COSBOA has announced its annual Small Business Champion for 2020.  This award recognises honourable actions in the 2019/2020 financial year. The 2019 winners were cofounders of an initiative for the hairdressing industry that assists salons with putting more than 95% of their waste either to use in the community or through environmentally friendly recycling.  The 2020 Small Business Champion is recognised for their role in the fuel industry and in the community in the face of the devastating bushfires.

Wade Death, owner of Jack&Co Food Stores, a petrol and convenience 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 ACAPMA.

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.

Wade described his staff as “24 carat legends” for what they did.

“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.”

“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 President of ACAPMA.

2020 showed many industries how important their associations are in providing advice and support to small businesses in their sector and advocating on their behalf to government and policy makers.

“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.”

In awarding the accolade of Small Business Champion, COSBOA asked Wade why people should support small business and he made it clear that in his opinion small business are often the unsung heroes of community and though he expressed that he was very proud of the job his business has done and the services that it has provided to its local community, 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.

“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,”  Wade added.

COSBOA have noted that in many ways, Wade represents the thousands of like-minded small business owners out there who give back to their communities.

ACAPMA CEO Mark McKenzie notes “ACAPMA has expressed repeated pride in the industry response to the challenges that the last 18 months have brought.  Through fire, flood and pandemic, the fuel has kept moving across the country and the service stations have been the first to open and the last to close.  In an industry that is dominated by small business operators, one of our own taking out this accolade is something we should all be proud of.”