Aftershocks from Hurricane Sandy

In a time of need for our customers, one bad apple can spoil all of the good will done by others.

By Jim Callahan.

“One bad apple spoils the bunch.” That is an old saying that certainly rings true, even more so when faced with public scrutiny over the availability and pricing of petroleum products.

If the saying is to be taken literally then the entire convenience store industry took a hit by the selfish actions of a handful of marketers that allegedly gouged customers following the devastating superstorm that ravaged much of the East Coast in late October.

In the wake of Sandy, many homes were destroyed leaving families cold, hungry and homeless. For some—the lucky ones that still had a home to return to—there was a desperate need for fuel products to power generators and emergency vehicles.

We are learning that multiple unscrupulous convenience store and gas station operators took advantage of desperate customers in their time of need. New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman has put 13 gas station operators on notice that the state is investigating them for allegedly taking advantage of needy customers and inflating prices in the days after Superstorm Sandy. New Jersey has taken similar measures.

Ruining Good Intentions
According to reports in New York and New Jersey, some stations raised the price of gas by more than $1 a gallon and some reportedly increased the price to $15 per gallon. It’s unfathomable. What makes this story even more upsetting is the long list of companies that leapt into action to assist those in need. Companies like Wawa, Sheetz, Hess, Atlas Oil, ExxonMobil, Anheuser-Busch—far too many to list here—reached out to aid troubled, injured, confused and battered residents of the areas affected. Yet, on the front pages of the newspapers were the handful of “bad apples,” who were unable to resist the temptation to take advantage of a bad situation to grab some huge margins.  

I hope they saved those fat margins because they have likely ruined their businesses in the process. They are not likely to ever earn their customers’ trust again. Penny wise, but truly dollar foolish.

People with this mentality are rarely long-term survivors in this industry, yet they can do such damage to our image and credibility as an industry.
In this case, while an incredible amount of chains stepped up to put forth sincere acts of kindness, many will remember the serious breach of moral ethics carried out by a few, and that’s a shame for all of us.

As an industry, we need to rise up and right the wrong. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, but, it is imperative that we all do something, even if it is just a small check to the American Red Cross or one of the other great organizations that is easing the pain and stress that our neighbors are suffering through.  

Why not put up collection buckets near your cash registers?  Consider a cents-off a gallon for every gallon sold during a certain time period that will be donated to the Red Cross. Your customers will notice and the lives of the survivors will be enriched.

In Luke 12:48 it says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” While our still struggling economy shows signs of renewed life, and as we head into our most beloved holiday season, let us all reach out and find a way to right these hideously foolish wrongs and help those in serious trouble who might feel forgotten.  

Make this holiday season a time to extend a helping hand. You will feel good and you will impact the lives of those you assist in ways you can’t even imagine.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.

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