The Best Is Yet to Come

Family, colleagues celebrate Quick Chek's Dean Durling.

By
Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Special Projects Coordinator

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Just as he does with every major event and decision in his life, Dean Durling did his research on CSP’s Retail Leader of the Year dinner and toast, talking to past recipients about their own experiences as honorees, and quizzing employees about their knowledge of the night. Fortunately, Durling, president and CEO of Quick Chek Food Stores, was still pleasantly surprised as nearly 350 of his industry friends and family gathered at Atlanta’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to celebrate his life and his accomplishments.

When Durling first learned he would be named CSP’s 2010 Retail Leader of the Year, he had three immediate thoughts: First, Quick Chek has a really great team. Second, the honor came “way too early,” and that “the best is yet to come for us.” “Despite that, we’re going to take advantage of the opportunity,” said the exec, infamous for his reluctance to celebrate successes, and always focused on new ways to improve. The room was bedecked with an outdoor theme to reflect Durling’s early passion for equestrian sports and fox hunting.During dinner, attendees enjoyed a slideshow featuring Durling quotes and photos from his past, such as Durling astride a horse in full foxhunt garb, poised on a ski slope or hamming it up with Quick Chek employees.

Bob Page, former president of Whitehouse Station, N.J.- based Quick Chek and a mentor to Durling throughout his career at the company, emceed the night of accolades. He began his remarks by paraphrasing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Page elaborated, “Leadership is getting people to commit to a great business and commit to consumers—to build a store team to be the best it can be so they can excel.”

STAND AND DELIVER

For Durling, that leadership is rooted in his ability to connect with Quick Chek’s 2,500 team members on a personal level, which is a natural extension of his love for wife Liz and his five children. Page cited Durling’s passion and deep commitment to the self-improvement of his team members and the leaders of the company, as well as his service to NACS as a past chairman of the board, and to the markets that Quick Chek serves.

But Durling did not limit the honor to himself. “Quick Chek has one of the best management teams and board of any retailer in the industry,” he said, citing that the company, with 125 sites in New Jersey and New York, was one of the smallest chains to receive the recognition. He asked several Quick Chek employees at the dinner to stand up to be recognized. He also thanked Quick Chek’s vendors and fellow retailers for “helping us be what we are today.”

A film shown to attendees traced the company’s roots from a New Jersey dairy farm and milk-delivery business in the late 1880s to a fledgling c-store operator founded by Dean’s father, Carlton Durling, in 1967. Those first stores, downtown superettes, had a delicatessen focus and contained “the DNA, that heritage of foodservice, which is what we’ve evolved through the years to what we have today,” Durling said.

Now with a focus on becoming the best convenience retailer in the New York metropolitan area, Quick Chek has covered much ground with its made-to-order sub-sandwich program, an extensive coffee bar with a 20-minute freshness guarantee, and a willingness to embrace new technology if it will help the company move further in its internal effort to become “A Great Place to Work and a Great Place to Shop.” The most recent example of this is self-checkout, in test at four stores. During the film, a parade of business acquaintances, employees, friends and family explained in greater detail what made Durling such an admirable retailer and leader. Quick Chek board member Bruce Krysiak, former president of Toys ‘R’ Us and Dollar General Corp., described him as a five-star leader, able to balance a results-oriented focus with thoughtfulness and caring. “He’s a servant leader in the very best sense of the word,” said Krysiak.

 “He doesn’t believe in getting ahead by stepping on people,” said Tina Ogilvie, a store leader for Quick Chek’s Bloomfield, N.J., site. “It’s about bringing your people with you and growing and learning, and he wants all of us to be the best that we possibly can. He wants us to reach his dreams while lifting us up to reach ours.”

To this point, “The greatest reward in life is being, seeing and helping people in their continuous quest for being the best with whatever they have,” said Page. “Thank you for giving me this reward.”

John Schaninger, Quick Chek vice president of sales and merchandising, described Durling as “a really average guy” who believes everyone—from the senior management team to the store-level team member manning the self-checkout— is important and has a potentially great idea to share.

Board member Bob Robertson, former president and CEO of White Hen Pantry, gave credit to Durling’s “restless dissatisfaction,” the drive to always look for ways to improve the business rather than getting wrapped up in celebrating current successes. Another board member, Bill Shrader of Rising Sun Restaurant Group, said Durling’s middle name was “passion,” and he “lives every day as if it were his last, but plans to live forever.”

Krysiak added, “He wanted board members that were going to challenge him, that were going to really push him to think about where this company is going to go. Inside of that he created a think process and a strategic vision for the company that I think took the company to another level in terms of growth, in terms of innovation.”

ONE STEP IN A JOURNEY

More surprises were in store for Durling that night. Two of his five children—son Jonathan and daughter Ngaere— took the stage to honor their father. Jonathan—or “Jonnie,” as he’s known to family and friends—recalled the first lesson of supply and demand his father taught him, when, as a child of 8, he was brought into Quick Chek headquarters to sample new products under consideration for the stores. Ngaere pointed out how similar she and her father are. “Like daughter, like father,” she said. “We hate to admit we’ve done a good job. You did it,” she said, urging her father to enjoy his moment in the limelight.

And even Quick Chek mascot “Q” joined Durling on stage to accept the Retail Leader of the Year award and pose for photos. To round out the evening’s events, CSP’s president, CEO and editorial director, Paul Reuter, presented Durling with a horn used during fox hunts to call the hounds, and invited him to send off well wishers with the horn. Despite admitting being a little rusty, Durling gamely accepted the challenge.

For the past decade, since one of his children was in a major vehicle accident, Durling has set two priorities for himself: be the best husband and father he could be, and the best leader of Quick Chek by establishing a business model that could perpetuate itself and provide employees with successful, healthy and rich lives.

For Durling, the award was simply one milestone “on my journey to be the best leader at Quick Chek. I’m on a track, and will continue to work toward it.”

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