ourselves and focusing on how well we serve our customers and our employees,” Murphy said. “We’re probably our toughest critics, but I think that allows us to keep our eye on what’s important and it really drives us to improve every day.”
This keen focus on employees and operational excellence has helped the company accumulate some other impressive accolades. QuickChek enjoys the distinction of being named one of the best companies to work for in both New Jersey and New York State.
It has been named one of the Best Places to Work in New Jersey in each of the past five years by New Jersey Business and One of the Best Companies to Work For in New York by the New York State Society of Human Resource Management the past three years. Both of these lists recognize top employers who show a dedication to their employees’ growth and quality of life.
QuickChek’s commitment to employees is a major reason why store employee turnover is among the industry’s lowest at just 40%. Through the years, a lot of hard work went into refining the chain’s human resources strategies to identify and retain service-oriented employees.
“When it comes to finding great employees, there is no magic bullet. You have to do the little things right,” said Bob Graczyk, vice president of human resources for QuickChek. “It’s the 100 little things we do that matter. From above-market wages and a strong benefits offering to providing strong leadership, we make promises to our team members and work very hard to keep them. Promises like respecting your work schedule and not changing it unless you are talked to by the store leader help build team loyalty. We post schedules two weeks out so team members can plan their lives and they appreciate that.”
QuickChek is also one of the most selective companies in all of retail with only about one in 13 applicants getting hired at new and existing stores. “In 2016 we’ll get over 30,000 applications and hire about 2,300 new team members,” Graczyk said. “We use a two-interview process where both interviewers have to agree. All applicants take a QuickChek validated assessment test and must complete criminal and drug background checks to even make it to the interview process.”
Once hired, all new team members are required to attend the “QuickChek Experience” class before working in the store. “In class, we teach culture and customer service. Then they go to the store and work through a series of video training modules and an on-the-job workbook with seasoned trainers,” Graczyk said. “The total training is formally 38 hours.”
For Graczyk, like all QuickChek executives, corporate culture is something taken very seriously. As such, the leadership team is approachable and visible in the stores and at company functions.
“Our values have meaning,” he said. “We must walk the talk and be honest. We all understand that excessive team member turnover may get you an unwanted invitation to take your skills elsewhere, even when you are cutting good financial numbers.”
As with foodservice, when other chains were talking about investing in retail technology, they looked to QuickChek. The chain, already an early adopter of no-fee ATM’s, was on the leading edge of adding foodservice touchscreens in 2000. The result was a serious spike in incremental sales and a dramatic improvement in customer service speed and satisfaction.
In 2009, QuickChek again broke the mold in the industry by becoming the very first c-store chain to introduce self-checkout lanes equipped with cash readers and coin dispensers. QuickChek Fast Lanes are in more than 40 stores and enhance the chain’s superior customer service abilities by offering consumers the option to speed up the checkout process 24 hours a day.
“When it comes to investing in technology, there are so many things that catch your eye, but things are changing so fast, so you have to have the discipline to focus on what your customers want and then deliver,” Schaninger said. “Self-checkout follows that mold. Keeping up with technology is a full-time responsibility, but it’s one that has to be taken seriously because it’s expensive for small and mid-sized companies. You can’t afford to be wrong so you want the programs you do invest in to be the ones your customers can benefit from the most and self-checkout does that for us.”
As it has shown time and again, QuickChek continued to push the boundaries of innovation earlier this year with the expansion of its mobile app to include food and product ordering. Customers can order freshly-prepared breakfast menu items, custom-made subs, salads and smoothies through the app and pick up their order at any of the chain’s stores seven days a week. Orders are prepared to coincide with the customer’s designated time of pickup to ensure maximum freshness. Additionally, customers receive coupons and special deals just for using the app.
This is just another way for the QuickChek team to provide even greater convenience for on-the-go customers. “The mobile app highlights our innovation and shows that we can deliver excellence and affect change when it comes to providing to cutting-edge service,” Murphy said.
For Durling, the convenience store industry has been a second family. Family-owned businesses like QuickChek remain the backbone of convenience retailing. The commitment to excellence these chains offer should never be underestimated.
“Every day I look at what we have created at QuickChek and I’m proud of the work we have done, but I also focus on continuous improvement. There are tremendous opportunities out there right now for convenience store owners. We are a dynamic industry and I feel the need to push forward to do things that create excitement for employees and customers alike,” Durling said. “There are two great passions in my life that drive me: No. 1 is my family and No. 2 is QuickChek, in that order. I’ve done a lot in my life, but even after 40 years of doing what I do, I get excited by where the industry has the potential to go.”
“We are pleased that consumers continue to think so highly of our brand, not just for how good our coffee tastes, but for the value we provide as well,” said QuickChek President and CEO Dean Durling.
QuickChek’s brew is not only guaranteed fresh, but it’s made from hand-selected beans, triple filtered water, exacting temperatures and an enormous variety of options in flavors, sweeteners and toppings. The company is so focused on coffee that it promises customers:
• To carefully select and fresh-grind only the best coffee beans the world can offer.
• To prepare each pot of coffee using exacting standards, including triple-filtered water and consistent temperatures.
• To graciously offer and ensure a fresh cup of joe…guaranteed.
• To create an extraordinary coffee experience for each guest, every visit.
QuickChek at a glance
The QuickChek story began in 1888 when Durling Farms was founded to serve the central New Jersey region. Over the next 79 years, the Durling Farms brand grew to become synonymous with high-quality milk and dairy products delivered fresh to the customer’s door.
In 1967, Carlton Durling founded QuickChek convenience stores to ensure that loyal Durling Farms customers had a neighborhood-shopping destination not only for their milk but for a full range of deli & grocery products. Since then, QuickChek has grown to be the market leader through innovation and its focus on fresh food and coffee, fast fuel and friendly people.
Store Count: 147 (including 10 with full-service pharmacies and one Shop-Rite Liquors)
Fuel Sites: 58 all under the QuickChek banner
Team Members: 4,000
Markets of Operation: New Jersey and New York
Foodservice Brand: QuickChek
Social Media: quickchek.com, twitter.com/quickchek
• Dean Durling, President and CEO
• Mike Murphy, Senior Vice President
• John Schaninger, Vice President, Sales and Marketing
• Bob Graczyk, Vice President, Human Resources
QuickChek, Tesla Launch Supercharger Station
Continuing its legacy of industry innovation, QuickChek in October joined forces with Tesla, the California-based maker of the electric Model S sedan and Model X SUV, to launch a Tesla Supercharger station at the company’s store in Ulster, N.Y.
The installation of the world’s fastest electric vehicle charging technology is the latest innovative service offered by QuickChek, which also was the first c-store chain to install self-checkout lanes in 2009 and a mobile app that allows customers to order products and pick them up a specified time.
Tesla Superchargers are strategically placed to allow owners to drive from station to station with minimal stops. The Tesla Supercharger is substantially more powerful than any existing charging technology, providing up to 120 kilowatts of power and replenishing up to 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes. While they charge, drivers can go into the c-store and enjoy a freshly prepared food or beverage item and get back on the road quickly. Supercharger stations are strategically placed along well-traveled highways near restaurants, shopping centers and Wi-Fi hotspots to minimize stops during long distance travel making the QuickChek store a natural fit for travelers.
“Having Tesla Supercharger stations on site enables us to continue our dedication to meeting the evolving needs of our customers,” said QuickChek President and CEO Dean Durling.
Tesla Supercharger stations and now the QuickChek store in Ulster are also hosted on Tesla’s in-vehicle navigation. Tesla owners use the 17-inch dashboard touchscreens to plan trips and locate charging stations.