Meet Wade Death, owner of Jack&Co Food Stores, a convenience store and fuel retailer with 4 locations in NSW. He has been named COSBOA’s Small Business Champion 2020 for his actions during the bushfires in Taree and for his leadership in his role as president of the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketer’s Association (ACAPMA).
COSBOA normally announces its small business champion at the annual National Small Business Summit in August, which unfortunately could not take place this year. This year’s award recognises honourable actions in the second half of 2019 and first half of 2020.
When the bushfires came to the NSW Mid-North Coast in November 2019, the town of Taree was cut off from the highway.
RFS volunteers needed access to fuel around the clock in order to fight the massive fire fronts burning to the north, south and west of the town, but all of the 24-hour petrol stations - big businesses - in the area had closed.
Staff at Wade’s service station, which normally closes at 9pm, were contacted by emergency services and asked if they could stay open.
Wade agreed that they could do whatever was needed to help the fire fighting effort, and staff worked double shifts so that the service station could stay open the entire weekend that the fires were at their peak, providing not just fuel but food and refreshments for the RFS.
In an interview with Acapmag, Wade described his staff as “24 carat legends” for what they did.
We had the pleasure of having a conversation with Wade about his experiences with the bushfires and COVID, and his thoughts on small business.
“The biggest challenge this year was adapting from one crisis to another,” he said. “And importantly, keeping teams in the store on track and making sure customers get what they need. There’s been so much change and so much challenge and it would be very easy not to come to work.”
He was particularly proud of the business’ response to the bushfires in Taree. “When Taree was cut off because of the fires, most of the large businesses had shut down. But we took a very different attitude of ‘if we shut down, the RFS won’t be able to fight the fire and it’ll be a disaster.’”
When asked what kept him going during these difficult times, he pointed to the fact that they were a community focused business. “We could really feel that we were doing a great job and we were offering such an extensive service to our customers” he said.
During the COVID lockdown period, Wade made sure that his customers could get everything they needed at his service stations. His team contacted restaurants that had been forced to close and asked them if they had essential items such as flour, rice, toilet paper, and paper towels in their storerooms. If they had some, which they usually did, Jack&Co would buy them from the restaurants and sell them in their service stations.
They were also quick to implement hygiene measures.
“We had screens up and sanitiser available before anyone,” said Wade. “We started ringing around and it turned out that Brookfarm from Byron Bay, who make muesli bars, also had a gin distillery and they were looking at producing hand sanitiser but they weren’t sure. We told them that if they made some we would take the entire product, so we had three pallets of sanitiser delivered when no one else had any available. Brookfarm later said thank you for underwriting their first production when they weren’t sure they could do it.”
Wade was also kept busy in his role as head of an industry association. 2020 showed us how important industry associations are in providing advice and support to small businesses in their sector and advocating on their behalf to government and policy makers. Being a small business owner himself has shaped how Wade approaches his role.
“I think what I felt was the challenge in small business is you need to be an expert on everything. You don’t have teams of people around you to help - you need to work that out yourself. And so I felt that ACAPMA had a role to play for the small business in helping them decipher the very rapidly changing rules and regulations so that we could help small businesses survive what was such a challenging time and really have their head in the right space so that they could front up to work every day and know that someone was supporting them.”
Finally, we asked him why people should support small business. Wade is passionate about small business because they’re often the unsung heroes of community. And though he’s very proud of the job his business has done and the services that it has provided to its local community, when we told him he was our Small Business Champion he was quick to point out that there were thousands of other small businesses out there that have had a difficult year and done a great job who also deserve recognition.
Wade said: “In many respects small business is the easy one to get to when you need support. When a sporting team needs sponsorship money for new equipment, you can talk to Jenny and Fred who own it and there’s the support. Their kids play there or their neighbour and they know they desperately need new gear. If you ask a big business for support, they’ll spend $25,000 just on assessing the request. It’s this basic everyday community support that keeps local and small town clubs and sporting groups active."
“They’re also the ones most likely to take on a work experience kid and the ones more likely to take extra effort in training younger staff in the life skills that come with work,” he added.
In many ways, Wade represents the thousands of like-minded small business owners out there who give back to their communities. What a great champion.
Find out more about Wade's business, Jack & Co, here.
Read about COSBOA's 2019 champions, Paul Frasca and Ewelina Soroko, here.