Chris Dwyer's days are tantamount to snow-flakes: no two are ever the same. When you work in the IT department for a chain of 126 convenience stores, it's hard to know what concerns may arise. But Dwyer wouldn't have it any other way. "I might have an idea of what I want to accomplish on a given day," he said. "But I also provide second-level assistance for our help desk. So I have 'A, B and C' I want to get done, but I find out that '1, 2 and 3' happened overnight. I have to take care of the most-pressing needs first. I have to be nimble. But I thrive on always having something different to do every day. I like not knowing what's coming. I like change."
Dwyer and his staff of two other employees handle computer-based implementations for all of Quick Chek's stores. All three employees are responsible for fuel system computer integration at every Quick Chek location that sells gas, and they are also part of the nine-member store systems team. Dwyer is on the road so often at stores that every store leader knows him on a first-name basis, and he knows every store leader by first name as well. In fact, the instant that a leader calls him on the phone, Dwyer knows who it is.
However, not every day is a walk in the park. "Once every other month, you are 'on call' for the week," Dwyer said. "So you could be called at 3 a.m. when something goes wrong, or you could get called at 6 p.m. right as you are sitting down for dinner. You need somebody on call in case there's an emergency, especially when it comes to fuel. If a store cannot sell gas, it costs the company a lot of money."
Receiving a potential 3 a.m. wakeup call is never ideal. For example, Dwyer, who lives 25 miles north of Philadelphia, has received 1 a.m. calls where he needed to travel to the chain's Saugerties, N.Y., location. The one-way drive to Saugerties for Dwyer is three hours. "I remember one time I did an installation at a store when it was 4 degrees outside," he recalled. "I was outside working on the fuel system. The heat wasn't working inside the store either. So I remember I actually walked into the store, where the temperature was 20 degrees, to 'warm up.' That was tough. But I really like going out on calls. I'm a people guy."
Thankfully, Dwyer's wife is understanding, working for a retailer herself, and the situation has improved dramatically since he first joined Quick Chek's help desk (his previous position) before being promoted. "When I started working on the help desk, I was on call seven days a week, 365 days a year. I was the only one to handle emergencies," he said. "But the positive was I got to learn and understand everyone else's position at the company. Also, as we [employed] more people, it got much better and I wasn't on call as often."
CHECK IT OUT
The biggest implementation â and the thing for which Dwyer is most proud â is the launch of Quick Chek's self-checkout program, which has now been rolled out in nine stores. Quick Chek is the first U.S. c-store chain to do a full rollout of self-checkout units.
"It's probably the most rewarding thing we ever did. It's helping our employees get more done in a day. When you work at a convenience store, you don't know when you will be busy," said Dwyer. "Sure, you know you will get waves of people at certain times like 6 to 9 a.m., but you don't know how busy you will be. You have no idea when a bus will let out in front of your store; [and] you may have two cashiers at your store."
Now with self-checkout, once that wave hits, stores don't have to take someone off of something else they're doing to help. Generally, the store manager or assistant manager had to stop what they were doing to run the register in those instances. Self-checkout also allows employees to interact with the customers more.
"You wouldn't think that, but it's true," Dwyer said. "A cashier is still talking to the customer; they are just not ringing them up. We've found average checkout time for a customer using self-checkout is 40 seconds. That's pretty fast. We have three or four Fast Lanes at our stores. Four customers can check out in 40 seconds."
He realized Quick Chek was blazing a new trail with self-checkout. "It's really cool because we think of ourselves as the Lewis and Clark of self-checkout," he said. "We're constantly thinking about how we can do things differently. It got my blood pressure going. It was really exciting."
Dwyer took Convenience Store News along on a visit to his old stomping grounds at the North Branch, N.J., store, which has self-checkout registers. We put the system to the test, and the self-checkout register easily handled our transaction consisting of gummi bears and energy bars.
Before placing a self-checkout register at a pilot store, Dwyer recognized that many problems occur at other self-checkout locations, such as supermarkets. Computer malfunctions and scanning issues have become common for some companies. So, the Doylestown, Pa., resident developed a plan to make sure Quick Chek's self-checkouts operate flawlessly. "We spent a lot of money on [self-checkout] and put a lot of resources behind it," he said.
"I literally sat in a chair with a bucket of coins and a group of bills at a self-checkout in our headquarters (which he showed us during our visit) and did everything possible I could to try to make it malfunction. I was there nonstop for a week doing everything I could to break it, just so I knew what problem could arise and how to fix it. Once I get through that process, I was confident it would work."
Although Dwyer's youthful appearance could fool you, he is a 17-year veteran of Quick Check and was first employed by the chain at age 18. Like many of his co-workers, he began working in a Quick Chek store. He served the Somerville, N.J., location, only a stone's throw from the company's Whitehouse Station headquarters. The idea to work for Quick Chek came from Dwyer's mother who was an employee in the 1970s.
When CSNews shadowed Dwyer for the day, one thing took place that at least happens periodically: a brief meeting with his staff in Small Conference Room 2. Topics of discussion included Dwyer's announcement that he ordered eight new servers, and that he is in the process of replacing a lot of back-office machines. Also discussed was perhaps the most challenging part of Dwyer's job: PCI compliance.