CSD: The Coffee Cup Hotel

Feb 12, 2010

By Erin Rigik

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

are known for providing a myriad of services, but could your stores house customers
for the night if the weather turned bad?

Coffee Cup Fuel Stops, which operates
eight 24-hour locations in the Dakotas and Wyoming, is no stranger to hosting
overnight guests at its Summit, S.D. location, where winter storms have been
known to catch commuters off guard.

In the nearly five years store manager
Nannette Nielsen has worked at Coffee Cup’s Summit station, which sits at the
intersection of two busy highways, snowstorms that force travelers off the
road and into the store have been par for the course. The most severe storm
struck in April 2008, when 24 inches of snow forced about 200 customers to
spend the night at the store after a nearby bed and breakfast reached its capacity.

got to the point about 2 p.m. on a Friday where you couldn’t see outside,”
Ms. Nielsen said. “It was one of those storms where I think they predicted
it, but people thought it wasn’t going to get so bad, so there were still a
lot of people out on the road, and they started stopping at our store because
they couldn’t go any farther. For the rest of the afternoon and the evening
people just stopped and this is where they stayed.”

Soon, snowplows were even
called off the roads and I-29 was closed. Luckily, the c-store is well adapted
to winter visitors and was ready to respond.

“We have a couple little casino
lottery rooms, so those were pretty full. People slept on the floor, in the
aisles,” Ms. Nielsen noted. “The fire department brought extra blankets for
people so they could get comfortable and sleep. We have shower rooms for the
truckers, and we had one bigger shower where we put a family on the floor,
and in a couple other showers we put some elderly people, tried to get them

This winter, the Summit location is prepared to snap into action,
should a similar storm require its hospitality.

To prepare for the storm season,
the store stays well stocked with supplies that might be needed in a pinch,
including plenty of windshield wiper fluid and automotive items. It has a stash
of blankets on hand and keeps its grocery items well stocked. The store also
makes sure its foodservice program is ready to feed a large influx of customers.
Summit operates a deli, a hot food program including hamburgers and Hot Stuff
Foods pizza.

The most important task when taking on customers for the night is trying
to make everybody feel safe, warm and comfortable. “We try to keep spirits
up because everybody is down,” Ms. Nielsen said. “You have to keep the spirits
up. And have plenty of product on hand.”

Discussion Questions:
What do you think of Coffee Cup Fuel Stops’ makeshift emergency hotel?
Can other retailers, even major chains, be doing more to prepare for
and help customers with emergencies such as unexpected snowstorms?

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8 Comments on "CSD: The Coffee Cup Hotel"

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Kevin Graff
11 years 2 months ago

To me, this story isn’t so much about opening up your store to overnight guests as it is about just being good human beings. There is that one cardinal rule of service that says ‘before you are a retailer, you are a human being. And before she is a customer, she too is a human being.’

It’s not hard to figure out the right thing to do in these situations. Set the business angle aside, and just to the right thing for your customer. The wonderful paradox is that you’ll probably end up selling more, too.

Steve Montgomery
11 years 2 months ago

The short answer is yes other retailers can do the same thing, but Coffee Cup’s c-stores are particularly well suited for hosting people in storms because of their highway locations and product mix. Because they also serve truckers and have the casino rooms, their stores are likely larger and provide areas off the main floor where people can sleep. Other c-store locations have also been pressed into service during storms.

Roger Saunders
11 years 2 months ago

All businesses should have a “crisis plan.” However, very few retailers should set their operations around crisis like the one described by this C-Store. Kudos to them for being prepared, as their geography would dictate.

Retailers, like all businesses, have to remain FOCUSED–and that means their core business and regular customer base.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
11 years 2 months ago

This is an example of creativity to take advantage of opportunity. Snowstorms, hurricanes, flight delays all are opportunities to help and build loyalty while selling services. Usually companies are slower to react and by the time they put a plan together the opportunity is gone. For instance, with the ice storm, one retailer hired a tractor trailer to pick up a load of generators the first day and bring them into an area. They all sold in two days. This required fast action decision making; unfortunately, large companies cannot move so quickly. If companies were prepared for such quick action and execution, there would be an opportunity to build sales, loyalty and reputation.

Bernice Hurst
11 years 2 months ago

This is a case where size shouldn’t matter. If a branch of a large company sees customers struggling because of difficult weather conditions, it shouldn’t take more than a phone call (or text or tweet or whatever) for authorisation to do the right and sensible thing. At least one branch of a department store chain here did precisely that a month or so back when sudden snow meant shoppers couldn’t easily leave. Many stayed overnight with sheets and other essentials moved into the bedding department so people could sleep in comfort. It may have cost a bit because those items could no longer be sold but it may also have increased sales and loyalty amongst the people who were safely and hospitably accommodated.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 2 months ago

I cannot think of an example where this is not a win-win for the store and the customer. ANY format/segment of retail can and should be there for people when they can assist. This is becoming more common, thankfully, and I hope more retailers around the world will take the hint that to be human is a good thing.

Mark Burr
11 years 2 months ago

Doing the right thing in an emergency is the right thing. However, very few–very few–convenience stores could accommodate 200 customers even standing. However, when necessity dictates, you do what you can and sometimes even more than what you can. However, generally this type of an opportunity would be limited by size and by location (adjacent to freeways, etc.).

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 2 months ago

Meijer, the kind of large retailer that others say can’t respond as Coffee Cup can, is well known for their weather-related support of their customers. They’ve put people up for the night due to snow and rain many times. And individual Meijer stores, based on their expected regional weather predictions, have unilateral authority to stock up on fans and window air conditioners in preparation for heat waves. They have the same authority to donate water and other supplies during natural disasters.


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