New South Wales business owner Wade Death has been named the small business champion of 2020 by the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), in recognition of his efforts during the double crises of the bushfires and coronavirus pandemic.
In November 2019, the town of Taree on the NSW mid-north coast was cut off from the highway amid raging bushfires.
To fight the fire fronts that were burning in all directions, firefighters needed 24-hour access to fuel. But there was one problem: all the large 24-hour petrol stations had closed.
The state’s emergency services asked Death, who owns a chain of four fuel and convenience stores in the area called Jack & Co Food Stores, to keep his businesses open into the night and he agreed to help however he could.
Death kept his stores open entire weekends and his staff worked double shifts to ensure volunteers from the Rural Fire Service (RSF) had enough fuel and food to keep going.
Announcing Death as small business champion last Thursday, COSBOA said he represents the thousands of like-minded small business owners out there who give back to their communities.
For Death, this year demanded significant resilience as he responded first to the bushfires and then the pandemic.
“The biggest challenge this year was adapting from one crisis to another,” Death told COSBOA.
“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’.”
By March, the bushfires had subsided, and the coronavirus pandemic was spreading across the globe.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Death made sure his customers could access everything they needed at his service stations, with his team contacting restaurants that had been forced to close and purchasing essentials such as flour, rice and toilet paper in order to sell them in the service stations.
Death’s team was also quick to set up COVID-19 safety measures and organise a supply of locally produced sanitiser.
“We had screens up and sanitiser available before anyone,” he said.
“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”.
Death told Brookfarm that if it made sanitiser, he would take the entire product, so when it produced its first batch, he had three pallets of sanitiser delivered to his stores when no one else had any available.
On top of operating his stores, Death heads the industry organisation, the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA).
Reflecting on leading ACAPMA in 2020, Death said industry bodies are vital in providing advice to small businesses and advocating on their behalf to government.
“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,” he said.